In all my life as a cook and a food enthusiast, I have never really taken to barbequing, or more colloquially, braaiing. So my decision to buy a kettle braai last week-end, was met with curiosity and amusement by my sons, and delight by my fiancée, and we have had two braais already: one on Sunday night, and one last night.
In truth, I probably never will regard this as proper cooking: but the men in my life seem to really like the opportunity to step in and take over this way of cooking. My oldest son, on both occasions, took it upon himself to light the charcoal, and get the coals to just the right stage. He even cooked the entire meal, starting thoughtfully with the vegetarian food for my stepson to be: on Sunday veggie sosaties, and last night, vegetarian patties from WW.
I grew up with this as a favourite way to entertain. I remember countless braais my parents had at our house, for friends and family, or if not at our house, at my aunt’s, who lived in the same small East Rand town where I grew up. It was always the same: the women deciding among themselves who will make which salad, and the cuts of meat which everyone would bring, put together in a communal stainless steel container. Sometimes there would be special marinades and sauces, but mostly chops, boerewors and rump steak, as is.
I think the practice of a “bring-n-braai” was just taking off then, when I started remembering, making this a very social and communal event. Even so, sometimes there was some competition among the women to produce a wonderful and unusual salad. The men would stand around the braai: no kettle braais then, but often a home made structure: a sawn in half konka, on legs, or at my grander uncle’s home, a built in braai in their outside entertainment area. The women would be in the kitchen at first, putting finishing touches on salads, or keeping an eye on a sauce bubbling on the stove, catching up on latest family news, or whatever they talked about, and later on lawn chairs in the late afternoon, sipping cool drinks, mostly non-alcoholic. Certainly my mother never drank wine, at most a spritzer. And the men of course, would be drinking brandy and coke, sometimes beer.
My mom loved making krummelpap, that very crumbly version of corn porridge, which was served with a tomato and onion sauce, which would make the paper plates quite soggy: that and the potato salad both, which there always was at least one huge bowl of. A seperate one would be made for a brother who hated raw onion. I hated paper plates, even then, but I can see how that was really an invention to save the women from the tedious task of washing up dishes after.
My dad loved braaiing: I have photos of him later in his life, with an apron on, and braai tongs in one hand and that brandy and coke in the other, pondering on the done-ness of the rump steak and other philosophical issues. His biggest irritation was that his medium rare rump would be put into the low-oven to be kept warm by my well meaning mother, and would then continue cooking. My poor mother could not bear to see blood running from a cooked piece of meat, so I wonder if that was her unconscious way of getting him to eat well-done meat! So in the end of course, he would cook his steak (and mine) right at the last minute.
Of course, the braai has evolved to a kettle-braai at least, to those big built in gas braais which now are almost a standard accessory of the modern South African man.
I however will only ever have a humble kettle braai, for those rare days of reverting to cooking outside, or letting the men cook outside while I look on and sip my very sophisticated glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc, or as I did, on a very hot summer’s night last night, a tall flute of icy cold South African Champagne, my duties done: the salad ready (fatoush last night), porcelain plates stacked on the outside table, linen napkins ditto. Not a paper plate in sight!