Minnesota Farmer

Cabbage and other edibles

Travel in other countries always leads to the talk of food.  There are many differences in food throughout the world and eating styles also change.  Because part of our mission in this trip to South Africa was to help local farm folks grow their own food, we saw a lot of cabbages.


There were the thousands of cabbage sets waiting in the starting shelter at KwaZamokuhle.  The Centre’s garden manager has an order for as many cabbages as he can produce. Most in demand were the purple cabbages.


I really cannot tell you how many of those cabbages were planted in the days we were in the garden there, but there were a lot.  The tools available to do the planting were inadequate, being mostly sticks and hoes.  We went to town and purchased some transplanting trowels for them. 

The soil was dry and hard.  It had been tilled once with a disk but few of the holes we dug for the cabbage sets were dug without effort. Water was carried from a nearby hose to give the cabbages the starting water they needed.


We saw cabbages in every garden we went to or drove by.  Winter in this part of South Africa seems to be the time to grow cabbages. This garden at Hoffenthal parish also had carrots, arugula, onions and several other cool season plants.  Cabbage was also on most menus, but for us western folk they usually kept cabbage to a side dish.  I imagine for those who did not have money, cabbage would play a much bigger role in the diet.


This artfully arranged dish was placed in front of me at one of my host families for the evening meal.  It consisted of a corn porridge they call mealy, a dry spicy bologna, cauliflower, broccoli, a mix of hot dog, beans, onions and carrot and a creamy cabbage slaw.  A glass of apple drink was also served by one of the sons of the family.

Dad (Christopher) and guests were served first on a table in the living room with a table cloth and wrapped silverware.  The male children ate in the TV room, and mom and the daughters waited until all others had eaten to have their meal.  Just as a note, this is the home of two high school teachers, so to have Bonisiwe and her children serve me in this manner was a bit different.

My most unusual meal was also served by the family of Christopher, but at his parents home.  The family had just received 4 of the 11 dowry cows from a recent betrothal.  They had butchered and cooked some for Sunday dinner.100_2797 

The boiled beef was served on a wooden trencher or tray about 2 feet long with a small pile of salt on the edge.  The meat was cut into pieces and everyone dug in eating with their hands. The male children had their own tray to eat from a few feet away. My western food sense had a bit of trouble with this arrangement, but in the end I decided to trust Christopher and his family.  Happily a glass of fruit juice was served to me.  The men were drinking the water and fat that was in the bottom of the tray with a bit of salt mixed in by stirring with a rib bone.

Lest you think we dug in with unwashed hands, every meal i was served away from the centre was alway preceded by a washbowl and towel.  Guests first, then the men and finally the ladies.


A corresponding washbowl after the meal was not always there, so i did keep a few wet wipes in my pocket.

Table service was not always what we would consider adequate.  We were once served a meal that included a tough, thin cut beef steak and only a soup spoon to eat it with.  Eating with your hands was just part of the way they do things.  I did so dearly miss my swiss army knife at meals like this.

Since we several times ate at meals catered by the locals, I also saw some of the largest serving bowls I have ever seen. 100_2981 The bowl must have been 30 inches across.  At the area wide women’s conference we attended, every congregations chairwoman received one as a gift.

Most of our meals were eaten at the Centre kitchen and most often included rice, but mashed potatoes and mealy were also served.  Most of the time we ate beef or chicken.  Sausages and turkey or chicken hot dogs were also common.  A Continental style bacon was served for breakfast as was peanut butter and jam for your toast.

Our meals at the game park were buffet style and served in a much more British style.  The serving of baked beans for breakfast was new to me, but things like kidneys and liver had that continental style.  The evening meal usually had a venison course that in the days we were there was springbok.

Our hosts at the Centre were hoping to introduce more western style foods into their menu.  They asked our ladies for help and soon we had coffee cake, banana bread, pumpkin cake, whole wheat bread and chocolate cake added to our menu.  These foods meant a scouring of the area stores for cooking utensils which the Centre kitchens were lacking.100_2840 

Ovens are not common in most home kitchens that I saw.  The Centre’s kitchen did have two.  Most meals were cooked over a gas stove using bottle gas for fuel.


These gas cooktops were also used to heat water for bathing since few homes in the area have water heaters.  Many homes do not even have running water.

What milk we were served was in the Centre’s kitchens.  Since cold food storage is not common, milk had to be specially processed.  Our milk came in containers that did not need refrigeration until the container was opened.  Something not common on U.S. grocery shelves.  I did see almond milk on a grocery shelf so I’m assuming other such substitutes are also available.

 Eating in the rural areas of South Africa was an adventure.  I could see some changes had been made since my first trip here in 2011, but the kitchens are locked in the past.  There is little money to modernize, so I do not see this changing soon.


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