Cradock celebrates the deliciousness, wholesomeness and nostalgia of real Heartland food every year at the Karoo Food Festival. We take a trip down memory lane as we look forward to upcoming festivals…
Words: Julienne du Toit
Pictures: Chris Marais
At the height of the pomegranate season is Cradock’s Karoo Food Festival. Expect sheep’s cheese, kudu salami, Karoo lamb, freshly harvested raspberries, locally grown pecans and walnuts, Karoo-bossie honey, unusual pickles, olives and olive oil, prickly pear syrup.
There are also home-made relishes and jams, some of the best biltong in the Karoo (which really is saying something), and seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. And to wash it all down fresh raspberry juice, ginger beer, prickly pear milkshakes, handcrafted beers and roasted java.
“Last year (2013) was an unexpected success. We had no idea it would work,” said one of the organisers, Lisa Antrobus-Ker of Die Tuishuise, historic houses in a Cradock street that have been restored into guest houses.
“There were plenty of locals, but people came from surrounding towns too, like Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and East London, and as far away as Wellington, Jeffreys Bay and Beaufort West. The idea of the Karoo Food Festival is to celebrate and showcase the small-scale, independent food-growers and creators around us in the Eastern Cape Midlands. We were surprised to find how many there were, once we started looking.” Lisa added that the enjoyment of Karoo food had become part of a growing trend towards wholesomeness and food-growers with integrity; a move to slow food, locally produced.
Cooking in great big, old Agas, the skills of pickling, preserving and cheese-making, and feeding large groups with effortless grace, may have died out in the cities, but remain the skills of many Karoo women and men of all colour, class and age. This is also why Karoo cook books are so perennially popular, Lisa pointed out.
The profile of the Heartland’s food has been raised with the Karoo Meat of Origin certification. This puts the region’s distinctively flavoured lamb on the same level as Italy’s Parma ham and French Champagne. “We’ve noticed a growing trend of nostalgia for Karoo food, handmade produce and hand-raised crops. On the producers’ side, there is a growing trend towards more compassionate farming, like Nicky Prudhon’s operation at Simply Natural cheese. She only uses the morning milk and doesn’t separate calves from cows.”
Celebrity Karoo chef Gordon Wright, whose cookbook Veld to Fork has won great acclaim, congratulated Cradock for seizing the initiative, and for the authenticity of the gathering. “Most of the food producers involved would qualify to join the Slow Food organisation,” he said.
Nicky Prudhon of Simply Natural cheese (about 60km south of Cradock) said she’d be back again. “I really enjoyed the great atmosphere last year (2013) and it’s wonderful to be part of an initiative that promotes local, slow food and small producers.”
Cradock is surrounded by pecan and walnut farms. Anne Bowker of Lowlands Guest Farm near Fish River Station said, “Our guests are often amazed that this is a nut farming area. The Karoo Food Festival is exciting for us, an interesting new outlet that stimulates us to try something new. Last year our savoury nuts sold very well. We’ll do those again, and maybe experiment with some new recipes. I wonder what pesto made with pecans would taste like?”
Most Cradock restaurants have special festival menus, and some are often at the Saturday market day. In 2013, chef Pieter de Kock of Mila’s made a lamburger so popular it has snuck onto the restaurant’s menu. “We’ll have it this year (2014) too, but I’m planning a few changes.” Similarly, the Schreiner Tea Room prickly pear pink milkshake is also popular when on sale at the festival.
The Karoo Food Festival is one not-to-be-missed!