A little light relief

Graaff-Reinet is gearing itself up for Christmas – so much so that you’d almost notice. The girls in Clicks were wearing Santa hats this morning and I am sure I spotted some tinsel on the shelves in Spar, but so far nothing on the tills, hanging from the ceilings or dangling tantalising over the Karoo lamb cuts in the butchery.

It is such a relief.

Elsewhere in South Africa, the shops have been draped with gaudiness for at least a month already. Panic-buying has set in and the roads are filling up. But in Graaff-Reinet it’s just another lazy, hazy weekend. Hot, dry, dusty days are relieved by the afternoon rush of a south-easter. Nobody is going away. Graaff-Reineters actually like where they live and they are staying put.

Peace will only descend here altogether once the rush-through is over. Convoys of X5s and Fortunas, with their Venters and their woonwas hooked up, snake their constant way through town towards the coast, barely casting an eye around them. Luckily for Graaff-Reinet, very few of these passing pilgrims seem to notice its appeal, which is precisely why it still has so much.

Pleasant evenings whiled away in the Graaff-Reinet Club evoke mystical memories of times gone by, when this little town was the launch-pad for just about every great movement in our country’s history. It was from here that the Voortrekkers trekked, that the pioneers pioneered, that diamond-seekers sought and that great hunters hunted. Under its sleepy surface this town is alive with stories.

Next to the Club is the Coldstream Restaurant named, not after the warm occasional stream that is the Sundays River, but after the regiment, the Coldstream Guards, whose officers’ mess this was during the Anglo-Boer War.

The Coldstream, run by Inge Weich, is also manifestly ignoring Christmas, not out of Scroogish tendencies but rather out of a very sensible realism related to the fact that Christ was only born on one day, not on every day in December and early January.

After an evening at the Club a good breakfast is required and the Coldstream is open from 10 in the morning. What could me more civilised, what could be more Karoo, than a tender kudu steak, no steak knife required, for breakfast, with potato crisps, two eggs, boerewors, grilled tomato and toast?

Eat your heart out Steak, Egg and Chips. Enjoy your Wimpy Double-up Bottoms-up Breakfast all you passing Gautengers. This is The Business, washed down with a fine mug of coffee and a view, through the honeysuckle and past the old-time streetlamp, of That Church, That Icon of the Town, proud replica of Salisbury Cathedral (although it doesn’t look much like it to me) and one of the Karoo’s greatest landmarks.

But there’s more. Inge does lunch, and dinner, and tea and scones. And it’s all great and local and fresh and herby and very tuisnyverheid and yellowwood. The calamari steak salad, the trio of sliced springbok, beef and ostrich fillets, the pan-fried sole and a fine Creme brulee. Good, reasonably-priced wines. Friendly, service with proper titles. “Gentleman, may I bring you a drink?” The Coldstream is what a restaurant should be.

Inge plans, very sensibly, to celebrate Christmas at home on Christmas Day, but in the meantime in a moment of festive colour if not fare, she has offered us what she describes as her Very Lovely Cream of Tomato Soup recipe. Well. it’s red, like the Santa hats in Clicks – and you could bung in a dollop or two of whipped cream to make a bobble and a fluffy white brim, if required.

Coldstream Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients

1kg tomatoes
80g leeks
10g onions
40g celery
60g carrots
40g butter
5g chopped garlic
100g tomato paste
70g white flour
2.5l vegetable stock
300ml heavy cream
Chopped basil

Method:

Cut tomatoes into cubes, removing seeds.
Wash and dice the leeks, onions, celery and carrots. Saute in butter with the garlic. Add tomato paste and continue cooking.
When cooked, dust with flour and allow to cool.
Heat vegetable stock, add to vegetable mixture and bring to boil, stirring continuously. Add cubed tomatoes and boil until all ingredients are soft, skimming occasionally.
Puree and strain. Bring to boil again and stir in cream. Season to taste. (If too acidic add sugar or fresh orange juice)
Garnish with finely diced tomatoes and chopped basil.