Skaapstertjies and a challenge to our top chefs

Skaapstertjies and a challenge to our top chefs
Let’s see skaapstertjies on menus. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

It’s time for skaapstertjies, one of our finest delicacies, to be taken seriously by our celebrated chefs. Let’s see them on your menus.

Shank, leg, rack, saddle, neck; the sheep and lamb have many parts that people love to eat and cook. But all the way back there, unnoticed by many and overlooked by most, is the tiny little tail. And that is one of the greatest treats the animal has to offer those who love the beast for both its meat and its fat. And fat is the key to lamb and the best flavour it can offer, just as it is to beef.

In Afrikaans we call it the skaapstertjie, the little sheep’s tail. I say “we” because I’m feeling a bit Je Suis Afrikaans about the language after Onze Charlize’s witty, but not quite witty enough, faux pas, for which I think we need to forgive her, while thanking her for focusing all of our attention on a taal that we have generally taken for granted.

We’ve rallied to the defence of Die Taal and we’re thinking about all the Afrikaans words and phrases that have meaning for us. And we’re reminding ourselves just how often an Afrikaans word says more than its often more formal English equivalent.

Most of us are paying much more attention to Afrikaans words and phrases now, and Afrikaans terminology is all over the Karoo where almost every English speaker uses Afrikaans food terms as a matter of course. From skaapstertjies to skilpadjies and poffertjes to roosterkoek all the way to vinkel en koljander (fennel and coriander), somehow the Afrikaans trips more sweetly off the tongue. It’s not half as romantic to call them sheep’s tails and tortoises, pumpkin puffs and griddle cakes.

And while coriander is a lovely word, koljander is even lovelier. And vinkel for fennel, how sweet is that? And let’s not forget borrie for turmeric, neutmuskaat for nutmeg, and komyn for cumin. While we’re down this rabbit hole, cloves are naeltjies, mace is foelie, and chillies are brandrissies. The herb names are as enchanting: roosmaryn and marjolien, salie and kruisement. (Rosemary, marjoram, mint and sage.) and the best of them, for me: pietersielie (parsley).

So let’s cut Charlize Theron some slack/sny bietjie slap. There was no ill intent in what she said in that infamous podcast, and she’s inadvertently done us all, and die taal, a wonderful favour, showing us just how much we care about the language even while many of us may not quite have been aware of it.

This doubtless has more meaning for me after having lived in the Karoo for eight years, in a very Afrikaans town. I doubt that even 10 percent of people in Cradock have English as their first language (and we all know how to vloek at our infamous service delivery); so speaking Afrikaans is normal and my command of it has increased massively in that time. But I still have that shy hesitance typical of die Ingelsman when speaking to fluent Afrikaans speakers; I often hesitate at a word that isn’t coming, so I quickly go the Graaffrikaans route. It works like this: you start a sentence in een taal and when you get to a certain word, you gooi in die eerste woord that crops up, al is dit Afrikaans or English.

In honour of Charlize and what she’s inadvertently done for us, I cooked skaapstertjies, one of the finest treats of the entire Karoo. They’re a tricky ingredient to cook, as they have a tendency to be tough, but if you cook them twice, first to get them tender and the second time to get them caramelised and crisp, boy do you have a treat in store.

They ought to be on our finest restaurant menus and proudly served as a true South African delicacy. I happened to mention skaapstertjies to Peter Tempelhoff of FYN in Cape Town, a man whose food I have long admired, during the Eat Out restaurant awards recently. I’m not entirely sure he thought I was being serious when I dared him to put skaapstertjies on his menu. But why would our top chefs not have a go at them? 

But not only Peter. I challenge all of our top chefs to put skaapstertjies on their menus and in doing that be just as inventive with them as they are with their duck breasts, wagyu rib-eye, pork belly or octopus. I know that Bertus Basson has cooked skaapstertjies, but what about David Higgs, Wandile Mabaso and, say, Johannes Richter (he being the chef who amazed everyone by winning the top restaurant gong at the event).

I’m a modest, self-taught home cook whose recipes many ordinary people like to cook; I know my place and I’m grateful for that. You guys are the very cream of such an impressive crop. I’m in awe of you all. You can create magical dishes out of anything set before you, and I promise you that skaapstertjies are worthy of your attention. Just be sure to give your customers a finger bowl, because the only way to eat skaapstertjies is with your fingers.

I hope you’ll rise to the challenge, no matter how fine/fyn your restaurant and cuisine may be. You could call it The Charlize. Meanwhile, my own recipe for it is here. DM/TGIFood

If/when you do put them on your menu, please let me know at [email protected] so that I can tell my readers (your potential customers) all about it.

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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