THE BRAAI

For many South Africans having a braaivleis by cooking meat over an open fire is second nature. A braai can be made at home with family; when friends come round – given the price of meat, it is common to have a ‘bring and braai’ where guests will contribute meat and/or salads to the occasion; when camping or fishing – and now that Eskom switches off our power for two and a half hours three times a day – sometimes out of necessity.

As the braai is essentially a social occasion, some people like to start with a large fire and chat around it until the wood has burnt to coals of just the right temperature; others use charcoal; most like to build a fire after the food has been cooked to brighten the darkness and create an ambience that encourages friendly conversation. South Africans braai as a matter of course no matter the time of day.

Here is a ‘tame’ braai for a quick snack: boerewors and chicken sausage cooked over glowing charcoal.

It didn’t take long for the meat to cook and, as the fire was still hot enough to cook more food, we offered the use of it – and our braai grid – to the foreign couple camping next door. What prompted that gesture was not only a desire to not waste the fire, but the sight of a length of boerewors curled up in a tiny pan about to be cooked over a tiny gas stove. Horrors, that boerewors would have boiled in its own juices! The offer was taken up with alacrity, only … the chap didn’t know how to cook the meat over the fire. Our pre-teen granddaughter willingly came to the fore to show him how, keeping the fellow company and advising him when to turn the meat and how to tell when it was cooked. He and his companion were delighted by the taste.

This is a typical sight in places such as the Kruger National Park as darkness settles over the rest camp: the start of a braai fire.

Then there are the serious braai places with room for all sorts of dishes to cook at the same time. Breakfast is about to be served …

BLACKOUTS

BLACKOUTS

South Africa is beset with rolling blackouts, thanks to ESKOM’s inability to provide a steady supply of electricity to serve the whole country’s needs at the same time. This is not the forum in which to rant and rave or to dwell on the whys and wherefores of the situation. Suffice it to say that having no electricity at odd times of the day is something we have had to become used to and make the best of.

On the lighter side, the lack of power has naturally made ESKOM the butt of many jokes. A lovely video clip has done the rounds depicting everything from hair dryers to photocopy machines running on gas – a sense of humour is essential here. Circulated via e-mail too is the cover of a recipe book purporting to be from ESKOM. Tongue-in-cheek, it depicts in some versions a fire, braai grid, meat and tongs – no electricity required!

Braaing runs in the blood of many South Africans. A good place to witness this is in the Kruger National Park, where every campsite and chalet has braai facilities. The major picnic areas have gas braais for hire – they are well used too for cooking anything from early morning breakfasts to lunches in the middle of the afternoon. An aroma I always associate with these places is the sizzling of boerewors, sosaties and steaks.

There is a memorably distinctive sweet smell emanating from the local hardwoods used for real braai fires in the rest camps – still the preferred method for cooking meat (and a surprising array of other dishes) outdoors.

As darkness descends across the veld and the first of a myriad of stars begin to twinkle overhead, pinpricks of light appear all over the camping area. Flames flicker at first, then long fiery tongues take hold of the wood. Conversations brighten along with the flames. At last the coals are ready … the feasting begins.

And at home? Braais continue to be popular. Kitchen makeovers have increasingly included gas hobs at least, and even non-campers have taken to owning a portable gas cooker of one kind or another. Candles are evident in every home. At times camping and outdoor shops have run out of supplies of lamps – the demand for them is so great. Torches are kept handy.

This morning our ‘load-shedding’ was between 9 and 11:30, which was not too bad for breakfast was over by then. As wielding an iron, washing machine, vacuum cleaner or computer was temporarily out of the question, I used the opportunity to soak up the mild sunshine in the garden while enjoying watching birds with a clear conscience.
The garden is lit up by a swathe of yellow canary creepers, bright orange Cape honeysuckles, orangey-red aloes, pink hibiscus, and pale blue Plumbago blossoms.

What a delight. Of course this is very different when ESKOM switches off our power at night!