When we came home from Africa the last time around, we shipped an entire pallet back by sea. Along with the books and curios and a couple bottles of what was then still unexported Amarula Cream liqueur, were a No. 3 and No.1 potjie: the classic cast iron three legged pots of southern Africa. These had been essential in our field kitchen, and we had become so adept at their use that it seemed only natural to continue the tradition at home. But ever since then, except for the lid from the bigger of the two pots which gets used in the kitchen as a skillet cover, they have been merely decorative, placed on either side of the hearth and gathering cobwebs.
Until this past weekend, when I decided to cook pot food or"potjiekos" for my Easter dinner.
I had some mutton chops, and decided on a lamb curry potjie in the smaller pot. I went with onion beer bread in the larger. There is an old slab out back that was once the floor of a carriage house, and this was just the place to set up my bush kitchen. There were plenty of small diameter twigs and branches in my yard after the storms of winter, and from these I made my cooking fire. You don't need anything big for cooking outdoors with these implements, only a regular supply of fresh coals to scrap out and bank under the pots (and in the case of pot bread, put above as well).
I prefer pot bread to the white corn meilie pap which South African purists claim is sine qua non for this sort of thing, but I went with no less an authority than an English translation of Potjiekos from Huis Genoot, and if the recipe is good enough for its creator, André Swanepoel of Bellville, it works for me.
The recipe is a classic three ingredient combination: a package of onion soup mix, two cups of self rising flour, and a bottle of beer. It makes a thick, toothsome bread, and I would perhaps suggest some active yeast as well for something with a bit more lift. Nonetheless, it was just the thing to sop up the curry. Some oil in the bottom of old number three, and in went the dough for about 45 minutes with a small twiggy fire on top to make the potjie function like an oven (albeit one that is much hotter below than above unless you are very careful about regulating the coals.
The mutton curry began by browning the chops in a bit of oil(neck and back mostly, with the bones in), and
then removing them and adding 2 diced onions and as much garlic as desired. 2 minutes later, the meat went back in and was covered with water. The I added 2 cups of diced carrots, potatoes and a turnip I had on hand, put the lid on, and kept the coals well supplied below. Fifteen minutes before I felt like eating (1 cooked it for an hour and a half) I added 1/3 cup of milk and 4 tablespoons of curry powder. The meat was tender and fell away from the bone. I ate it with my fingers.
All it lacked was a few 750ml bottles of Namibia's finest Tafel Lager, and some Namibian friends to share it with, but I pronounced it baai lekker! And yes, that is a warthog tusk bottle opener. Lots of good stuff in that pallet we shipped home. You ever need some previously poisoned bushman arrows, I'm your man.
To top it all off, an early birthday present arrived on Saturday, which in the interest of determining whether it was truly the right size I lost no time in trying on. I have always wanted a straw Panama Barossa from David Morgan to go with my blue seersucker suit and increasingly pinstriped whiskers. I will let you judge the effect for yourselves, but all I can say is; Leon Redbone, eat your heart out!" At my place, if you like good eats.