Heritage food Roast lamb
This month, our heritage food contributor, Karen Dudley of Woodstock’s The Kitchen, remembers a Sunday tradition that turned a feast of meat into the stuff of legend.
In the aftermath of Sunday lunch at my Granny’s house, you would find Aunty Yvonne draped languidly over a settee here, and Aunty Pat napping on a couch there; one uncle sitting, somewhat dazed, in the sunroom, another uncle washing up. And, always, Aunty Maureen obliviously vacuuming around them all. A particular stupor would set in. Lunch was a mammoth affair.
It involved my jovial builder and churchplanting grandfather Leonard, my mother and her three sisters, their husbands, all the grandchildren, any friends that family wished to bring along, and then sundry great aunts and family friends.
For a typical Sunday lunch at Stonehaven, my granny Caroline would have been preparing for days. On Thursday, the butcher would deliver various pieces of meat wrapped carefully in white butcher’s paper, tied with string. Although the Group Area’s Act had forced their move from De Smidt Street, Greenpoint, to Church Street, Lansdowne, butcher Napperell from Ebenezer Street still delivered the Ormonds’ meat all the way to Lansdowne.
Lunch involved at least two roast meats. Often, there would be a leg of lamb, a very slow-slow pot-roasted beef topside, a corned tongue perhaps, and always an oxtail casserole or mutton for a bean curry favoured by the sons-in-law. Lunch was so all-consuming that my granny did not even go to church on Sunday mornings! (We grandkids went with Granddad to the Docks Mission Sunday School at Bloemhof Flats in District Six.)
Along with all the meat were vegetables, all cleaned and prepared in a vast enamel bowl the night before, ready for cooking on Sunday morning. There was always proper gravy and roast potatoes, and the ever present signature stewed fresh tomato spaghetti with strong cheese. Pudding would include baked custard or sago, stewed fruit, pumpkin fritters, crates of sweet cooldrinks (Stork and Bashew’s), and my mother’s favourite: a ginger beer float.
You understand now that something powerful happened over the course of Sunday lunch!
Butcher Napperell’s packages were transformed by chemical reaction brought on by heat and love, rendering something raw and simple into a delicious complex feast that for us was simply lunch at Granny’s.
My granny’s carefully browned meat and slow cooking had melted fat and transformed muscle fibres, breaking down collagen, tenderising and moistening the meat. The caramelised fatty edges evoking ravenousness in all of us squeezed in around that ball and claw table.
Eating meat is so visceral. We can hardly stop ourselves from devouring it, yet we often barely stop to savour its simple flavour. No other food evokes such powerful emotions and brings us so close to our humanity: death and life, sacrifice and feast. We are more mindful now of where our meat is coming from and how it is being farmed since modern farming methods have come, more often than not, at an inordinate cost to the planet and to our bodies as well.
Those rallying lunches at Granny’s are now the stuff of legend, although at the time we thought them the most natural thing in the world. I can almost savour that carved meat and fine gravy and remember the cacophony of family hullabaloo around that table.
Even though my own Sunday lunches are a sadly more convenient affair and our quantity of meat decidedly smaller, we hope to invoke a similar sense of anticipation for the shared meal, gratitude and reverence for the world we live in.