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When Tannie Maria and troubadour Des came to Cradock

TGIFOOD

KAROO DREAMING

When Tannie Maria and troubadour Des came to Cradock

Cherie Antrobus and her kitchen team’s fabulous spread for the High Tea with Sally Andrew at Victoria Manor, Cradock. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

There were cupcakes and milk tarts, scones and dainty sandwiches. There was roast lamb and malva pudding, and Sally Andrew and Des Lindberg among other fine participants. In the end, there were happy tears in every eye.

When Tannie Maria is coming to dinner, you’re not sure whether to polish the silver or practise making milkshakes. But I knew she had an appetite; anyone who knows the novels knows that. I pondered, for a while, getting all the other dinner guests to write little made-up love advice letters and read them to her at the table, as a sort of party trick.

Mine would read something like this…

Dear Tannie M,

A very famous novelist is coming to dinner. She writes whodunnits about murder and the agony of heartache all lovers go through at some time in their lives. But I don’t know what to cook for her. Can Tannie please help? 

Yours truly, 

FRANTIC, Cradock

PS: I think you might know her.

But I thought better of it.

Of course, the person who was really coming to dinner was not Tannie Maria herself, either the South African or the Scottish version, but Sally Andrew, the writer of the novels, who turns out to be an actual person in her own right, and isn’t much like Tannie M at all. Especially the Scottish one.

Dinner for Tannie M: lamb shanks slow cooked with kapokbos, honeybush and lime juice. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Actually, that is something that we talked about. Not at dinner at our house on the Sunday night but in the grand golden dining room of the Victoria Manor Hotel on the Friday afternoon. It was High Tea with Sally Andrew during the annual Schreiner Karoo Writers’ Festival and I was interviewing her in front of an audience liberally sprinkled with literary figures that included Cradock-born Etienne van Heerden, who has graced most of these festivals, poets, journalists and sundry other lovely people. Cherie Antrobus, who runs the kitchen operation at the hotel, and her team put on a splendid array of cupcakes, miniature tarts and dainty sandwiches including tiny milk tarts to honour the subject at hand: Sally Andrew’s latest Tannie Maria novel, The Milk Tart Murders.

I had thought of telling the crowd something like, “Tannie M is in the house, so it’s quite possible that not everyone is getting out of here alive.”

But I thought better of it.

But it is a consideration if you think about it. Who would want to live in Midsomer? Or in Cabot Cove with Jessica Fletcher living just down the road? These days, if you live in Ladismith where the Tannie Maria whodunnits are set you might well want to look over your shoulder quite a lot. Anyone could drop next.

Although that could just as well be Prince Albert, that being where the television version of Sally’s first novel, Recipes For Love and Murder, is set. In the TV series they’ve renamed it Eden, just as Port Isaac in Cornwall doubles as the fictional Portwenn in the Doc Martin series.

So we did talk about the two Tannie Marias. We agreed that there is room for both of them, though I did make the emphatic point that of the two Tannie Ms, I had a favourite. And that was the one in the book. Sally seemed quite pleased to hear this. The one in the TV series had been born in Eden (but possibly actually Ladismith) and left as a girl, then inherited the old family home and decided to come back. It’s entirely plausible and Irish actor Maria Doyle Kennedy does a smashing job of it, with no attempt to do a really bad South African accent. We can be thankful for that, if you think about it. The only foreign actor who’s ever pulled off a convincing local accent is Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar in Invictus. Everyone else was %&$. Sally did not actually use that word but I could see she thought it, in the way she shuffled on the sofa next to me.

This was a fine sofa indeed, gilt, ornate, with grandly fading gold velvet upholstery. Sally had said, in the days leading up to the festival, that since it was a High Tea she thought she might wear a ballgown for the occasion, and did I have a tux? Well, sort of, if you count the one I bought in 1987 and have rarely worn since, I replied. But I did have the deep blue velvet jacket I bought for £10 at a charity store in Chichester when we lived there, and a blue bowtie somewhere, and a colourful shirt with lots of blue in it, I said, would that do?

Mini milk tarts at Victoria Manor, Cradock. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Sally Andrew, it turns out, is game for this sort of thing (she curtsied to a portrait of Queen Victoria when we walked in), and had dressed up as Marilyn Monroe for previous book launches, in keeping with one of the themes of her latest novel. The ivory dress that blows up around Monroe in the famous movie stills. And a blonde wig. I don’t know how I would have matched all that unless I went as one of the boys in drag in Some Like It Hot, which is possibly why Sally came as her dolled-up self.

“We’ll make a fine pair!” she’d WhatsApped two days before the High Tea after I’d sent her a snap of my jacket and bowtie. And we did, apparently, with all sorts of people saying we looked like a royal couple from earlier times. I was glad they didn’t mean the current bunch although I did have some qualms about being mistaken for the horrid Duke and Wallis.

Sally Andrew and Tony Jackman before their chat over cupcakes, milk tarts and cucumber sandwiches. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

But Sally wasn’t the only hero I was involved with that weekend. On the Saturday evening I was to be on stage with Des Lindberg, and this had a very deep meaning for me, as Dawn Lindberg, nee Silver, and the Dawn in Des and Dawn, had been taken by Covid in December 2020 and I had known the pair since the late 7os when they were rehearsing their production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and I had felt Des’s pain in every chapter of their brilliant book.

Des had agreed to my suggestion that he come to Cradock to promote their book Every Day is an Opening Night, an engrossing memoir that reads like a conversation between them. They’d written it together and Des had to finish it alone, in trenchant closing paragraphs which he penned with supreme elegance and grace, without descending into the maudlin.

He’d done a number of book launches elsewhere but this time he brought his guitar with him. In front of that audience in Cradock, he picked it up and played a song for the first time since he lost Dawn. Our slot was scheduled for an hour and we went an hour over the allocated time. At the end, the entire room leapt to their feet. Every eye streaming. I’ve never seen so much emotion in one room. What a fine man he is, always has been, a legend walking among us, and at 81 he still sings as if he were in his middle years. 

Where this man and I connect, as well as the music, is the road. The long roads through every part of the country, the rolling of the wheels, the rhythm of the journey. It’s the journey through every Karoo town and on past every sign to Rietfontein in search of the next. On that drive from Gqeberha to Cradock for the festival, we joked that in the song they made famous, there are 16 Rietfonteins, but there are probably more by now, decades having rolled by since Des and Dawn first recorded it in the early 70s and since their treks through the platteland to bring us music and joy. There could be 22 Rietfonteins by now. Unless some have been renamed, which means there could be only 11.

In between these two wonderful events there’d been what they’d dubbed Lunch with the Editors, the editors being Martin Welz of Noseweek fame and I. We were both to speak, off the cuff rather than prepared talks, and this was the event I was most nervous about, thanks to my lifelong terror of public speaking.

My Greek lamb as cooked by the Victoria Manor kitchen team. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Cherie’s team had cooked my recipe for Greek lamb and my Dark Malva Pudding, delivering both with aplomb in keeping with the brilliant effort from the hotel kitchen for the entire weekend. Quite literally shaking, if not visibly so, I asked Rory, a friendly fellow across the table, if he knew how to do that glass tapping thing without breaking the glass, just wanting to get it over with. He tapped, I stood up, and just talked, and it was fine. The nerves disappeared within a minute.

My Dark Malva Pudding for Lunch with the Editors. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Des had left again on Sunday morning, and after that night’s dinner, after the lamb shank cooked slowly with kapokbos and honeybush, after the pear tarte Tatin, after the guests had all gone home, I was left with thoughts that have occupied me ever since. Once in a while something turns out to be life changing. The kid at the back of the class learnt that public speaking can be fun, even exhilarating, and an unexpected string to your bow. But more than that, an old friendship deepened. In a long life, that doesn’t happen often.

CODA

I did send that letter to Tannie Maria, actually. She wrote back.

Dear FRANTIC,

Thank you for your letter but I think you are confusing me with Sally Andrew. I am not actually her, and she is not actually me. We are two different people entirely. She doesn’t even like milkshakes.

She tells me the dinner went well. Luckily you didn’t play your party trick. I don’t think it would have gone down well.

Yours,

Tannie M

PS: Nice bowtie. DM/TGIFood

LitNet’s Izak de Vries has compiled a superb photo essay on the festival.

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.

SUBSCRIBE to TGIFood here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing.

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