When It’s Black, It’s Ready!
I remember my grandmother’s kitchen as being a magical, magical place!
Today, many years later, the smallest whiff of charred beef, or the aroma of crispy biscuit crumbs, the burnt sugar of ‘pampoen koekies’, crispy pork crackling, and the perfume of seared onions trigger a primal reaction in my metabolism. It calls me back to that magic kitchen and those carefree days when we cavorted around in my ouma’s kitchen. The kitchen was centered by a big solid wood table and offset by a securely locked pantry. The most imposing feature of the room was the huge wood burning stove against the eastern wall. In it the flames leapt and crackled from dawn to the small hours. Chunks of Camelthorn would be harvested weekly to keep this monster fed.
Ouma was a handsome curvy woman with a friendly pragmatic disposition. We spent a great deal of time with my grandparents on their Khomas Hochland ranch. Activities such as donkey riding, catapult hunting, and mudslinging ‘kleilat’ kept us busy.
My grandmother could usually be found in the kitchen swinging her hips and singing country tunes to the accompaniment of a transistor radio. Us kids would come wandering into the kitchen at odd times to garner spoils. We were masters at fingering the chocolate icing sugar off the cake or reducing the number of cookies on the cooling grid. When my grandmother caught us she would roar with indignation and we would duck under the large kitchen table, where her curves denied her entry.
And on that marvellous stove the magic was happening.
After a hunt, sausage-making would follow. Patties with a variety of spice mixes would be put sizzling and spluttering on the nearly red-hot stove top for charring. We’d all gather around the stove for tastings of the charred mince and believe me, it tasted absolutely heavenly! Opinions would be “too little salt”, possibly “more vinegar”, and “add more coriander”. Judgement was reserved for my granny who would declare herself satisfied with a heartfelt, “Ditsem!” Then the sausage stuffing could begin and ‘kaiings’ made by rendering fat on a slow heat until only the almost burnt scraps of meat were left in the bottom of the pan. Those crispy scraps were great on bread!
Why this craving for blackened foods? The absorptive power of charcoal in the system is astounding. With today’s foods almost universally laced with toxins there is a real case to be made for a nice burnt piece of toast each morning. It was in the early spring of 1983 when my prize bullock came stumbling up to the water trough, eyes rolling around in their sockets, froth coming from his mouth. He was totally disorientated! In a panic I called my vet and received sage advice: gather the coals from yesterday’s braai fire, grind them up, mix with water and get it down the bullock’s throat. Two hours later he was well on the road to recovery.
Recent years’ trends towards raw food, sushi and ceviche have been lean ones for me. On the odd occasion when I express a craving for burnt toast I am harrassed and eat my toast out on the deck. It doesn’t worry me all that much though, because I know my ouma is waiting for me in the great beyond in her magic kitchen with lots of burnt offerings!
– Jan, Khomas Hochland, Namibia
Concept and photography – Daniela Zondagh
Production – Mama Zee
Text – Jan, Khomas Hochland, Namibia
Ceramics – Mervyn Gers
Just after Daniela qualified as chef she worked in restaurants where food was often burnt or overcooked. It was during that time that she invented the concept: When it is black, it is ready!