The taste of generosity
My friend bought a house in Rawsonville that has an orchard, which the previous owner had lovingly tended for decades. It was the height of summer when I visited her for the first time, and when the time came to return to the city, mesh orange bags filled with quinces, hanepoot grapes, beans and almonds were loaded into the car.
Near Du Toitskloof Tunnel I was suddenly overwhelmed by a thought: I don’t have an orchard or a vegetable garden… What would I take along to give her on my next visit?
My uneasiness grew as I contemplated the contents of the bags in my boot. I wondered about the previous owner who had taken care of his orchard with such dedication and I thought of his neighbours and friends who also would have received gifts like mine. In exchange for his generosity, he would have received things in return. Grateful residents of Bredasdorp might have given him fish, sour figs and wildflowers; and from Loeriesfontein he might have received fresh meat, preserves and skuinskoek.
In the Strandveld, where I grew up, these sorts of gifts would simply appear on the stoep in a box or mesh orange bag. After a successful mullet catch in the vlei, our neighbours were given a few shiny fish. During waterblommetjie or sour-fig season, an extra bag was always dropped off, and watermelons from Baardskeerdersbos were exchanged for sweet potatoes from Napier. Green figs, abalone, alikreukel, and aandblom and sugarbush flowers were all part of this exchange of gifts in the community. It says a lot about gratitude for what Mother Nature has provided – about friendship, caring, and how people look after one another.
The spirit of sharing also tells a story about the rhythm of the seasons and traditions. Kukumakranka preserved in brandy in autumn for stomach upsets are a welcome antidote to a gall attack after you’ve eaten a rich mullet.
Aandblom time in the Overberg winter is when you use the captivating fragrance of these flowers to remind a friend of the place where she grew up. Summer’s green figs and pomegranates, picked and gifted with love, do taste different to those bought at a shop. Hanepoot, apricots, peaches and vegetables from Robertson taste just as generosity should taste.
The orchard in Rawsonville also reminded me of family togetherness and the traditions involved in making these gifts. Cutting beans around a kitchen table, mincing alikreukel, steaming apricots and sour figs on the Aga… It’s a connection with my ancestors and the sense of security and groundedness those rituals performed around the table must have brought. My foremothers would have known exactly what to do with those quinces I received, whereas I have never even made jam with my daughter.
The unwritten rules of living and swapping in a platteland community also explain my concern when I am invited to visit at a time when nothing flowers in my garden and I don’t have a single jar of jam in the pantry to take with me. I could, of course, buy something at the shop, but at the back of my mind I know there’s another way of doing things that does not involve money. But it does feel as if this mindset is becoming increasingly rare, even in the platteland.
Thanks to the abundance of produce from Rawsonville, my search for ways to bring the precious gifts of the platteland into the city and into my life has begun. Hopefully, my discoveries will confirm that the old way of doing things will never end. And that it is never too late to learn to make quince jam.