The kitchen sanctuary where life is seasoned and savoured

The kitchen sanctuary where life is seasoned and savoured
Tony Jackman’s Karoo kitchen: The old teal dresser photographed from the table top. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

My cook’s heart beats in my Karoo kitchen; my solace lies there, amid pots and pans and the echoes of life. In this new weekly column, let’s have adventures together in the spirit of the old kitchens.

There’s a table in the middle of my Karoo kitchen. It did not come easily to me. For years, even decades, we’d said, one day we’ll have a kitchen big enough to have a big table in it. And it needed to be old; to hold the memories of those whose elbows leaned on it in previous lives. There must be scars in its wood, the marks of others who ate their cereal there, scraped anchovy paste on their toast, slid spoons into soup bowls.

At one end of the table, “BP” is carved into the surface.  At the opposite end, below the edge, is the legend ‘M.Y’. Remnants of past people.  A boy, perhaps, inscribing the place where he ate his breakfast while his mom was packing his school lunch; or were they the initials of a girlfriend mom doesn’t know about yet. Can’t wait for second break to meet her at the big tree… Somebody absentmindedly doodling while fretting about a bad mistake, or reminiscing about a parent or aunt who died last year and wishing they could talk to her again, if just once.

The last thing I want to do is sand it or paint it. Its blemishes hold its stories. And stories are everything in life. Without them we are nothing. Our stories are happening around that table now; it’s our turn. We add our marks, enrich the table’s stories. Not intentionally; like life, it just happens, it unfolds before us.

We have friends around tonight. I’ve made something special, for they’ve been kind to us. The last three navel oranges of the tree we brought from Cape Town, the one I planted in a big pot in Tamboerskloof circa 2010 and which has trekked with us across the country, were picked on Thursday. I needed to show them some respect, to make something we’d remember.

I thought about it and then decided: the oranges would become a pudding; we’d sit around the big table and tell stories, add something to the memories in the old wood; and after the mutton, which I’d cook in a potjie for much of the day, and the pumpkin purée and the rosemary potato wedges I’d serve with that, they’d start asking about the aromas emitting from the oven. Can’t wait for whatever that is. Then Carl would say, orange … I smell orange.

There will be other Karoo kitchens in these columns. In my ramblings, when I encounter another cook’s sanctuary, I will ask if I may share it with them, cook with them, sit at their tables and hear their stories. I’ll be “borrowing” some of the kitchens of the Tuishuise in my home town, filled with the vintage furniture and implements of other people’s lives. The Tuishuise are a row of restored Victorian houses in Cradock’s Market Street and their owner Sandra Antrobus has agreed that I may use them as backdrops for my photos for some of these columns. The kitchen table in beautiful Lion House will feature in my next column, a week from now.

Most of what I cook, though, will be made in my own home, where my “kitchen” is both indoors and out. The Karoo kitchen is not confined to the room by its name; it’s more than merely a room with a stove, utensils and cupboards filled with ingredients. It’s whatever the Karoo cook makes of it, and more. It extends into the garden and around the corner where the braai is and my old potjies, three-legged and flat-bottomed. I hanker after getting a tandoor too; we can dream, can’t we…

My kitchen’s well used implements include copper pots and North African tagines, a French skillet and an orange buffet casserole, though there’s no sign of a pressure cooker or an air fryer. It has a wok and a big enamel soup pot that I also call my marmalade pot; an orange-red cast iron skillet and another black one with a rope handle that I found at a flea market long ago.

On the teal-painted dresser there’s an old Krups measuring scale, a trio of vintage beige baking bowls, all bought secondhand, and the set of 1960s Le Creuset orange saucepans a friend gave us when we moved to England 20 years ago. Those have since been complemented by the orange buffet which now stands on top of the dresser, and in which I cook my risottos, pasta dishes and sundry casseroles. My tagine stands on a table in the front dining room when it’s not called to active duty.

My eye caught the orange pots when I was thinking about dessert this week; perhaps they inspired the pudding that would ensue. My mind went to the puddings I’ve made lately; a habit that’s come to me late in my cooking life. They’ve always seemed daunting, and when I was growing up, packet puddings were the New Thing; caramel pudding, lemon pudding, sometimes blancmange. But in the old kitchens of the Karoo, puddings were always made from scratch and with love, by hands that well understood the traditional implements of every farm kitchen, just as the Aga was virtually a family friend and the stone bread oven on the werf well used.

But we townies (as we’re called in these small towns) know a thing or two as well, and have learnt what we need to know. And there’s always something new to learn, and I learn something new every day, and every time I do, I promise to share it with you. Let’s start this journey and see where we go… to start with, here is the recipe for what Carl was smelling in my Karoo Kitchen the other day. It was indeed orange that he could detect coming from the oven. Orange pudding. Here’s the recipe. DM/TGIFood

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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