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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

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

The Olive Schreiner Trail

Paul Murray - 2010-07-27

Figure 1. The Victoria Hotel, Cradock. This majestic hotel was built in 1840 and is one of the oldest of its kind in South Africa.

The Victoria Hotel
36 Market Street
Cradock 5880
Phone +27 (0) 48 8811322
Fax: +27 (0) 48 8815388

Mother and daughter team Lisa and Sandra Antrobus have created a traveller’s haven in Cradock. The Victoria Hotel, which boasts several dining rooms and well-appointed rooms in classic Victorian style in the hotel, not forgetting possibly the best known of all, the row of Tuishuise, is an absolute must for anyone passing through. Karoo hospitality and the wonderful dry air will lure the visitor.

The weekend of 2–4 July was no exception. These dates had been cast for the first ever Spirit of Olive Schreiner Festival organised at the hotel.

Figure 2. Olive Schreiner as a young woman.
(Photographed by PL Murray in the Schreiner House.)

It was an uplifting experience to participate in a festival where the organisers intended reviving the memory of Olive Schreiner. Special meals, speeches and visits were arranged to celebrate the great poetess and writer. The spirit of Olive Schreiner surely lives on in Cradock and the visitor could feel it almost as if the verse from Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” had become real:

Thy voice is on the rolling air;
I hear thee where the waters run;
Thou standest in the rising sun,
And in the setting thou art fair.

 Figure 3. The road sign to Cradock from Somerset East. The road over the Swaershoek Pass (R337) is a long and bumpy one, but as you reach the peak you see the town of Cradock neatly tucked into the Karoo countryside landscape.


Figure 4. The going across the pass is rough, so best use your older car to travel this road.


Figure 5. A splendid table awaited the long-distance traveller, accompanied by friendly service and warm Karoo hospitality.
(Photograph by PL Murray)


Figure 6.
The tables are elegantly laid in the dining halls of the Victoria Manor. (Photograph by PL Murray)


Figure 7.
The signpost in front of the Schreiner House in Cradock. (Photograph by PL Murray)

Figure 8. Take along an Etienne van Heerden Karoo novel to doubly soak in the Karoo atmosphere.


Figure 9.
Etienne van Heerden, acclaimed South African writer and son of Cradock. He spent his youth there until the age of fourteen when his family moved to Stellenbosch. Read his account of this year’s festival.


Acclaimed South African writer Etienne van Heerden, one of several guest speakers at the Saturday evening function and dinner, spoke on the influence of Cradock and its landscape on his work. His youth novel, which is also his debut novel, Matoli (Perskor, 1978), as well as Kikoejoe (Tafelberg, 1996), recall his time as a young person growing up on his father’s farm along the Great Fish River. His consciousness of the political and socio-economic events of the 1970s and 1980s developed strongly, as is reflected in these works. Van Heerden enjoys returning to the place of his youth and the unique landscape of Cradock and environs.


Figure 10. From left: Darryl David who organised the Festival; author Etienne van Heerden; South African poet Stephen Gray; Tony Jackman, writer and playwright; and Paul Walters, professor of English, at the Saturday night celebratory dinner at the Victoria Hotel in Cradock.

Figure 11. Proprietor Sandra Antrobus, second from left, joins the team for a special photograph.

Figure 12. The house at 9 Cross Street, Cradock, once inhabited by Olive Schreiner, today curated by the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown. Olive Schreiner lived here with her siblings from 1868 to 1870. (Photograph by PL Murray)

As part of the festival arrangements several Olive Schreiner sites were visited, including the house at 9 Cross Street, Cradock, inhabited by Olive Schreiner and her siblings from 1868 to 1870. It can be visited between 08h00 and 12h45 and 14h00 and 16h30 on weekdays only. There is a small bookshop in the house focusing on Schreiner's works and on other Karoo writers. The curator may be contacted during work hours on (048) 881 5251. (Photo credit.)


Figure 13.
Buffelskop where Olive Schreiner was buried on 13 August 1921 together with the bodies of her child and their much-loved dog, Nita. (Photograph by PL Murray)

As part of the arrangements at the Festival, visits to the places where Olive Schreiner lived and worked were arranged, for instance Kransplaas and Buffelskop where she is buried. In his debut novel Etienne van Heerden recalls these sites and contextualises the position of the character of his book, Matoli:

Van die Schreiner-graf af, hoog teen die berg, kan mens oor die Visriviervallei uitkyk. Soos ’n groen rusper kruip die Groot Vis oor die valleibodem, met weerskante van die loop besproeiingslande, hier en daar ’n opstal met buitegeboue, en verderaan die semi-grasveld van die berghange. In die verte blink die son op die dorpsdakke van Cradock, die dorpie wat sy naam ontleen aan Sir John Cradock, die man wat van Gibraltar af ingevoer is om die stryd tussen die grensboere en die Xhosas aan die Oosgrens te beëindig.

In hierdie vallei het die grensboer-kommando’s, waaronder die voorsate van Kobus was, in die tyd van Sir John in konfrontasie gekom met die voorvaders van Matoli. 

Sowat twee kilometer suid van die klipstapel wat Matoli se graf merk, is Kransplaas, ook genoem River View, waar Olive gewoon en gewerk het.

The fare at the Festival was scrumptious. Every effort was made to serve rich Karoo food as was enjoyed at the table from the time of Olive Schreiner and her family. The rich Karoo food is still a hallmark of the place as it was then, and the Victoria Hotel and staff pulled out all the stops to recreate the historic occasion.

Figure 14. Sherry served on a cold Karoo evening at the gala dinner.


Figure 15. Venison Carpaccio with vinaigrette and fresh salad.

Figure 16. Venison pie served at the Saturday night gala dinner.

Recipe for venison pie

800 g venison steak
3 T cooking oil
1/2 bunch celery
1 punnet baby carrots, cleaned and trimmed
6-8 small pickling onions, peeled
1 × 410 g can lima beans, drained
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 × 250 g packet frozen peas
2 cups red wine sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 packet bought puff pastry, or make your own
1 egg beaten with 2 T milk

  1. Place the meat in a large container and pour marinade over. Marinate for 24 hours.
  2. Drain and discard the marinade. Cut the meat into 2 cm cubes.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and brown the meat.
  4. Add the onions and fry until lightly browned.
  5. Add all the vegetables and beans.
  6. Add the red wine sauce, season to taste, cover and simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes or until the meat is tender. Remove from stove and cool.
  7. Turn the mixture into an ovenproof pie dish. Cover with puff pastry. Cut some leaves from the off-cuts and decorate the pie. Brush with eggwash.
  8. Bake in a preheated oven of 180°C for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Serves 4-6.

Figure 17. The Spirit of Olive Schreiner at our table.


Figure 18. Karoo gravy to accompany the fine fare.


Figure 19. Breads served at the breakfast for Sunday morning, freshly baked by the Victoria Hotel, to celebrate the Spirit of Olive Schreiner Festival. (Photograph by PL Murray)

Figure 20. Bacon, sausage and a choice of free-range eggs for breakfast.


Figure 21. Stewed fruit, to precede the rich English breakfast made from fresh Karoo produce.

Sunday morning came and it was the last of the three-day commemoration of a great South African. The day began with a Karoo breakfast in the hotel’s breakfast room in true Karoo style - toasts, cereals, fruits and a classic “English” breakfast of sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and free-range eggs. Then there was the visit to the Schreiner House around the corner from the hotel. The colonial architecture of the town stood out – especially the hotel, and the Tuishuise and many of the other buildings, such as the church.


Figure 22. Cradock commemorates several of its sons and daughters – Olive Schreiner is one; others are The Cradock Four: Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli. The Four were abducted while travelling from Port Elizabeth to Cradock in 1985 and assassinated by security police, and their bodies and their vehicle burnt on June 27, 1985. The Cradock Four Monument can be seen in the Municipal Park of Cradock.

The landscape of Cradock features strongly in certain of Etienne van Heerden’s novels. Kikoejoe is an example. It contains the harsh reality of deep political undertones. I ended my tour to Cradock by visiting the Matthew Goniwe Monument site of the memorial to the Cradock Four. The words of Olive Schreiner in From Man to Man came to mind, aptly chosen by acclaimed international South African writer Etienne van Heerden for the opening page of his first novel, Matoli, published in 1978:

Then among men
In their very struggles with each other,
Is it always the strongest fist
And the fiercest heart which aids races or individuals
To survive?


Figure 23. Olive Schreiner as a young lady.
(Photograph taken by PL Murray at the Schreiner House.)