8 June 2019
Project Legendary Foods
Eben van Tonder
I moved to Jhb for work three months ago. I joined a very special company called Van Wyngaardt. The mission of the company is very simple, to create legendary foods and our pay-off line, created by Etienne, is “Exceedingly Good Meat.”
A massive Tswana City on Suikerbosrand
Last weekend I did a 12km hike at the Suikerbosrand Nature reserve 60km outside Johannesburg, past Heidelberg on the way to Durban. I was browsing the web for interesting information on the area and learned of a massive Tswana city which was located here. I made contact with Talfrein Harris whos friend, Stephen Banhegyi, worked on the site for his master’s thesis. They could not take me out to the site this weekend, but I was back early this morning to see what I can find.
As I hiked up a path this morning, I suddenly realized that I was on the edge of many of the stone structures.
From my reading on the web, I learned that the city was massive! 10km long and 2km wide. By comparison, Mesopotamia was only 2km in diameter. Friday evenings I am watching on Discovery how new technology, called Lidar is used to see through the vegetation using laser lights which helps researchers to recreate the world of the Maya civilization. The exact same technology is being used at the site on the Suikerbosrand.
There were many large Tswane cities scattered along the northern parts of South Africa until the 1820’s when they collapsed in the Difeqane Civil wars. Archeologists use the building style to estimate its creation around the late 1400’s AD the city is believed to have been abandoned around the second half of the 1800s with between 750 and 850 homesteads in the city.
As I moved up the hill and was suddenly right in the middle stone walls. I was thrilled and the best thing about it all is that I have a little insight into how they ate their meat. Yesterday I discovered a quote by Lichtenstein that confirms the practice of Southern African tribes who used ash as salt. It is in reference to Tswana people in the northern Cape area and he wrote about them that “salt properly, they have none; instead of it they make use of natron, or the ash of a certain salt succulent plant: their favourite mode of dressing their meat is to roast it in the ashes.” (Lichtenstein, 1803) We will return to his reference to natron which certainly does not refer to natron from the Natron valley in Egypt. The primary interest is his reference to salt from ash. I have been researching salt and the ancient people of South Africa for years and I know how they cooked their meat! My intention is to recreate it as closely as possible.
In Johannesburg, I joined the only company in South Africa who allows me and the amazing team working with me to te recreate these legendary dishes. The intention is not just to do that but to recreate local dished with local ingredients, inspired by the greatest fermented, cured, and smoked products. We want to make hams and salamis and bacon according to many years of German and Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish and English traditions, but marry it with the richness of the South African cultures and we want to incorporate into it, the arts of cooking from Africa! Besides processed meat, we want to celebrate great South African cattle breeds by making traditional Afrikaans and South African dishes from the best meat created by many years of evolution and careful breeding, right here in our own land.
The section I am starting today is intended to house our research projects and feature our best creations. There will be old favourates like biltong, droe wors, bacon, and salami, but this will only be the start. We intend creating legendary hams and other cured and fermented products with local flavours and using our local climate to do most of the work.
Legendary! Insanely legendary!
Photos from the cite. The first and last photos are recreations from the Lidar project.