Good friends, towering giants, and a pot of gold

Words Paul Crafford Photography Paul Crafford & Chris Gara

I’m one of a group of friends, all tired of enduring the confines of city life for months on end. Our solution: we started our own holiday club. Once every month or two, we trade the city lights for starry skies and beautiful scenery.

When taking on something like this, you have to plan properly and everybody must play their part. We decided to assign the duties as follows: Paul – logistics and planning; Sian – shopping and other motherly duties; Graham – music, entertainment and leisure; Dale and Bronwen – showing up on time, something to which they’re not really accustomed!

Our first trip was to the mountainous area near McGregor in the Western Cape, a spot I found that’s relatively close to Cape Town, where we could enjoy some light hiking, relax and, most importantly, rejuvenate our weary souls. I made our booking at Onverwacht Cottages, a remote spot high in the Riviersonderend Mountains between McGregor and Greyton.
Good friends, towering giants, and a pot of gold
It was a classic quick weekend getaway: we left our day jobs behind on Friday afternoon, which gave us enough time to arrive just after sunset. A celebratory braai and a few icy drinks ensued, to toast our first holiday club venture – this plan was going to be a raging success!
It’s a good idea to arrive at Onverwacht at night. That way, when you wake up the next morning, you’ll be greeted by the most overwhelming beauty and sheer scale of the Riviersonderend giants that surround you. After I’d picked my jaw up off the ground – a natural first reaction after laying eyes on those colossal mountains – mommy Sian treated us to a bacon-and-egg brekkie to prepare us for the day.

The Riviersonderend mountain range is a hiker’s paradise, with the Boesmanskloof trail one of the main attractions. We opted to take one of the shorter hikes down to the pools to spend our day splashing around and basking in the sun. The path we chose was challenging, with lots of loose rocks and coarse gravel; I suspect the vegetation was still recovering from a recent veld fire. The involuntary antics caused by the loose terrain had us bursting with laughter, which echoed through the quiet hills. It was almost impossible to keep our rear ends off the ground!

Our trek ended at what seemed to be the perfect pool, big enough for us all to enjoy a refreshing swim, and surrounded by ample shade. This was to be our HQ for the day.

But the hours flew past quickly, and with grumbling reminders from our hungry tummies we realised it was time to tackle the walk back to the cottages, where preparations for the evening’s feast needed to commence: a lamb potjie, fit for kings, was to be my weekend treat for the team.

• cooking oil to brown meat
• 12 lamb neck slices, 15 mm thick
• 10 lamb knuckles, 15 mm thick
• 8 small onions
• 2 tsp (10 ml) salt
• meat stock
• 8 carrots, cut into 20 mm pieces
• 4 large potatoes, cubed
• 24 green beans, halved
• 10 baby marrows, each cut into 3 pieces
• 250 g button mushrooms, cut in half
• 2 large onions, finely chopped
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 6 large ripe tomatoes skinned
• 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• 3-4 drops Tabasco sauce
• 4 tsp (20 ml) soy sauce
• freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 2 stalks celery, cut into 5 mm pieces
• fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

First of all you need to make a big fire and keep it going for a constant supply of hot coals and, of course, a cosy atmosphere. You also need two cooking areas to accommodate both pots. Now walk to the fridge and grab a beer. It’s important for the cook to keep well hydrated after a long hike. Heat a little oil in the platpotjie; add neck pieces and brown. Remove and arrange in the centre of the bigger bowlshaped potjie. Also brown the lamb knuckles, then place them in circles around the neck pieces and against the inside of the potjie.

Place the small onions on top and add the salt. Pour in the hot meat stock so that it almost covers the meat. Be careful not to use too much stock because the vegetables and tomato will add moisture to the sauce later. Arrange the vegetables on top in layers: carrots, potatoes, then green beans. Replace lid and allow to simmer.

In the platpotjie you can now braise the onion, tomato, green pepper, baby marrow, mushrooms and garlic. As soon as the potatoes are almost soft, spoon everything from the platpotjie into the big pot. Add the remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Simmer for 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve on a bed of rice. Nothing could be more tasty after a hard day’s hiking, swimming, and fun in the sun.

The Sunday was a sad day for all. We knew we had to leave this world behind and start thinking about heading back to the city. Even though no-one wanted to say it, it had to happen, and eventually after lunch we bid the giants farewell to conclude our first successful holiday club adventure.

This recipe appeared in the April 2012 issue.


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