Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birthday Beat

A colleague visited a farm during the school holidays and last week she gave me a packet of quinces with the request that I do something with them and give a portion of the resultant product to her on Thursday this week, in return for the fruit. Working only two days a week, I certainly have more time than she, for playing in the kitchen.

I decided to use the balance of the fruit to create something for the entire staff to eat, as an early contribution for my birthday.

I soaked the fruit in some water and then used an old "orange" bag to rub off the furry coating. I decided to partially cook them while still whole. They are the devil to peel and cut when raw.


Do not overcook. Just pour in about 4 cm of water and then boil/steam until the quinces are partially cooked. Drain and  stand until cool. Now it is really easy to peel over those hard bumpy bits and to cut into the fruit.

Peeled fruit

Cut the fruit into chunks. These quinces were not the neatest specimens I have ever seen and I had to cut out many discolourations and spots. Some of the fruit was thrown straight into the compost because the centres were totally rotten. (Actually, we don't have a compost bin because of the baboons so we put the debris out at night for the porcupine, who, judging by the empty bowl in the morning, thought it was HIS birthday!)

Pour some sugar and water onto the quinces and boil slowly until they turn a slightly pink colour and are soft. Stir gently at first until the sugar is melted. (You could dissolve the sugar in hot water before pouring onto the quinces). For quantities, I used my own judgement but you could weigh the fruit and then use water and sugar quantities as per any stewed apple recipe. I added some raisins just for fun. If you enjoy cloves, add those too.

I set aside a bottle of the stewed fruit for my colleague. I will instruct her to use it up within the next few days because I am not going to do the whole "boiling in a bath of water" routine. 

I used this recipe which a friend shared with me for this occasion. Instead of a full tin of pie apples, I replaced half the quantity of apples with the stewed quinces and raisins. If the pie was for me, I would only use the quince but the flavour is strong and perhaps some might find relief by diluting it with apples.

1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 cup sifted self-raising flour
1 tin of pie apples

Whip eggs and sugar.
Add milk and whip.
Add  melted butter and whip.
Add sifted flour and whip.
Put your whip away.
Pour in a buttered pie dish and then arrange fruit chunks on top.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and a few chopped cloves if desired.

Bake at 180 C for 40/45 min. until done and golden brown.

In a microwave or on the stove, heat a cup of Ideal evaporated milk and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until the sugar has melted. Pour this over the pie and let it rest while the milk soaks in.

Enjoy !

I don't have to wait until tomorrow to taste this. I made a second pie and it has been declared a huge success, especially topped with some Ultra Mel custard! Cream or Vanilla ice-cream would work too.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Who would a farmer be?

Its tough being a farmer in South Africa. While some farmers do seem to be well rewarded for their input, others, with no less input, are dealt a life and "reward" which makes you question their insistence/sanity in pursuing their profession.

From the large land area of South Africa, only 12% is arable land for crop production. It is pretty amazing that farmers are able to produce enough food in a good year to feed all of us.

I read that the average annual rainfall for most areas of the Cape is about 500 mm, while yet in certain areas, it is less than 200 mm.  Would you rather be a farmer in the beautiful Cape Winelands, usually with enough rainfall, fairly close to big towns or cities, or be a farmer in some dry, desolate area of the Karoo, perhaps up to 90 km or more from the nearest town or 20 - 50 km to the nearest  neighbour along gravel roads, which you have to maintain yourself in many instances, praying daily for annual rain?

What does apply to all South African farmers is that they do not receive subsidies of any description and so, there is huge risk attached to farming, through volatile market prices and periodic natural and man-made disasters.

A recent example of a farmer's lot  is the story of a young farmer in a punishing climate and environment. After eight years without good rain, recently, the heavens opened to give forth wonderful rain over a period of days. Pretty soon, the huge dam that had been built by his family 50 years ago, was full. In the middle of the night, he awoke to hear the nearby river roaring past the farmhouse, despite the rain having ceased a few days previously. In daylight, the sight of  a huge hole in the earthen dam wall revealed that, unseen, a type of ant colony, without the pressure and threat of water, had made their home within the wall for the last eight years, turning compacted earth to the consistency of beach sand. Ants had created this certain disaster for the future and  not even 50cm of the water remained in the dam. The farmer gave thanks that the wall had eroded over a period of hours rather than had it burst in one moment and swept away home and family. But it is still a hardship to bear. The wall will take millions of rands to replace, if ever.

Another example is the recent epidemic which spread through the ostrich-farming industry. Farmers were forced to destroy any livestock which had not yet succumbed to the disease and, despite being promised by the Government some compensation for this culling, many farmers have either had to start again from scratch when the small compensation has not nearly fulfilled its purpose or, applied for bankruptcy where compensation has not materialized.

Another blot on the agricultural horizon is the hot topic of fracking for gas in the middle of Karoo farmland areas.  This  is shooting a new fear through the hearts of the farmers.

The threat of land distribution also hangs like a sword of Damocles over farmers. There was a "Willing buyer (government), willing seller " scheme initiated a few years ago and yet, when a willing seller was found and papers were drawn up for the sale, the buyer ultimately  caused a sale to hang in limbo for so long that market prices altered greatly in the interim, creating issues for one or other of the parties, who then needed to renegotiate from scratch in order to achieve their planned "next property purchase", and all the while, the current owner/farmer and the wanna-be farmer were prevented from moving on with the next step of their lives. Frustrated complaints and fallout created opportunity and platforms for much political posturing, denial of sabotage and implied lack of co-operation on the part of the seller, which led to some "new" ideas for land distribution.

In a worrying development, we, as city slickers, hear about the government possibly forcing the sale of  huge portions of each farm, or entire farms where ancestral ownership is proved, for less than market value. Would such a forced sale also include implements,  irrigation  pipes and other infrastructure below value? Some would-be politicians even expound expropriation without compensation!  Just thinking about it all, it makes me feel depressed and because its not in my backyard, for sanity sake, its easier to discount it all as a blip in the grand scheme of things while I continue to enjoy the view of the inside of my hole in the sand, whether as an ostrich or an ant. However, apart from the financial and political impact, what should be of concern to me as a consumer is that, if inexperienced farmers are handed the land to try and make a go of it, even if half of them succeed, the failure of the other half could gradually erode our food security. One only has to look North to see that it is not an overly pessimistic concern. For our sakes, one must hope that these new farmers who are given this land, are also provided with some form of free agricultural training, equipment and advice which will compensate for the lack of generations of knowledge.

Crime affects all of us and no less, the farming community. Theft of fruit and veg on a grand scale in order to sell openly and freely  to commuters alongside our National roads, digs deep gouges into farmers' profits and fences. Grapes along the N1 in De Doorns, apples along the N2 atop Sir Lowry's Pass are just some examples of what can be purchased by the buyer who is willing to perpetuate this practice. Stock-theft, which is probably common worldwide, carries heavier penalties, if the crime is ever followed up and successfully punished. I would guess this is because, historically and traditionally,  livestock visibly  indicates a  farmers' worth and this  perception is prevalent across all groups of people.

Murder of farmers and their families takes place regularly and without too much comment or outrage beyond their immediate communities. Even if a particularly gruesome murder is splashed across the headlines, the shock and disgust is soon forgotten amidst all the other negative happenings in our crazy world. Although labelled as criminal, many believe the crimes to be politically motivated, based on past injury dealt out by our parents and grandparents or  based on the fueling of  fear and hate, promises and perceptions as hammered out and chanted in "historical songs" by current politicians and media at election time or whenever a politician is threatened with exposure and needs to distract everyone from his hand in the taxpayers' cookie jar. Would you be happy to own and work a farm where the previous farmer and his family were cruelly and deliberately deprived of life for being  a farmer?

Thank heavens there are old families who have handed down the love and tradition of farming so that their children and grandchildren desire no easier form of life and living and where the actual work holds no fear or doubts, thanks to generations of knowledge.

And yet, as pressure becomes too great from all sides, some ask themselves whether their love of this country necessarily has to be entwined with the love of farming. They begin to follow the example of other professionals, who are forced to work far from home in alien cultures and climates because the masses of the unemployed, understandably, necessitates affirmative action in employment practices at home. We read of farmers  moving to countries in the North where their skills are so valued that land, profits and help are not begrudged them in return for that country's food security and wealth.

Who would a farmer be?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


After driving away from our plot, about 15 km further along the road, we suffered a puncture, brought on by the shocking condition of the 3 km gravel road from our gate to the N2. The tyre was completely ruined.

After changing over to the spare, we drove into heavy rain from Riversdale onwards. We heard on the radio how the Two Oceans Marathon was run in major downpours in Cape Town that morning and so we knew that we were headed straight back to winter weather.

We made a detour to Pringle Bay to visit some friends who have retired there. They had considered buying something near to our plot but eventually settled on living closer to Cape Town. Most of their garden is taken up with the house and a huge garage and workshop. However, they never have to buy spinach or lettuces.

I just love OPIs : Other People's Ideas. 
Here are two of their projects, unless you count Tyson as a third!

The Tyson Project

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


We were at our plot in March for three days but it was so dry and unattractive, I never took a single photograph. I think my apathy was also linked to the inexplicable demise of one of the Wild Pears. It had bloomed so beautifully in Spring yet had died in the last month. We spent those three days watering our trees, both from the local water system and also from our three rain-water storage tanks. These tanks were all filled to the brim from previous year rains and  rain that had fallen a day or so before we arrived. We made a huge effort to use much of this water because I am fearful of the one tank overflowing and flooding out Roy's Folly (a 1 metre high space below the verandah.....we won't explore the wisdom of this build for now!)

By the time we returned to Cape Town on 7 March, the three tanks' levels were down to a third each.

On our arrival at the plot on 1 April, we were greeted with a new, green world. We were incredulous at the difference. It could only be attributed to the bit of rain just prior to our visit a month ago.

Again, in the few days before we arrived, it had rained, this time very heavily, and so, no doubt, next month will see even greener pastures. The water tanks were full again.

We were immediately charmed with the five honeysuckle bushes (Tecoma Capensis) which were all in bloom. They are planted along the road boundary fence and eventually we hope they will grow and spread along to create a wonderful sight. Each one is different in colour.

Two Olive trees were bearing their first crop ever.

We noticed blossoms on one Keurboom attracted some bumble bees every morning on their breakfast run.


Various insect offspring are tucked up for winter.


 Things are looking good.

Acacia Robusta

 However, nothing seems to survive under the huge Black Wattle on the fence.

A Struggle: second attempt at growing the eventual replacement for the Wattle

We planted out some new trees. 

A Mission Olive next to the dead Wild Pear.

Some Keurbooms, Cape Ashes, a Num-num (Carissa bispinosa), all grown at home from seed. Some were given shade-cloth for wind protection while others were protected against rabbits until they reach a secure height.

I noticed that the Wild Peach injured many years ago by trespassing cattle is finally getting a grip on life again. This experience taught me the consequence of pruning off lower branches to stimulate height gains. Now I leave lower branches as an insurance against major setbacks to the top part of a tree in this harsh environment.

Kiggeleria Africana

Keurbooms do not live forever. Ten years is probably the average lifespan. Below some of our six year old trees, the replacements are slowly developing. Not indigenous to the region specifically, nevertheless to the country, they rely on the Keurbooms for shade and wind protection in their nursery phase of life.
Blue guarri (Euclea crispa)

Jacket Plum (Pappea Capensis) 

Lavender Tree (Heteropyxis natalensis)
(For some of these, we will have to acquire same species companions to ensure reproduction and fruit.)

The flowerbox on the East wall needed some thinning out.

We have decided to incorporate a small flower box on the West side where we are going to build a platform for repositioning the one water tank, in order to make way for the stairway up to the wooden deck.  John dug some foundations for this new construction. The ground was relatively easier to dig after all the rains.


To tempt Mujaji, we blew our savings and bought two more water storage tanks. 

This one will deal with the overflow from the main roof tank. 

We positioned one further away, in a spot that would allow the draining off of  the other tanks. In fact, we did drain off the three full ones to prepare space for their capture of winter rain, so this one is now completely full.

And so we returned to Cape Town after a lovely six days of making provision for water and trees in the future. Our last look until next time!

          These two municipal water tanks are positioned outside our gate,                     
but on our property, with our blessing.