I LOVE A TRADITIONAL BRAAI as much as the next soutie, but there is something to be said for making new traditions. As with almost every other South African of my generation, regardless of heritage, when I was growing up Sunday lunch was an extended family event. And in our case, it was very often a braai at my grandparents’ house. This was my mother’s childhood home, with citrus trees in the courtyard, a collection of German beer mugs in the dining room and, once, an impressive haul of live crayfish in the outside bathroom.
This was also the 80s, which means the men stood around poking the coals, drinking Castle lager and burning the chicken, while the women sat under a grapevine in the backyard drinking gin and tonics (I hope) and swatting the kids. I don’t remember much about the food.
It was probably standard soutie bringand-braai fare – chicken, boerewors, lamb chops if someone was feeling flush, potato salad, a buttered baguette and a nondescript salad of iceberg lettuce and floury tomatoes. Dessert would have been a properly Roald Dahl affair – either Aunt Terry’s trifle or Aunt Trish’s peppermint crisp pudding.
It was only when I moved out of home that my best friend and housemate, Lisa, taught me the real art of the braai. All we had was a rusty, second-hand Weber and some seriously bad crockery, but those were some of the best braais of my life. Lisa could grill even the cheapest cut to perfection, though more often than not our braai menu consisted of stuffed butternut, sweet potatoes and onions cooked whole in the coals and a green salad with my mother’s garlicky-yoghurt dressing.
Back then, when we had little money and a lot of feminist, vegetarian friends, it was easy to embrace Michael Pollan’s famous summation of food and health: “Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants.” Now, ironically, eating a healthy, largely plant-based diet is considered expensive. Then, it was our way of life.
After the lean years, I spent almost all of my thirties living alone, which meant I had to learn to braai without Lisa, without the Castledrinking men, and without fear. It was pretty liberating. I perfected my own braai traditions – a butterflied leg of lamb (easier than turning 25 drumsticks while trying to hold a conversation and keep track of one’s Sauvignon Blanc), my mother’s unrivalled potato gratin, Nigella’s Egyptian tomato salad, buttered green beans, maybe a bowl of tzatziki and, in the early years, often a pavlova for dessert.
The thing about food traditions is that they’re made that way through constant repetition, across generations. Which is how they become legendary. The recipes in Phillippa Cheifitz’s story, “Plates from the past” (page 98), are a case in point. In the words of the classic Castle lager campaign, they have stood the test of time.
“I LOVE THE IDEA OF CREATING NEW TRADITIONS – IN 50 YEARS, THESE COULD
BE THE NEW CLASSICS”
My sister, Romy, and my husband, the Salad Dodger, are both staunch traditionalists with a shared aversion to any classic recipe that is “messed with” in any way. Recently, an apple crumble with the addition of caramelised pineapple sparked outrage, so I’m expecting that Hannah’s garlic bread with paprika butter (page 79) will be challenging for them. I can’t imagine that Abigail’s bean burger (page 25) is going to get a warm reception at our next braai either, but that’s how I roll.
I love the idea of creating new traditions, the way Mogau Seshoene does with her Sunday lunch (page
68). In 50 years, these could be the new classics, the new legends.
And we were there.
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