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

Murray’s Food Trails – The ''Eastern Eastern Cape'' Food Trail

Paul Murray - 2007-02-07

A feature of the Eastern Cape landscape is the return to game, and less evidence of merino sheep farming. The modern world and high technology have created new markets for cloth. Wool has become too expensive for the ordinary person in the street. When one is travelling across the plains of Camdeboo between Graaff-Reinet and Pearston, a lonely road that stretches for miles, the game feeding off the veld is marvellous to see. The eland, after having been hunted out in the 18th century, are back, and their gracefulness is a treat to behold.
Eland biltong can never be substituted with anything even mildly synthetic. We enjoyed this tasty, rare delight on Nooitgedacht as an antipasto before the braai one perfect early summer’s evening. The dry pieces of freshly cut karee logs on the fire lessened the strong flavour of the kudu steaks, marinated in a sauce prepared by Joanie in the kitchen of the 1819 manor house. Constantia Uitsig Red was a suitable accompaniment to a strongly flavoured meal.
Next morning the surprise of a real English breakfast at the Pearston Hotel, 40 km from Petersberg, will certainly leave the voracious appetite satisfied, until the next stop.
Somerset East is home to one of South Africa’s top artists, Walter Battiss, and the gallery exhibiting many of his works is an absolute must for any traveller, local or foreign. Equally impressive is the very carefully constructed write-up of Slachtersnek, an embarrassing moment for the wheels of justice when the rotten rope broke at the gallows and the ignominious act of rehanging the guilty Bezuidenhouts had to be carried out. The must-of-an-exhibition of what happened at Slachtersnek, accompanied by expert write-ups and graphic descriptions, runs at the Old Rectory, where there is a museum of the town and accommodation available for the traveller.
Somerset East’s Main Street might not be the most architecturally attractive one in the country, but there are still some original Art Deco buildings, colourfully painted, and there is a café that makes awesome toasted chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches. These should certainly keep the wolf away from the door until the next stop, Cradock.
A little way from Somerset East, just beyond Cookhouse, on the Port Elizabeth Road, lies Thomas Pringle, and the Slachtersnek monument is a way further. Stopping and looking at the monument will provide the perfect opportunity to unwrap the toasted sandwiches and pour out the coffee from the flask. The herbal Karoo bushes will delight the olfactory senses, and the undulating landscape, darted with koppies of dolorite, the eye.
One night at the Cradock Hotel, with its quaint row of "tuishuise" (homely cottages), is far too short. The coffee shop adjoining the hotel makes fresh coffee on the hour, and the range of light meals to choose from bring with them the quintessential quality of food made from fresh produce from the countryside.
The entry into Cradock from the Buffelshoek side, where Olive Schreiner, her husband Cron, her one day old baby girl and her dog Nita all are buried in the sarcophagus high up on the mountains, is spectacular. The grave of Olive Schreiner, one of the greatest persons to live in South Africa, overlooks the once politically volatile landscape. Olive fought for the same principles as the Cradock Four, under Matthew Goniwe, whose memorial is in the town.
It is a strange thing to carry your one year old daughter in a coffin wherever you go, and the same for your little dead dog. This is what Olive did. She died in a hotel room in Wynberg in 1920 and was found dead by the maid who was bringing early morning tea. Her body was laid to rest in the Maitland Cemetery, but a few years later it was exhumed and reinterred on Buffelshoek. A visit to the Olive Schreiner House in Cradock brings full circle the history of an exceptional individual, eccentric to say the least.
The evening meal at the Cradock Hotel was another treat – and not even one of the nation’s now customary power failures could deter the kitchen staff from providing a Karoo meal "to die for". Dining by candlelight was never as romantic.
The road across the harsh Cradock terrain and over the Wapadberg starts descending into Graaff-Reinet, past the Murray farms on the outskirts. Tea at Bloemhof with Walter and Ann Murray, and now son Julien, is a treat, and the stately 26-room homestead is an elegant landmark and reminder of the ostrich boom of the 1920s. Entering the oasis of Graaff-Reinet (home to the Graaff-Reinet house) is a fitting end to a round, dynamic tour of South Africa’s diverse and interesting history in the eastern part of the Eastern Cape.
A must for diners must surely be the fine dining at the Drostdy in Graaff-Reinet, where the 144 candle holders can still light up the dining hall as it did in the splendid past. A suitable selection of typical Karoo dishes will impress the discerning palate.
Even though the places of the eastern Eastern Cape are far away, they are well worth the trip.