Let me tell you about tripe, flapping pigs ears and sheep’s trotters. Offal was such a part of my childhood and to this day I cannot bring myself to eat tripe, even though Maddy just loves it. Other offal I don’t mind and in my own defence, I have eaten a seriously delicious stuffed pig’s trotter, which Pierre Kaufmann made so famous in London. Definitely a post nouvelle cuisine dish, this is no child’s portion arranged by an interior decorator. Brains, kidneys, liver and sweetbreads are fine; it’s just the tripe thing that I can’t get into.
As a little boy during the school holidays it was a big treat for my brother Geoff and I to travel with our father on Friday mornings to a meat packing co-op some miles away through the farmlands to fetch weekly meat supplies. These farmlands are now covered in houses, which form part of my worst architectural nightmare and called Brackenfell, a name I feel more suited to a glen in the Scottish Highlands.
We had a blue just-post WW2 Ford Pickup that one now only sees being driven by Clint Eastwood in movies like The Bridges of Madison County. Sitting in the back on jute sacks in the icy cold of winter with snow lying thick on the Simonsberg was no joke. But we were warmed by each others company and our matching thick Fair Isle jerseys knitted on our mother’s knitting machine from what were leftover bits and bobs from her other more fashionable garments. There was a certain freedom to being in the back with the frozen wind blowing through our hair as we bounced along the thin tar strips that passed for roads. Old Oak Road being one of them and when I drove down it the other day, I counted 6 lanes. Nothing stays the same.
Mr Neville who was in charge of the butcher shop, and Mr Matodes, who had a keen eye for a racehorse and a well-turned ankle, particularly when my mother accompanied us, weighed and wrapped our purchases in brown paper and stout brown string. Apart from the finer cuts of meat like fillet and legs of lamb and other weekly requirements, we would travel home with 8 pigs heads – and their accompanying trotters – all lined up at the back end of the truck gently resting on a row of sacks. There is something quite peculiar about looking at 8 pig’s heads, all the right way up staring at you with firmly shut eyes and their ears flapping in the breeze. The pigs heads would be given to the farm workers who made what Mrs Beeton would have referred to as headcheese. A kind of brawn which they ate for lunch with piccalilli on thick slices of bread in the vineyards! There was also the large brown paper parcel containing what was referred to as Dad’s offal or in the kitchen as ‘Meneer se affal’. This consisted of a sheep’s head sawn in half, four sheep’s trotters and an extra set of four, the tripe, liver, kidneys and most important of all – the brains usually four or five. And when we were lucky, sweetbreads.
On arriving home, Maggie our Housekeeper – would take the sheep’s head and usually while we were having lunch at the kitchen table, the two halves would be washed and cleaned – teeth and all the nasal passages brushed out with an old toothbrush especially reserved for the purpose. The trotters were scraped with a knife, with particular attention being paid to the cloven hoof. The head and the tripe would then be laid into a large yellow enamelled casserole – which Maddy and I used until fairly recently well into its 50th year – together with onions, garlic and thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper and a couple of bottles of cider from Elgin called William Tell. She then made a thick luting paste from water and flour to seal the lid onto the casserole that then overnighted in the bottom oven of the large cream anthracite driven Aga that stood in the farmstead kitchen. The following morning, usually when we were sitting having breakfast the casserole would be removed from the oven and the hardset luting paste beaten off with a wooden mallet. Lid off and looking at the contents particularly the cloudy cooked eye staring sightlessly heavenwards was enough to put me off eating offal for the rest of my life. My father used to say the eyes tasted like hot grapes. Fortunately, I am able to eat kidneys and liver and just love the brains done in brown butter with capers on soft mashed potato. On grander occasions when we had supper in the diningroom – a rare occasion for us children – the Granny Smiths were ripe in the kitchen garden, they would be baked and pureed velvety smooth and deliciously sweetly tart. This puree would be served as an accompaniment to the fried brains with toast soldiers made from the sweet-sourdough, which was baked each morning.
Other winter and spring dishes were also cooked in that casserole. The same Aga was the provider of other memory haunting dishes and bredies. Bredie, both the word and the stew, is of Malay origin and very much a Cape dish. A bredie is a thick fully flavoured meat stew, usually made from a fattier cut of lamb and named for the vegetable which is the other main ingredient, the sauce usually thickened by potato. The pot in which it is cooked is shaken regularly, whether cooked on top or in the oven as it helps to create an emulsioned sauce. Green or dried Beans, tomatoes, pumpkin and even quinces, cabbage or cauliflower are regular ingredients. Waterblommetjies [Aponogeton distachyos] a type of water hyacinth found in ponds and dams in the Cape in early spring, make a delicious bredie, and is usually flavoured with wild sorrel juice, tangy and rich in Vitamin C. Wild sorrel leaves [containing oxalic acid] were also used for cleaning brass from which measuring and jam boiling utensils were made in the early days of the Cape.
Photo credit: Sophia Lindop
You’ll need: 1.5 kg Lamb [1/3 thick rib bone in, 2/3 boned shoulder is a good combination], 3 medium onions, chopped, 2 cloves garlic, sliced, a 2cm piece of fresh green ginger, peeled & finely chopped, 1 Tbs sunflower oil, 2 cardamom seeds, 4 coriander seeds, 6 black peppercorns, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp fresh crushed thyme, 1 tsp fresh chopped marjoram, 2 small chilis red or green, seeded & chopped – leave the seeds and veins in for extra heat, sea salt, freshly milled black pepper & fresh-grated nutmeg to taste, 500ml demi glace, or rich brown lamb or beef stock, 750ml tomato juice from the tin below, 500g medium potatoes – peeled & quartered, 1250g net weight with juice of canned peeled tomatoes, 1 Tbs mild fruit chutney, 1 Tbs soft brown sugar.
Method: In a casserole, on top of the stove, brown all the meat, a few pieces at a time in the oil over medium heat. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Fry the onions very slowly in the oil for a while, then add garlic and ginger and fry until golden. Add a little more oil though only if necessary. Just before they are done, add the cardamom, coriander, peppercorns, fennel, thyme, marjoram and chili. Stir-fry for a short while. Pour off any excess oil before continuing. Return the meat to the casserole and season lightly with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg. Add the demi glace or stock and the tomato juice and cover. Braise gently over low heat, checking for burning or in a 180C oven for an hour and a half. Remove from the oven. If you have the time, cool quickly and refrigerate overnight. This is an important step to mature the flavours. It also gives you the opportunity the following morning to remove the cold solidified fat of the top and helps to tenderise the meat and makes it cook faster the next day. Next day, reheat the casserole gently in a 180C oven before adding the roughly chopped tomatoes and potatoes. Simmer gently for one and a half-hours or until the meat is tender. Stir gently to mix through well. Add the chutney and brown sugar; reseason with salt and freshly milled black pepper if necessary. Serve this with a Pilaff of Basmati rice.
Serves 6 people.