Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The barbecue season?

The meteorologists are telling us that the Atlantic jet stream has lost its way again. For the third successive year it is sweeping across the UK instead of passing harmlessly across the sea to the north of us. Instead of the "barbecue summer" we were promised, we are suffering high winds and torrential rain.

While your barbecue equipment and recipes remain unused for yet another year, here are a few images to remind you of what we are missing.
The elegant 1960s version

I settled for the barrel barbecue
My brother prefers this type of chimena
My husband, who grew up in southern Africa, always refers to barbecues as braais or braaivleis. I believe his family simply had a pit dug in the garden but nowadays they are landscaped and architect-designed:
In today's edition of the Bulawayo Morning Mirror, my favourite journalist, Margaret Kriel, has written a very entertaining piece about her experience with a braai:


I am looking in awe at the coals on the braai. Instinct tells me they are perfect, just perfect. Many years of marriage to HeeHoo have trained me to know when the braai coals are ready, because then it is time for me to rush around and get all the last minute bits and pieces ready. You know the unimportant trivia to do with a "Guys Braai" the plates, the salads, the potato bake etc etc.

The really important stuff though of course, is the nyama. Is the boerries good today, did Rose Valley Butchery get the right recipe ? THE AWARD WINNING BOERRIES RECIPE ?

There is much laughter generally at a braai, loads of men willing and able to turn their hands at turning the meat, regularly, meticulously, lovingly. They say many hands make light work, and men sure have that one down to a fine art ...

Many many hands and many many Castle Beers, make a fine braai, especially when there is a Game on at the same time, and all "game Lovers" can have their braais perfectly positioned where the Game can be watched, probably on a full screen TV where not a moment needs to be taken away from the Nyama, or a sip needs to be lost from the can in the cuzzi.

But today was different, HeeHoo has gone to SA and I had accompanied HeeHoo Must Fish on a cattle buying expedition to Binga, and HHMF had not returned.

The fire was laid perfectly, the aroma of mopani wood filled the air, aromatically air-dried by the Zambezi Valley heat. The coals were second to none, just the absolutely perfect temperature (not sure how they tell, I always use a meat thermometer but guys seem to know instinctively. )

Maybe its that dull warm glow that settles over one, when the braai ambiance is at the perfect pitch ?
But where was the Chef ? Were the cattle a tad rambunctious today or had he stopped off at the Manjolo Growth Point to have a beer with the farmers ?

I suspected that the fire required another Mopane log, but anxious not to burn the tassels of my silk pashmina, I carelessly threw the log in, instead of nestling it lovingly in the coals. Wrong tactic, I knew immediately as the little blaze of satisfying embers was dislodged rather haphazardly. My luck would be that HeeHoo Must Fish would roar in at top speed, stomach rumbling majestically, and the coals would be too hot/too cold/ too scattered ?

Now Mopani wood is supposedly infallible, a real braai- master never uses anything except Mopani in Zimbabwe and Mesquite in Texas !! But these logs were starting to annoy me. Twenty minutes later, still no Fuming Farmer, so I toyed with the idea of "lovingly tenderly inserting another log", this is far too scientific for me, maybe I should just cook the steak and boerries on the stove top ?

The Binga night was beginning to scare me, last night the hippos had been munching steadily outside my bedroom window all night long, they are the most silent creatures. Apart from the odd intermittent uh uh uh uhuhuhuh, and the sound of half a kilo of grass being wrested out of your lawn, you never ever even hear a twig snap.

Were they watching me balefully from the lake end of the lawn ? And then there are the crocs, HeeHoo actually did a macabre dance with a baby croc not long ago. He was crossing the lawn (as men do at a braai) when what he thought was a puff adder attacked him. HeeHoo did an amazingly adroit tap dance similar to Michael Flatley in the River Dance, and avoided death by a millisecond. Only to find a baby croc, lost and annoyed, snapping at his heels like a rusty rotweiller, said baby croc, apparently took a nightly swim in the pool and was most put out at being danced on by a human !!

Apart from my own frivolous fears about the fire and the four footed ferocity waiting out there for me, I was a tad worried about HeeHoo Must fish (aka Adam the Angler), as he had been gone since dawn.

But nothing deterred me I poured myself another glass of wine, and went back to the braai fire. THOSE COALS were problem enough, but I should surely start cooking something or we would be eating at midnight ?

Smoky, nasty fire ? Oh no I do not do smoky nasty fires, ones hair smells horrible. Would it be a dead giveaway if I did it under the grill, maybe I could scatter a few coals in the bottom of the pan to give it that charred carcinogenic look that Braai masters long for ?

But I was freshly showered and smelling of magnolias, I would have to take another shower before bed if I had to tackle that mopani pyromaniac blaze !!
Oh gosh, it suddenly occurred to me .... all those years I have underestimated the male species.

Braais, Humpf, men love braais, cos the women do all the work and the guys get all the glory !!
But I had never ever actually been up close and personal with a braai fire !! Till now !!

I could feel a lessening of the heat on my ankles, (this particular braai was a pit in the ground, carefully crafted by Angelo Sip into a masterpiece of mesenteric beauty.

Another log ? Or another glass of wine ? Big decision.... when will Adamski get here, I can hear those darn hippos emerging from the lake as we speak !!

Staring sullenly at the fire was achieving nothing so I gently lowered another beautifully matured Mopani log onto the fire, whipping the pashmina tendrils away from the blaze with ease. This is a piece of cake thought I, why were men so painfully anal about the "coals" I wondered ?

Its merely a matter of keeping the wood on track with the glasses of wine !!
After all its quite easy to remove a piece of wood at a moments notice is it not. ?
I was beginning to enjoy this, I could now, with ease, join in any discussion with any braai expert, on the heat of the coals. I could be an aficionado like the best of them.

I could just picture HeeHoo standing back in awe as I took over the coal management board !! He would be so proud of me, I would endear myself to him forever ! I could just picture it !!

You will be relieved to know that HeeHoo Must Fish returned eventually, stomach rumbling loudly, headed for the shower, followed by two "Black Label" bombers in quick succession, and then proceeded to burn the steak on my beautifully manicured fire !!

Men !! Hummpfff .......

I hope this will make you smile as you look out at the rain-washed garden and plan another indoor meal.


  1. What is the difference between the deluxe and the standard barrel?

    I don't know mopani, but I do know mesquite (called kiawe in Hawaii). The proper wood for barbecue is hickory.

  2. Harry, from the picture alone, I'd say the deluxe had sturdier legs!

    I believe the mopani tree grows only in that region of southern Africa. If you have read any of the Lady's Detective Agency books, set in Botswana, you will know about the mopane worms that are eaten as a snack food; they live in mopani trees. I only have a literary acquaintance with hickory, too, courtesy of Mark Twain.

  3. I think I've read all the No. One Ladies' Detective Agency books, although there came a point when I decided I'd read 'tiny white van' enough times and wouldn't read that any more.

    But I didn't connect the worms with the tree.

  4. I know what you mean about the tiny white van, I took a break from reading them. However, I've enjoyed the film and TV adaptation, so I will read the new one and the two I missed.


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