A (veld)kool day in a blooming West Coast paradise

A (veld)kool day in a blooming West Coast paradise
(Photo: Stephen from Pixabay)

The Cape’s West Coast is in bloom, vermillion-coloured vygies make an entrance and there is a scattershot of colour, a Rorschach blotch gone mad with prison jumpsuit-orange and yolky yellows.

This area is a combination of sandveld and strandveld, a cunning mixture of vegetation rooted in a wizard genesis that for many months of the year lives in shuttered underground until showtime, which is from July to October.

It is here, less than 100km from Cape Town, that various floral kingdoms hold hands and hug, letting off a breath of something akin to Oxycontin, filling the onlooker with an almost chemical vibrancy.

We are in the unique Renosterveld vegetation which covers the Swartland and Boland areas, on the West Coast lowlands to the north of Cape Town, and is often misunderstood but can be relied on to always throw up great and startling surprises such as the Spider Orchid, a geophyte found in the Swartland Shale, ominously fragile but irresistible.   

This is the time when the whole West Coast is retooling for its shamelessly flamboyant end-of-month show when fat Schaparelli-pink plants (Hyobanche sanguinea) pop out of the soil with serpent heads.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is “world famous” but the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve and Kogelberg Biosphere, which include the West Coast Park, are home to the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world.

And among all these show-off blooms are numerous eatables, as any forager will tell you, from wild garlic and buchu with its flavoursome leaves to taaibos, Searsia pyroides or wild currants.

I lived in the region for many years and recall the excitement generated in July after the first rains when the veld was full of what we then called Hotnot’s Kool but now call Veldkool or Wild Asparagus.

I am visiting friends in Churchhaven on the West Coast which is thrillingly beautiful with a languorous seduction.

The host has been out early and collected a basket of wild asparagus, carefully selecting the young flowering stalks or bud clusters which are harvested before the flowers have opened… and this is what you eat.

Veldkool (Trachyandra falcata) is a dreary little plant with a feisty pioneering attitude. In the 40 years I have visited, despite fire, storms and more, it returns to the veld with renewed energy. It is as endearing as an old friend, although it needs a bit of primping before it is ready to eat.

They can either be sautéed lightly like asparagus and used in similar ways in quiches or warm salads or they can be steamed and served with butter, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. You can also use them to make a traditional dish called Veldkool Bredie, a slow cooked lamb stew.

A world famous pioneer in the research of the culture of food, Dr Renata Coetzee, had a great love of wild South African foods and the culinary heritage of different cultural groups within Africa. Her unique research among various Khoi-Khoin groups brought to life the Khoi-Khoin food culture in Kukumakranka.

Our host today has made Veldkool bredie with lamb. Now lamb is a tricky meat and you need to find a really good farmer who has reared his lambs properly and preferably without a feedlot (my preference). Lambs are culled at 10 weeks to six months, so the chances of grabbing one off the veld, as many people like to believe (the famous karoo lamb), is limited – they need careful rearing and really good farming practices.

Fifty years ago, lamb was seldom eaten but now it has taken over from mutton, mainly for financial reasons, and is not nearly as flavoursome. Mutton is seldom seen on the shelves these days, more’s the pity.

The host gets his meat from LA farms, also on the West Coast. The owner is Muslim and therefore meat is both Halaal and properly slaughtered in an abattoir on the farm.

Veldkool bredie is lusty and lovely on a cold day but a bit too lamby for my taste, which tends to overwhelm the poor little veldkool. My favourite recipe is veldkool frittata. 

Cook two sliced potatoes in a pan until almost done, then add a handful of veldkool, a teaspoonful of rosemary and half a cup of chorizo. When cooked, add the mix with half a cup of pecorino to six whisked eggs in a bowl. Return the egg mix to the pan that’s been coated with olive oil. Cook till half done, then grill in the oven for slight browning. Serve with Tabasco.

We end the meal with dragon fruit (who has ever dared buy it?) cut in tikki-thin slices with almost celluloid transparency and strange taste, sprinkled with lime and mixed with slices of pawpaw.

For today at least – and surely this is the real reason for getting together with friends – everything seems retooled, a paean of true leisure to be grabbed, because, in this flakey world, who knows whether one will ever have it again. DM


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