It is beyond hot at the moment. And beyond busy. The combination of those two things has meant that I have been keeping things simple on the food front. Using what I have to hand, making enough for repeat meals, rehashing. Nothing new there – but I am also trying to phase out meat in my diet – so pulses, beans and mushrooms have been finding their way into our dinners more often. They have their side effects – but then doesn’t everything these days?
Last week I spent a few days travelling fairly long distances in the Breede Valley – an area of the Western Cape that is soil rich and fertile. It is “oes” now – harvest season – and the workers are picking grapes destined for table and wine, peaches, plums, figs plus all manner of vegetables. Truck after truck passed me – heading for the huge packing facilities: the great fruit will travel overseas, everything else will land in our supermarkets. Quality dependent on where your budget pitched you.
The farms that grow this abundance all have small schools on/next to them. The schools house barefoot children who have one set of clothing, no shoes – and who don’t eat every day unless someone other than their parents feed them. The same parents that were out in the fields picking the fresh fruit and veg. None of which seemed to be making it into those schools.
In fact, in one case, the farmer (who has an agreement with us to provide fresh vegetables) had dropped off a packet of frozen vegetables. No-name brand. For 12 kids. For the month. While her farm stall, a bare 20 metres from the school and fronting onto the highway, was bursting at the seams with fresh everything.
The women who work as cooks at the schools just smile and shrug – “Ag, we use whatever we can get. Sometimes the children bring an onion or some string squash from home. Or we bring what we have. Ons werk did maar uit.” We figure it out
There are stud farms, rich in lucerne, fruit farms and bright vineyards bordering every road… watered green in the midst of a drought. Yet the children play on barren fields. Not a blade or leaf in sight. Barefoot on stones and dubbeltjie thorns.
And we wonder why there is tension in our country….
By the time I got home I was tired and a little despondent. And I didn’t fancy taking up either of the invites I had for dinner. The fridge revealed slim pickings – half an onion, three ribs of celery, two tomatoes and half a lemon. But, after what I had seen that day – frankly, I had the makings of a feast.
The cupboard offered a tin each of tuna and cannellini beans, plus a bottle of fresh home-pressed olive oil. I chopped the tomato, gave it a good pinch of salt – and left it to macerate while I went for a quick swim. Then I drained the tuna, rinsed off the little white beans, small-chopped the red onion and celery and tossed it all on top of the tomatoes. I let it stand while I showered then zested the half lemon into the mix, squeezed out every last drop of juice, added a healthy couple of turns of pepper, another slug of olive oil ….and dinner was ready.
I poured myself a big glass on sparkling, ice-cold water and took my bounty out onto the stoep. As I ate I looked out at my green garden: at the plants, the birds drinking from the feeder, the wind blowing through the trees. And I thanked my lucky stars for all of everything that had brought me to this privileged place.
And that salad? I promise you – nothing ever tasted as good.