Part 1: Strange Spirits at the Grabouw fair.

FRIDAY 6TH DECEMBER 2013. WITH ONE WEEK to our first booking, we had a visit from a friend, Gwynne Conlyn award-winning food and travel writer. She arrived luggage in tow. Her baggage gave my ageing muscles some weight training before eventually lugging it into her bedroom like a panting, about to retire hotel porter in a grand old building, somewhere in the mirage of avenues and winding alleys of Barcelona, Las Ramblas.

Gwynne came down to research the Overberg for her new book, Delicious Travel. We’d planned a self-indulgent boisterous weekend starting with a trip to a few wineries. Then: after that we planned to visit the local market at the, NGK Dutch Reformed church in Grabouw. It was the Elgin Valley open weekend and being a Saturday I expected a big turnout of the locals. I suspected that there wouldn’t be too many trendy visitors at this event as it is a down-to-earth local affair.

That evening I cooked up some Italian nosh with my in situ sous chef. Slow – cooked sausages with pasta in the gastronomic tradition of Parma. Gwynne called the dish, Rossi’s Sossi. I did not mind renaming the recipe until people started to call me Sossi after reading her review on Tangleberry Cottage website. The evening was filled with conversation and long pauses for wine. Our jollity continued for a good while more into the late evening. We eventually went to bed reluctant, and still feeling a little boisterous well past midnight.

We woke up bleary-eyed. Behind sunglasses the ladies nursed several cups of coffee with gentility. A quick greasy spoon breakfast to line our stomachs and two hours later, with considerable procrastination, we set off.


Grabouw on a Saturday morning is like any African town on market day on this continent. Cars hooting, chickens squawking, children screaming, thieves with watchful eyes, lovers holding hands in ATM queues, others is passionate embrace, singles with searching eyes, street vendors haggling. Stomachs were out, far beyond large breasts and wooly moustaches. Lazy crowds walked, drifting like the heat haze that shimmered through the air. SMILING GIRL - CROP - IMG_8138 BLOG 935 PINK WALL & DOG - CROP - 935 - IMG_8388 No smartly groomed Dachshunds or dressed up Toy poodles or sleekly glossed Mercs with Jacob Zuma sunglasses. Just squeaky bakkies laden with whole families, filled with laughter, out for a Saturday morning shop.

And like many other African towns the foreigners had invaded. Nigerians with their barber shops crafting trendy hairdos. Somalis with their space-station satellite dishes line the back streets above their trading shops, and Chinese shoe emporiums that doubled as a supermarket and cheap bric-a-brac. No fancy bibelots or gimcracks. Bongie's Hair Salon There was constant movement. Nothing kept still on this oppressively hot day. The town smelt of heat, baked concrete, tarmac, cars fumes and people having washed with Lux soap only an hour or two earlier. The butchery in the main road opposite the bus terminal is a hubbub of activity. Die-hard drinkers lie prostrate dreaming of their next tipple. Take-away’s entice you with mingled fragrances of man-size Gatsbys, fried chips and platters of calamari. Vendors stand idly with their wares while farmhand wives browse their merchandise. Others with no interest just come to gossip. TAKE AWAYS - CROP - 935 - IMG_8362 I’d gone there a few days before to collect my 2 kilos of rib-eye. The proprietors, a Portuguese couple welcomed me with questioning faces. I guess I am not the sort of client they see every day. And my English accent doesn’t ring too clearly in their ears.

One glance at the interior and all thought of redecoration has been resisted for many years. Profits go under the mattress, I’d say. To their surprise I asked for a whole piece of rib-eye even while I was expecting disappointment. This is not the Butcherman in Greenpoint.

I waited for a good ten minutes – maybe more wondering – if whether their butcher was working out which part of the carcass the rib-eye came from. When the meat arrived I was surprised as their eyes. It was a delicious cut and far from the fat-filled pieces some establishments serve up.

I did go back again. But no rib-eye and no interest on their side to serve it. I think for them, it was too much effort for little money. It seems they’d prefer to cut and pre-pack – it’s their no-fuss way of doing business.


Parking was a challenge. All designated areas were taken up and all streets full, bumper to bumper. After driving around and around three blocks we saw that the only patch available was the NGK’s Victorian Edwardian open plan graveyard with no walls or fences. NGK BAZAAR SIGN - CROP - 935 PIXELS - IMG_4018 The taboos that are associated with church cemeteries were reflected in the distances the cars kept from the gravestones – at least ten car lengths. I had a feeling that superstition and the thought of parking over dead bodies had discouraged the visiting congregation from getting familiar with spirits past. We found space a reasonable four meters from the gravestones. I made my sign of the cross like a good paranoid catholic and apologised deeply and profusely under my breath to the almighty and the dead, hoping no-one was watching, just in case I’d parked over someone who couldn’t afford a headstone. And in the hope of merriment, off I went with my jovial companions.

As I walked away I wondered if there were any spirit parking-wardens watching – they have a way of letting you know when you’ve crossed the line. Maybe they would let the tyres down? Or spray-paint some rude piece of graffiti on, like, “The person you have parked over, is trying to sleep peacefully. Two tons of your bakkie’s weight doesn’t help get a good day’s rest”.

Now you might think what I am about to say is mad. In fact some of our friends think we’re looney.

We live in a very old house in St James with five ghosts. And when they get upset they pour water on the sisal carpet that runs up the hundred-year old handcrafted wooden staircase. This irritates me and they know it. Normally blasphemy would pour forth from my lips and this would aggravate them. And more water would appear. Sometimes we’d get a triple dose; they switch off the TV in the middle of a crucial moment. We’d switch it back on. Then off again. And so it would continue like a tennis match. We’d always win as it takes an enormous amount of effort in their spirit world to do something in the real world. And they know we know. But what to do?


A friend who has a connection with the supernatural, suggested I communicate with them. So I quickly did some research. Thomas Edison apparently had a device that could help him communicate with the dead. But where was it now? Google revealed nothing.

They then suggested Bon and I must give up dairy products and caffeine and only consume fruit and vegetables before we even begin to communicate with our invisible neighbours . . . NO, NO, NO! For two carnivores, not to mention the other two meat-eaters in our family, our dogs, Tyson and Sage, that is unacceptable. Next they proposed that we surround ourselves with old photographs, bric-a-brac and other personal belongings of our celestial residents, just as the day enters twilight . . . Oh dear! Can you hear the owls hooting?

I know two of the ghosts are comfortably ensconced in Belvedere cemetery – as for the rest, I do not have a clue (its a known fact that troubled astral bodies still on this earth wander aimlessly, settling in homes of troubled otherworldly beings). And besides, where are we going to find these items, having personally not known them. For all we knew, one or two may have been ex-convicts or even murderers deported from ‘His Majesty’s Government’ in the 1750’s. Now imagine trying to deal with a dead convict ghost and possibly a murderer? What strange beasts would they reveal? Flashes of knives skewered through doors and embedded in the floorboards flashed through my mind. Maybe they have friends at the old age home down the road who might come visiting? Definitely another NO!

In the end I took the cheap and easy way out.

I stood on the staircase, with a demeanour of humility, and politely asked, “Please whatever I, or we did to upset you all, I apologise”.

Of course I was more tempted to say, “Please desist, you pain in the poop ghosts, otherwise I will burn incense and mistletoe and other tormenting herbs and spices. Maybe I’ll chant some old heretic prose just to make sure. And you all know what will happen? POOF! YOU ARE GONE TO PURGATORY, maybe worse still to limbo, to wander aimlessly for the rest of your supernatural lives”. But since I am not an expert on the psyche of astral bodies, I thought it best to keep quiet. Vengeance by the supernatural is something I don’t really want to test. And besides I saw The Amityville Horrors on DSTV.


Within a couple of hours of my syrupy, grovelling politeness, the wet soggy patch was gone. There are many more experiences that I could share with you, but I think another time would be more suitable. Today is a day for merriment. One look at the NGK bazaar artwork and I sensed celebration was in the air.

The departed certainly had a wake up call. The band played noisily between broadcasts on the public address system, announcing winners of various raffles, lost children, misplaced handbags, wandering husbands and wives. Children screamed with delight in-between mouthfuls of candy floss, cupcakes and pranks. Pot-bellied gentlemen munching on boerewors rolls and swigging beer wandered in khaki shorts and shirts and snappy veldskoene. Dogs sniffed for morsels and mischief, and cats watched safely from tree branches. CAT GIRL - CROP - BLOG - 935 PIXELS IMG_4003 Surrounding a large party tent were various stalls that offered a variety of fast foods and homemade confectionary. Cakes adorned with sugary ballerinas and woven baskets filled with delightful biscuits. Wooden barrels gleaming with fresh olives, country cheese, bread, farm-made sausages and cured meats. Pets’ corner offered ‘mixed blood’ puppies for sale. Buckets of Castle lager got filled regularly. The tent itself was big enough to house several hundred people. Bales of hay were seating along rows of wooden tables. Hand-picked field flowers in empty Coke bottles adorned them. Grannies and grandpas supervised children not old enough to be left alone, while mothers caught up with the latest country gossip from those in the know. BOTTLE FLOWERS - CROP - 935 PIXELS - IMG_3987 BARBI CAKE - BLOG - CROP - 935 PIXELS - IMG_3990 We separated inside. Gwynne and Bonnie went in search of cholesterol-laden hotdog or boerewors in starchy white rolls for extra lining in the stomach. And I got distracted by the colourful people that surrounded me. We eventually found each other through modern technology. BOREWORS MAN - CROP - 935 PIXELS - IMG_4013 Click! click! click! the iPhone snapped. The Elephant-faced braaimaster was working overtime, dishing out boerries to wide-eyed and hungry customers. The heat had a triple-edged sword for him – a hot day; hot coals and a woolly Rhino cap had turned his day into a Turkish bath. Whole potatoes, peeled and cut by a circular contraption, were dipped in boiling oil to a crisp Simba finish. ROUND CUT CHIP MACHINE - CROP - BLOG - 935 PIXELS - IMG_4010 ROUND CUT CHIPS - CROP - BLOG - 935 PIXELS - IMG_4011 Friends hugged each other like long lost buddies who went missing on some lonely Polynesian island. And in some cases I would even suggest lovers, from the behaviour of their exploring lips and hands. Others wrapped arms around each other waist to waist, squeezed shoulders, back slaps, pinched cheeks, bodies lifted and turned in delight, kissed and pinched bottoms suggestively. So enthusiastic were some of the greetings, I’m sure a few people went home with superficial bruising. SECRET FLOWERS - IMG_4008 - LANDSCAPE CROP - 935 PIXELS The noise levels rose in one corner, I wondered what the hoopla was about? It was shared laughter in an excited conversation. One group of aunties were all trying to speak at the same time, each wanting to tell their story first. Behind them a party of several mothers with children, unable to hear themselves went up an octave. This interfered with the aunties’ conversation whose voices went up a few more octaves, and turned into screeching, chattering Pied starlings. Then the mothers went up another notch. This continued until they were all shouting, unaware of the decibels of their behaviour because of the excitement of the moment. SITTING ON HAY - CROP - BLOG - 935 PIXELS - IMG_3988 Eventually self-realisation kicked in and the excitement came down to almost a whisper. With furtive glances they looked around, aware they were being watched. But the enquiring eyes did not bother them and soon the voices were back to their noisiest best.

The aromas of the flamed-grilled meat made our stomachs rumble and growl and soon we sat down to munch our boerrie rolls and watch the hullabaloo that surrounded us while the church coffers filled.

I could hear the sizzling as the steak touched the heated braai grid. This was soon followed by the sound of boerie fat dribbling and hissing as it spilt onto the burning wood. The air was filled with savoury fragrances, meat entwined in coriander and cumin spices. Wisps of blue wood smoke pirouette past me carrying wafts of burger scents being flash-fried. Oh my word! . . . Is that mushroom sweating in butter and sweet slightly burnt onion fragrance I can detect?

The torture inside my empty stomach was causing palpitations in my dicky heart. My belly is grumbling. It wants more. Then a whiff of melting cheddar cheese oozing down a fat juicy meat patty drift by. My nose was gasping – it’s sensory organs were struggling to cope. Deep breaths followed by gastronomic spasms. My sense of conversation was lost – I stare blankly ahead.

I tried to distract myself with the surroundings, searching for unappetising images to distract me – even bales of hay became freshly packed udon noodles about to be steamed and pan-fried in butter with giant prawns, cherry tomatoes, garlic, splashes of miren and soy sauce. I’m trapped in a prison cell filled with fragrances and spices. What next?

I’m anticipating a barrage of barbecue aromas to come by – sweet and spicy fragrances of delicious sauces. Chillies that leave a trail of heat searing through my nasal passages. Tears will follow dollops of hot English mustard. Fragrant Blue Gum honey will sweetly soothe the pain. Then swiftly, Cayenne pepper will bring my adenoids back to reality. Considerate Paprika smothers the flame within the alleyways that run through my senses. Spanish onions cut into thick round rings ooze their sweet moisture into the passing breeze, and the yearning begins creating a yearning within. Grilled, smoked bacon slices, sizzling, crispy and crunchy spawn a . . . I wondered if the spirits at the nearby graveyard were suffering from a carnivorous yearning? Why not? Fragrances blend well with thin air – they slip so sweetly between the two lobes that live in harmony with your nasal passages that make each meal so pleasurable.

My thoughts turn to my favourite burger patty filled with chunky bits of roast beetroot, laced with lashings of caramelised onions, tickled with a light layer of fresh finely grated ginger, spiked with my secret ingredient and finally squished between two buns . . . Yum! Was I having an epiphany? Oh cruel world! BEETROOT BURGER - SHARP 100 - CROP - 935 PIXELS - IMG_7785 - BLOG

You can add lashings of whatever toppings you choose. Aioli, tomato, fried egg, varieties of cheeses, whatever takes your fancy. Remember that inside the burger is a balance of sweet and savoury.
One thing I hate is a burger crammed with bread crumbs. Yes you need to bind the burger, but bread inside meat makes the burger taste and feel like lead in my stomach. My substitute is avocado. The natural oils massages the meat, tenderising it and the avo fruit also acts as a binding agent.
Putting the burger patties in the fridge just prior to sizzling them on a hot grill firms the patty enough. I have even on occasion put patties in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes after they have been in the fridge. The patties need to be firm when they touch the hot grate.
500 grams of lean beef mince
250 grams of pork sausage meat
1 avocado
1 egg beaten
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 teaspoons of cumin
30 grams of chopped sage leaves
30 grams of chopped coriander
2 tablespoons of sweet homemade mango chutney
1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper or 2 chillies finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of salt.
4 to 6 garlic cloves crushed and mixed with a little olive oil.
1 large Spanish onion finely chopped
2 medium beetroot roast/boiled and chopped into small pieces.

1 or 2 large spanish onions thickly sliced.
1 teaspoon of Demerara sugar
50 grams of butter
1 large garlic clove sliced

Burger brioche buns
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
A few lettuce or bok choy leaves
Aioli or mayo topping

Combine all ‘Part 1’ ingredients and mix with a fork, slowly and without turning the meat into mash. Tuck the beetroot into the meat so that it’s not exposed to the heat. Make up 4 patties and place on an oil smeared plate and cover with cling wrap. Then place in a fridge for 2 to 3 hours.

Melt butter, a dash of olive oil and pan fry the sliced garlic. Add onions after a minute or two, constantly slowly stirring, sprinkle the sugar over the onions. Stir for a minute then add a dash of balsamic vinegar, stir and turn off the heat. The onion must be soft but firm. Grill the burgers to your satisfaction, then place between buns with embellishments and serve.