Hunting down the wild taste of fynvleis

Hunting down the wild taste of fynvleis
Tony Jackman’s wildspastei (game pie) made from venison fynvleis, photographed on the old stove that belonged to Cradock hotelier Sandra Antrobus as a young bride. There’s a bit of the fynvleis in the small bowl. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

This was a quest. First came the hunt, the seminal day that would stay with me forever. A year later came the fynvleis and the end of a mission.

Fynvleis is royalty among Karoo dishes. It surely came from the omnipresence of the old kitchen ranges, whether a creamy Aga, a pale green Jewel or the black stoves that now sell for a fortune. There’d be black iron pots and kettles on top, and in winter the stove would be lit to warm the house all day.

From a big pot near the back of the iron hob would come the soft whisper of the simmer and the sweet scent of koljander and clove. And much as I love the beauty of the English coriander, isn’t the Afrikaans word just so beautiful on the ear, often pronounced as if the “d” were silent: kol-janner.

I’d wanted to cook fynvleis myself, to understand its intricacies and joys, ever since that seminal day in late July 2021 when I finally found myself at the end of a three-year quest to learn how to hunt. This latter-day Karoo Boy was a reluctant hunter. Like many city people I have foibles about these things, even though I do eat meat. It’s all so innocent, portioned into tidy cuts and packaged for us to pop into a trolley. It’s quite another thing to shoot the animal yourself.

It was a day like no other. At the end of one of the most seminal days ever, a day full of beauty and the complexities of life – sweat, aching legs, tired muscles, a gash on my forehead from mishandling the rifle scope, but beauty in nature and the strangely spiritual experience of the cull – there was an animal whose meat you may well find so neatly packaged to buy to take home.

After the animal, a blesbok, had hung in the farm cooler room for a week, the meat was delivered to me. I made biltong, the odd potjie, and promised myself I would, with some of the meat, learn the fine Karoo art of preparing fynvleis. And with that end result, if it went to plan, I would make a traditional wildspastei, or game pie.

The happy consequence of that quest is in the photograph on this page. With a beast that size, and blesb0k is one of the larger game animals, there’s a lot of meat, and inevitably some of it must be frozen. I defrosted a bag of it, which weighed 2 kg, then climbed into my car and went to visit my friend Sandra Antrobus who owns the local hotel and Tuishuise. We have been friends since we first moved to Cradock, in the Eastern Cape Midlands, eight years ago, and all I knew about fynvleis until this week, other than eating it, comes from Sandra. She was very clear. “Tony, when it’s cooked it must be so delicious that you want to eat it as it is, plain. You want that wild taste.”

It’s not only venison that goes into fynvleis. As with many game dishes, pork spek (fat) is used too, usually belly spek. And as with the old venison stews cooked in farm kitchens throughout the Karoo, mutton goes in too. It’s included for its fat, so those packs of ‘potjiekos’ mutton you find at the supermarket butchery are perfect, or you can use mutton ribs. But you have to be careful to make sure you get rid of all the bones, especially if the resulting fynvleis is intended for the game pie or wildspastei. So there’s venison, pork (fat) and fatty mutton in the pot.

The meat cooks for hours – mine simmered away for seven – and in that time the meat slowly falls apart although, being game meat, it holds itself together for a remarkably long time.

There are aromatics in the water too, and they are, said Sandra, very particular. There must be coriander seeds and cloves (naeltjies), but that pair, for the first part of the cook, are all that is required apart from salt and white pepper. Yes, there’s a second cook, even after all that.

It was, inevitably, an all day affair, just as the hunt had been a year earlier. Well into the evening, I wrote in my notes, “It’s nearly 10pm and it’s been on since 4pm. Plan to go till 11.” I did that, then fell happily into a deep sleep while my first fynvleis cooled in a big pot on the stove. You’ll find the recipe here. 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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