Sosatie Society: A day at a food affair
Having your own stall at a Karoo food festival can be fun and rewarding, as long as the wheels don’t come off.
The author supports Isabelo, chef Margot Janse’s charity which feeds school children every day. Please support them here.
The annual Karoo Food Festival in Cradock came into its own last weekend, eight years after its modest beginnings and a year after the pandemic saw off the planned 2020 edition. The missing year seemed not to have dented interest in the festival at all, with people heading for Cradock from all over the country, and the portents appear to be very good for a bright and delicious future.
I very nearly did not take part in the 2021 Karoo Food Festival. An experience five years ago in nearby Bedford was enough for me to flee, for life, from any thought along the lines of, “Hey, why don’t we take a stall at the Lower Skilpadfontein Festival and sell sosaties?”
It was in fact the annual Bedford Flower Festival, and a very beautiful affair it is too. We had agreed to take a food stall, selling sosaties. We arrived to find that they had stuck us in a corner near the entrance/exit, but the latter more than the former. What transpired was the punters would enter, walk straight ahead, sampling the fare on the left hand side of the tent, then what was on offer along the far end, then down the right hand side of the marquee in our direction. But by the time they reached us they were done even looking at what might be on offer. Eyes straight ahead, not giving us so much as a glance, they headed for the exit and were never seen again. By early afternoon we had packed up and driven off, 100 unbought sosaties mouldering in a cooler bag. I have no recollection of what became of the skewered venison, because…
On the way home to Cradock, the car broke down. Big time. My Kia (I can barely write the name without flinching) shuddered to a violent halt as I careered it to the edge of the Daggaboersnek Pass, and was not to be driven again for more than two years. Two hulking brothers from a family who own a notoriously wild Cradock pub drew up in their bakkie and proved by their generosity and kindness that all the gossip about their family being seriously worth avoiding were nonsense. They helped us with many smiles and a wonderful show of proper concern.
But then my car went “into the shop”, as they say. And it was, we need to order this, and we need to order that. And there are no parts. And we’re waiting for a part from Pretoria, and that never came. And we’re waiting for a part from somewhere in Asia, and that never came either. And the costs mounting, fee upon fee. For two years. We even went and lived in Grahamstown in the middle of it all, for a year, and then came to our senses and came back to Cradock.
Finally, finally, in 2019 I was able to extricate the car from the shop, for an extremely indecent fee, and after a few months was even able to sell it. It was now, of course, in superb working condition, what with all the new parts that had gone into it at our expense.
So, I’m sure you will understand, I associated food festivals ever after with Bad Things Are Likely To Happen.
That all began five years ago and ended about two years ago. I have given little talks at food festivals, about food and my book (not about no-good cars), since then, but have not taken a stall and cooked anything.
Until last Saturday. When I delivered on my insane promise not just to sell some or other food, but to sell sosaties. So, when I pitched up with a hatchback full (a different hatchback full) of cooler bags, tongs, a table and chairs and the like, at 8am last Saturday, and saw that the promised loan of a drum braai was standing in the middle of empty lawn where presumably I would have the sun beating down on my head all day, I feared the worst and very nearly turned on heel and went home.
Then the organiser, the stupendously able Karen McEwan, said no no no, let’s see, you’re over here. And pointed to a marked-out stand near the far corner of a very large marquee nearby. I surveyed the tent and asked where the entrance was. Oh, right down there, she said, pointing as far away from me as you could point while still seeing the furthest part of the tent. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, and very nearly climbed back into my (happily, still working) car and drove off home. But I didn’t. Luckily, on this occasion home was barely a 10-minute walk away, so if my newer car had to go into the shop for two or three years at least we could get home without a tow.
Turned out that wasn’t necessary. I set up the table (under cover of the edge of the tent) and lit my braai fire, then went home and fetched Di so we could set it all up very prettily and be ready for the doors, as it were, to open at 10am. Di made a beautiful arrangement of our garden roses, olive branches (just in case), Thai wild basil, rosemary and mauve duranta in a big basket, and we put our large red Karoo windmill at the other end of the table. My books went next to that, and the jars of makataan preserve and jam I had made the previous week were arranged in front of the floral basket. It looked just like a properly eclectic Karoo farm stall at a country food affair, and I was quietly chuffed, in a nervous sort of a way, what with cubed meat for 75 sosaties marinating in a cooler bag near the braai, their fate uncertain.
To the rear of the table, just outside the tent, was my braai station and paraphernalia, and I decided, you know what, just cook them. Cook them all. Throw caution to the winds. So I did, four to six at a time, for many hours.
We didn’t sell one sosatie in the first two hours.
But: KarooBrew were to our immediate left, right in the corner (I did fear for them), and gradually the people began queueing there to buy their alcoholic beverages. Note to self: always ask to be put next to a stall selling alcohol, somehow it seems to attract the punters.
Then, to my delight (sorry, Liza), KarooBrew ran out of beer, and while our friend Liza Badenhorst went off to get another cask, if that is what you call those heavy metal things which somehow send beer up through tubes and goodness-knows-what and through a Battlestar Galactica type machine into your glass, the queue grew and grew, and they all had time on their hands to look around and, very important, to smell around, their immediate vicinity. Where, as our luck would have it, there was the distinct aroma of my homemade tandoori spice mix emanating from the skewered chicken pieces drenched in the spiced yoghurt marinade they had been in since the previous morning. So, one by one, they nipped out of the queue to buy a sosatie or two, which the others then saw them eat, and the others and the others, and suddenly the memory of that bad old day in Bedford was beginning to fade.
Tandoori-spied sosaties go very well with ale, it turned out, and by 12.30 or so people were heading to us from all parts of the marquee, not least what seemed to be the entire clan of Tams, our local supermarket owners. They seemed to come looking for us from even the very furthest point near the entrance/exit. By 2.15pm our final and 75th sosatie had been sold, and we had also made friends of the holders of the stall to our right, the lovely people from Mooo Se Lekke, a wonderful farm stall, succulent nursery and petting zoo on the N10 to the south of our town. You must stop there. I was selling my books too, and Mooo se Lekke’s Marna heard of it and liked the look of it, so acquired a small pile of them to sell at their farmstall.
The only problem with having your own food stall at such an event is that it ties you down, so you’re not able to browse all the other stalls. There were so, so many, offering a wild and wonderful variety of things, not only in our marquee but in a couple of others.
Luckily, Nieu-Bethesda people we have befriended were staying in our new self-catering accommodation, and happily they had with them another friend who happens to make charcuterie, so we found ourselves with a lovely gift of pancetta, coppa, prosciutto and the like. We also received our friends’ superb wild herb bases pastas and even a spekboom pesto.
It’s not polite to pack up your stall before the advertised closing time of a food festival, so we had to stay put till 4pm. At which point, I can report that the (newer) car started and could be driven to the perimeter of the tent for us to load it up, and then got us home safely. Everything keeps going right Toyota and all that. (The previous car was not a Toyota, did I mention?)
Will I be back next year? I do believe so, and have even suggested a venture that I’d like to be involved in. Let’s see if that transpires, and whether it does or not, do make plans to visit this fabulous Karoo celebration of food in April 2022. Just make sure your car is in good working order before you set off. DM/TGIFood
To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected]