Boeremark in Silverton — from farm to fork with bustling adventure in between
Now THIS is a real market. Bring a torch and some hiking boots to snap up some of Pretoria’s premier farmers’ produce.
Today’s sun tries to peep through the dark and the smoke of fires at the entrance. The Boeremark has really been open for one and a half hours already, the first regulars having got here even earlier, just after five, as ever.
AB (rhymes with “baby”) Heyns and I are meeting at seven. “At the windmill, more or less in the centre”. He comes here every early Saturday morning, when he’s not travelling. And also not when it’s the first Saturday of the month, which he deems too full of casual spenders as opposed to serious shoppers.
I find a windmill at a duck pond but no AB and there are 350 stalls at this market. He calls to say he hadn’t ever realised there could be a second windmill and we do meet at his, having quick “cappuccini” with Diane de Beer, also a regular, and three of AB’s bemittened friends. Diane, here today in a long scarlet coat, with a myriad of red clips in her hair is an arts-and-books-mostly blogger at De Beer Necessities. I notice a sign to my right for Moerkoffie. I would have loved some of it, AB too, but “maybe later”. I also see a sign that seems oddly out of place here for Bath Bombs, but there’s no time to wonder about that.
By the time I arrived at seven, there were already hundreds of cars parked and more hundreds trying to do so, a no-nonsense woman in khaki directing the parking in the huge lot, shouting in Afrikaans “Daai kant, verder!” There are thousands of shoppers and visitors that get up very, very early on their Saturdays because this place is so worth their while to get the early worms, before the market winds down at 9.30am. Some stalls stay on for a while but, as AB’s friend, Janetjie says, “If you arrive at 10 and know what you want and where to find it quickly, there’s still a chance of getting it, though the market would have started dissipating.”
AB’s just back from a largely cooking and eating trip to Vietnam and has lots of groceries to get this morning but, truly, it’s his favourite way to start his Saturdays anyway. He and I are at a quick, business-like trot. He points out the Pap en Kaiings (kaiings are little bits of crisped, crackly pork, for anyone who hasn’t had that pleasure yet), as we pass in a blur.
We’re quite suddenly at one of AB’s favourite fresh organic produce stands. Here are quite a few not-so-easy-to-acquire items like dewy lamb’s lettuce or mache and celeriac. I promise myself a bulb of the latter later, after this dash. AB’s visiting friends later today and is making up a guest present of “fresh things” to take. I see picturesque aubergines and shiny green peppers going into a bag. I’m impressed.
We pass smoky braziers and many little finger fires burning at the stalls, people stamping their boots and breathing out clouds of conversation. AB waves a gloved hand airily at a stall while we steam along, “I don’t know if one should eat pampoenkoekies for breakfast but the option is here.” Another stall has a queue waiting for really breakfasty melkkos. The shadows are still long. The sun is shy.
We swerve around a corner and find the stall of more fresh produce all the way from Magoebaskloof. To be here by five, these farmer people started out at two in the morning. It’s interesting that they travel here because this is a worthwhile market for their produce, for many others too from the highveld, even from the Free State. While AB tops up his bag with more super-fresh produce I remember with a smile that appelliefies are Cape gooseberries.
“It’s becoming very cosmopolitan,” says AB. “There is an interesting Turkish stand up there. But look here, these people from Korea with their hotteok cakes have started making them with more boerestyle flavourings for this market. Normally they’d just be brown sugar, honey and cinnamon with peanuts.”
At the SkaapKraal Padstal where we’re headed, many of the popular cuts and lamb products sell out early, as do the free-range eggs in many sizes. This is a real reason for our quick pace. However, we can’t help seeing some extraordinarily beautiful baskets, both soft and hard, especially some that seem to be called garlic baskets, probably for the shape, rather than as containers, AB thinks because the stall holder isn’t sure. In any case that sign has Gartic Basket on it so it’s just a guess. Here I make a mental note to revisit.
I make another note at a stall of Mozambiquan woven hats. AB I see is tempted here and looks pretty cool in his. I think he has what I call a hat head. Mine is not a good hat head, I’ve come to recognise, though for a long time I wore the square lid of a woven box from Madagascar as a hat and it looked pretty good, I thought. Still, these are better.
The SkaapKraal Padstal is more of large double-volume gallery than a padstal. The eggs might almost have sold out in the earlier hours but here’s a wealth of cuts of mutton or lamb, mince, livers and, I’m delighted to note for my return round, skilpadjies. The farm from whence all this good-looking, well-priced produce comes every early Saturday is a family one near Cullinan. Friend Adie is going to be delighted. She’s already made it very clear we’re coming here soon, just from my Whatsapps this morning. In mid-shop, AB breaks off to show me some fingerless lambswool mittens in exciting, bright fair isle patterns. “Gifts”, says AB. The farm’s citrus and their own seemingly well-known appelkooskonfyt is for sale, as well as what I fancy even more, some makataan konfyt.
On the hoof, AB indicates a spice stall we’re passing. “So many different kinds of cinnamon at this place but I can never find plain old fennel seeds anywhere”. I’d really been puzzled by an RIP sort of notice up on the back flap of the stall but I do see they have whole all-spice, something I often can’t find.
The stall with so many cinnamons and a puzzling sign. Photo: Marie-Lais Emond
We flit past Diane, possibly on a similar floral mission. AB is bearing down on a stall with exquisite blooms, roses I’ve never seen before, including a sort of coppery colour that he knew he wanted. No, not for the people he’s visiting. The flowers are for him.
It’s past eight and the market is a-thrum with humanity. Humanity has brought its canines so there are handsome dogs at every turn. “It’s quite a thing here,” smiles AB, his nose in more blooms, again for himself. These are proteas. “It’s not exactly the season for the whole range of them. When it’s warmer there’s every kind of protea you can imagine. From here.”
I’m rather fascinated by the shopping carriers. AB, now buying artisanal loaves, has a clutch of capacious bags but I’ve seen pull-barrows, transformed baby’s pushchairs and bright wooden boxes on wheels for pulling along, which AB says are hired out by the market themselves. Such is the desire and such is the demand for transporting large amounts of purchases. The carrier vehicles and luggage say a lot about how people use this market. It’s a serious shopping situation with light asides of snacks and coffees.
Most people haven’t started their Saturdays yet but the market, as time marches close to nine, is starting to clear a little, as is the smoke of this morning’s fires. It seems a long time since I left Jozi by Gautrain around about six o’clock. To think that people were getting here by torchlight then. I had watched the colours of dawn from the train, east of the line until Hatfield Station in Pretoria. When I settled myself in the Über to Silverton, just a 10-minute ride, the sky had still been a deep navy blue.
AB has slowed his pace and we both stop to taste some of the Spekbos produce, marvelling at two young women who started working with spekboom leaves when they lived in Oudtshoorn. I marvel at their ingenuity and tenacity. Of course, the leaves are excellent to eat but how many people know this? It’s wise of them to choose this market to expose and sell their interesting wares.
AB favours another coffee spot, one run by a group of deaf people, where he meets with the others at nine. They’ve been looking for ‘boereseep’, which seems to me to be like tallow. However, they’ve amassed a little collection of very artisanal splodgy-shaped soaps, some herbal. Janetjie gets the hot pannekoek from a nearby stall where I noticed a long queue earlier. “It was their last batch of batter,” she says triumphantly, putting the Styrofoam dish on the table among our coffee cups. “There are two pancakes for each of us.”
I try to lift one with my fingers and the brown cinnamony lemony sugar juice drips onto my notebook and makes my hands satisfyingly sticky. I lick them. The coffee’s very good, also very local. The sun is warming up a little and for some reason I see that crazy Bath Bombs sign again.
I know I won’t be getting all the things I wanted to nip back for. It’s becoming too late. It’s half past nine. I’ve missed the Turkish place, the trout from Milly’s near Dullstroom and lots else. It’s a huge place. Next time. Because there will be quite a few times for me now. Adie wants to book a B&B nearby for that occasion and David wants to drive here from Jozi through the dawn in his sports car. I’ll accompany both because this Pretoria Boeremark has people shopping in a way that makes supermarket shopping seem facile. This is not a convenience store by any means but trotting around with a true shopper of groceries and goods shows me just how valuable this real kind of market of real goods is for both the buyers and the sellers.
Pretoria Boeremark 665 Moreleta St, Silverton, Pretoria — every Saturday morning except religious public holidays. DM
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.