TGIFOOD

KAROO KITCHEN

Stoep sitting after the rain

Stoep sitting after the rain
The view from the stoep at Jakkalsfontein, an art deco farmhouse in the Swaershoek, Eastern Cape Midlands. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

A stoep. A chair. A glass in your hand. The view of the koppies and infinity beyond. For Karoo people, this is living.

In the Karoo, when the weather is fine and you’re feeling really placid, you find a stoep, sit down, and count your blessings. Luckily, the weather is nearly always fine in the Karoo and we feel really placid most of the time, so when you come to visit us in the Karoo there’s a very good chance you will find us on our stoeps.

Stoep sitting is not a rigorous sport. You do need to bend your elbow frequently, when raising glass to lip, but most of us are happy to endure this discomfort as a small price to pay for the benefits to mind and body of this singular pastime.

The activity is not for everyone. Those for whom the thrill of leaping out of planes or abseiling down treacherously high mountains gives them the adrenaline rush that ignites their minds should steer clear of this relatively tame alternative. We get our rush when, once the curtain has fallen on the day and the nightly bioscope projector has been switched on by Zeus in his universal wisdom, we look up and our eyes are taken yet again by the splendour of infinity. We catch our collective breath, as though we have never before seen these wonders that shine above us despite our worthlessness in the greater scheme of things. We are reminded, once again, of how infinitesimal we are, and how infinite, how unfathomably vast, is everything that is not ourselves.

Sit on the stoep after the rain, and there’s an even more magical aura about everything. The scents of the dry earth unleashing its bouquet of leaf, blossom and soil as the rain releases it from its scorched aridity is to be savoured like the finest wine. “After the rain” has so much meaning, and is such a compellingly beautiful phrase in Afrikaans, that a singer even named himself after it: Joshua na die Reën.

So we gather on our stoeps, with our friends or neighbours popping in to kuier, and we tell stories of the land and the sky, of the trees and the creatures that scurry among the karoobossies. I share my stories of my cooking adventures, of the jam I made with the figs that a friend gave me or how I learnt to cook a Wagyu beef steak after I was given some by a farmer who specialises in this fine beef near our home town. Chris and Jules tell us of their latest adventures on the many long roads they travel all over the Karoo, and Heyla promises that when the apricots are ripe she will make sure I get some so that I can make apricot jam.

Bottles will be opened, poured, glasses clinked, toasts drunk. Milestones shared will be met with cheers of congrats and mazeltov; sorrows with hugs and soothing. On the Karoo stoep, the meanness of the world recedes; it’s a space where we know there is something greater than our mere selves; just as we look up at the spangled heavens and feel our smallness.

Somebody will make a pâté, and somebody will bake something to go with it. Di may bake a loaf of her wonderful rosemary bread, and Heyla will inevitably bring jars of some of the perfect jams and relishes she makes in her kitchen down the road to sell at farm stalls all over the land.

Our stoeps are sacrosanct. They hold every story ever told on them. There are memories in walls, and in the eaves of every stoep anywhere you may travel in the Karoo. The souls of those long departed may yet linger there, in the shadows beneath the broekie lace; we never feel entirely alone on our Karoo stoep, even if we stand there in our solitude, only space and time between us and the endless sky that owns our eternity. 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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