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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The Eland Trail


Paul Murray - 2007-11-06

The roads in the Karoo are dusty
Driving out into the open, breathing clean air … these are becoming newly discovered features of the ancient Karoo. The stressful life of the city and the pressures brought to bear upon residents, provide a new meaning out there for many. More and more people are finding solace, even setting up home in what used to be a tiny Karoo dorp or in one of the bigger towns. Property prices in Aberdeen, Graaff-Reinet and Nieu-Bethesda are unprecedented. Especially once out of the city periphery the smell of the Karoo bushes begin to stimulate the olfactory senses, clearing congested noses and blowing away the sinusitis. Pharmacies are not nearly as lucrative businesses in the Karoo towns as they are in the cities. The dusty roads, the sights of majestic mountains, draw the traveller closer and closer to the treasures that you would never have dreamed of – Nooitgedacht!

Majestic mountain ranges tower above the escarpment and the mountain slopes provide ideal grazing for the antelopes and other game.

Dicynodont from 250 million years ago
Since long before man and woman came to the Karoo creatures great and small have lived there. One of the oldest inhabitants of the Karoo is the dog-like pre-reptile of the Upper Permian Age, from about 250 million years ago. Unlike antelopes such as the eland and kudu, this creature survived in the flood plains and mountain slopes for approximately 20 million years.

Today all you will find are models of the creature, in museums such as the Albany Museum in Grahamstown, under the auspices of Dr Billy de Klerck, who is renowned for his discoveries in the field.

A view from the mountainside in the Karoo
In the Karoo some creatures lived for a long time, others entered the biosphere in search of food, and as new species of trees and plants found their way inland, so the game followed suit. The kudu, previously found in the Karoo, left, but returned in pursuit of the acacia, says the manager at Nooitgedacht, Richard Viljoen. The eland were hunted out, but they too, returned, thanks to the interest shown in ecology. Taurotragus oryx is Latin for eland. It means "bull-like gazelle". It behaves more like a gazelle than a bull … its shyness is underscored by its gracefulness, even though it is the largest of the antelope. Unfortunately for the eland, its meat is highly sought after, especially in the form of biltong.

Eland
Oom Adam on the farm prepares the biltong from a time-honoured recipe. His absence in the recent June holiday, when he was on leave, resulted in the biltong not being the same. The remark from a colleague explained the stand-in biltong maker’s failure to let the strips of raw meat lie in vinegar for 48 hours. This lengthy preparation is essential for the later process of curing the meat, and it removes any wild taste.

Donovan, Gerry and Stephen slaughtering the eland for biltong
The biltong never tasted the same as Oom Adam’s, remarked a colleague. And game biltong is made completely differently from beef biltong. The secret lies not only in laying the meat in the brine, but also the method of rubbing in the salt with a little coriander seed. Sun-drying in the open air until it becomes hard on the outside and to an extent the inside too, is essential. The herbal grasses that eland feed on lie on the plains as well as the slopes of the mountains in the Karoo. “They look so good ’cause they eat so good” is a suitable strap phrase for describing their fine state. This makes the eland a favourite among Karoo diners, and might well account for the interest in the meat from the Slow-Food Society. In many ways the succulent meat from the eland resembles the cut commonly known as Bistecche alla Fiorentina, from the cow found on the slopes of the Apennines in Tuscany, in the Val di Chiana. The similar size of the animals makes them ideal for gourmet steaks of a fair size.
If a barbecue is not the way to prepare game then try a classic Leipoldt recipe (taken from Leipoldt’s Food and Wine (edited by TS Emslie and PL Murray, Stonewall Books, 2003). Cut some fillets of eland, taken neatly from the neck or back of the buck (Leipoldt suggests "the best is from the muscles that lie along the spinal column"). Rub in salt, pepper and a little flour, simmer in fat with a pinch of powdered ginger, make a good gravy sauce, add a drop of lemon juice, chilli, a little sweet red wine and enough rice flour to thicken. Dip the stewed fillets in lemon juice and powder them with pepper and salt, place in a shallow dish and pour over the boiling gravy sauce … and serve.

Bistecche alla Fiorentina
The eland is ideal for the recipe for game, since its flesh, especially the hump, is savoury and tender, and requires no larding. The beauty is that it can be prepared as for game or beef.

Nothing is wasted from the eland, especially not the delicacies such as the hooves, stomach, liver, heart and lungs.

The trotters are cooked up for jelly making.
The stomach, which is scrubbed and washed and serves as tripe Eland heart

Cook the tripe after cleaning, selecting the thickest pieces, then dip in a thin batter by mixing egg yolk with sifted flour and a little milk, add some salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of powdered chilli, and fry the pieces in fat or butter. Sprinkle parsley over and serve with rice or mashed potato.

The San believe that if they eat the heart of the eland they will become strong and mighty like their hero antelope. The eland and the San come a long way together. Rock art shows how once the eland had been killed there was an immediate link with the realms above the earth and beneath the earth (the material world). Rites of passage begin with rubbing in the fat of the eland, which is the magic medium for entering a trance.
The entrails of the eland – liver and gall bladder. In Roman times the future was foretold from the way the entrails lay.
The Romans used to find out the will of the gods from the entrails. After slaughtering the animal the trained priests, called haruspices (literally: "men who could examine guts") could read the events that would follow. This form of divination emanated from the ancient Etruscans, who inhabited the Italian Peninsula from the ninth century BC. The staff on the farm where the eland was being slaughtered confirmed that you could deduce certain things from the entrails, but these related to factors such as climate and weather patterns. It was unlikely the future could be foretold, as the Romans managed to do.

The eland, wiped out towards the mid-nineteenth century, have been brought back to the Karoo by game farmers. They were. Although shy and hard to hunt, constantly chasing them on horseback tired them out on the plains, where they were shot in their droves. Today they are once again prize game for both local and international hunters.

Some serious damage to the veld recently left a few "hansies" now fully grown. Their shy nature means you cannot get too near them in the paddock, although the proximity to them under these conditions is a great deal closer that in the wild, open veld. To shoot one must feel good if you are a hunter, but to see one shot if not, is pretty awful.

A young hunter with his prize – an eland bull
The way the eland is hunted today is so different from the time when the San stalked their prey. Knowing the direction of the wind, the terrain, the every move of the eland was crucial for the survival of South Africa’s first people, the San. For days they would be away, stalking, following, pursuing their majestic game, for which the utmost respect was shown, until the final, fatal moment, when the spear-head tipped with poison would sink into the flesh of the animal. On the hunt one would carry a skin hold-all and a long chisel-nosed digging stick as well as a knobkerrie (a wooded ball-headed club), and the other would bear a bow and quiver made from a strip of bark taken from the camel thorn tree (kameeldoorn). It was covered with animal hide for camouflage and smell, and it hung around the hunter’s neck as he stalked his prey. Wooden arrows lay inside and the arrow heads were of metal or bone.

The poison at the tip of the arrow was from the venom of the scorpion, mixed with insects and vegetable matter, or from the parasite larva of the beetle that feeds off the poison grub tree. Approximately 8–10 grubs would be smeared on the arrow tip, enough to fell a large antelope in 20 hours. To ensure no one in the hunting party got pricked by the poisonous arrow head, it was covered with wild cotton, which was removed just before exacting the fatal shot at the game. Today it takes virtually nothing to fell a buffalo, let alone an eland, just a sound and accurate eye and a .306 rifle … a Parthian shot!

Today, all it takes is an accurate shot to fell a buffalo …In the days when the San hunted, the process was more complex and lengthy.

The following recipe is mouth-watering to the eland meat-eater and serves as a possible alternative recipe to that of the guru of game recipes, C Louis Leipoldt.

Take
0,75 kg eland steak
2 cooking apples
20 g brown sugar
25 g butter
olive oil
25 ml lime juice
a dash of brown rum
freshly ground black pepper.

Method

Peel and slice the apples. Sprinkle the slices of apple with brown sugar, then place them in a pan. Gently soften them in butter.

Keep the apples warm while the steaks are seasoned and fried until pink. Once they are pink, take the eland steaks out of the pan and keep them warm. In the meantime, cool the pan with lime juice and rum. This sauce is first poured on to the plate. The meat is then carefully arranged on the sauce and covered with slices of apple.

Delicious potato croquettes are served with this.

(Source for the above recipe: http://www.deli-ostrich.com/site/page/15)

For the real eland lover, a walk in the veld, looking for game, is a gentler way of appreciating this most graceful of all antelope, especially as the sun sets across the wide Karoo plains and their call can be heard in the distance.

The best of all – a Karoo sunset