A basket of pastoral goodness, off the grid
You can tell a lot about a country café by the size of its slice and what’s on the side.
Every year we make a pilgrimage to the Karoo, to a peaceful and abundant off-grid permaculture farm near De Rust called Numbi Valley.
We stay in the simple, comfortable cottage and relish the silence. There are no dogs or cats, no cows or sheep. Just lizards and birds, tame as can be, which flutter among the olive grove and fynbos. Farm owners Kathryn and Ross live in a cob house and their permaculture garden produces fresh veggies all year round, with enough to spare for cottage guests.
Our wicker basket full of just-picked goodies kept us going for a couple of days but, eventually, we ventured into De Rust for lunch at the Village Trading Post.
Niekie Eksteen, who runs the restaurant, welcomed us in one of his trademark hats. Niekie, and partner Soan Jacobs, have created a hub for locals in De Rust (always a good sign when it comes to food).
“My cooking comes from my mom, from the heart. Love is for free, share it and we walk the extra mile to make hearty food with lots of love,” says Niekie.
“All our bakes are homemade: lemon meringue pie, creamy baked chocolate cheesecake, apple and pear tart, pannekoek bread, roosterkoek.”
We had the restaurant’s stoep to ourselves and ordered the chicken pie served with salad, roast veg and beetroot. This was generous country-style cooking and the pies were packed with chicken, the pastry crisply layered.
Crucially, the pies were homemade and, equally important, they weren’t reheated in a microwave. They felt like a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Dessert was freshly-baked sponge pear tart served with creamy vanilla ice cream.
It was a lunch that left me sleepy and ready for a nodding nap. When we got back to the farm I sank into the hammock next to the freshwater plunge pool and digested my pie at a leisurely pace.
On the way back to Cape Town via Route 62 the next day, we stopped for lunch at Barrydale’s Blue Cow Café, well-signposted before the main drag, dotted with cafes and curio shops.
There’s a deck on stilts, perched over a small farm dam filled with fish, and you can watch weaver birds weavering and look out for Small Orange Jobs* darting about among the reeds (*closely related to the Little Brown Job).
I promptly ordered the chicken cheesecake. Yes, you read that right.
I was slightly wary. My mind grappled with the thought of a sweet cheesecake combined with a chicken filling. But it is a thing of great deliciousness (banish all thoughts of sweetness).
The delicate, savoury crust is filled with a cheesy-chicken mixture, baked till golden brown on top (it looks like a cheesecake) and topped with a creamy mushroom sauce. And let’s not forget the sides. There’s fresh coleslaw and a green salad. Small dishes containing beetroot and olives. It was a big lunch and I devoured it. This was a holiday meal worth loosening the belt for.
Owner Hannette Cooke started chatting to us about “my girls”, two young women sitting in a quiet corner of the Blue Cow’s large wooden deck.
“They’re not really my daughters but they go to the high school near the Blue Cow and I’m helping them out, making sure they work hard, study for exams and get to go to university,” says Hannette. The “girls” are smiling in agreement as Hannette explains her tough-love policy.
“I’ve been accepted for Stellenbosch University for 2020,” says the older girl confidently. “After every exam I come to sit here with Hannette and we talk about the paper and start planning for the next one.”
“I’m tough on her,” says Hannette, “but look how well she’s doing.” Hannette drifts off to order some toasted sandwiches and cool drinks for her girls and I contemplate the freshly-baked apple pie on the counter. Tempting as it looks, I realise one country slice is all I can eat.
We get a slice to go and share it when we get back to Cape Town, a reminder of generous country cooking and warm-hearted café owners. DM
The Blue Cow Café, corner of Van Collier Street and Villiers Street, Altona Farm, Barrydale, 067 971 6773
Village Trading Post, 29 Schoeman Street, De Rust, 044 241 2110
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