When people hear the word ‘heritage’ they often think of timeless, long ago traditions that are specific to a
culture or people. Heritage refers to anything that has been handed down by tradition whether personally, or
collectively as a society in the form of historical sites, buildings, and the unspoilt natural environment. Literally,
it is that what we inherit, something that comes or belongs to us by reason of birth. Which makes me think it
sounds like we have little choice in the matter. A bit like getting brown or blue eyes, or having an ancestor who
was a European despot or an African chief. Since it seems we have little choice in what we inherit, the only
choice we do have in the present day is how we feel about it.
Heritage isn’t all about long ago dead traditions, in fact it can be something we do every day. Take food for
example; what we eat and how we eat it doesn’t just happen by chance or because of a convenience store. It
relates not only to the choices we make in what ends up on our plate and the availability of ingredients, but
the traditions and influences that are handed down from our parents, and grandparents and people around us.
Look at the humble braai where many of us South Africans, of whatever background, sit around on the
weekend with marinated sosaties (meat kebabs) grilling nicely above the coals. Little do we realise that this is
at least a 200 year old tradition that goes back to slaves from India who were the cooks in the kitchens of our
Cape Dutch homesteads. In what is considered typical Cape Malay cooking, these eastern influences are
perhaps even more pronounced in dishes such as bobotie, sago pudding, and accompaniments like atjar and
blatjang.
Ultimately what we consider Cape cuisine is a fusion of the foodstyles of slaves from India, Indonesia and East
Africa, and the Boerekos of the European settlers who came to live at the Cape. A bit like the origins of the
Afrikaans language which was aptly (although derogatorily) first known as ‘Kitchen Dutch’. It is perhaps no
wonder with all those flavours and food cultures coming together on the stove that a new language would be
born out of the kitchen.
There is a third leg to our Cape cuisine that is not often acknowledged: the Veldkos of the indigenous Khoe and
San who inhabited this region thousands of years ago. Which is no surprise as their role in Cape heritage and
language is still often marginalized to the recesses of our distant past. We might think that these food
traditions too are long dead but they live on in askoek, pot bread and roosterkoek, fermented honey beer
(mead), in all our current concoctions using buchu and rooibos, and even our iconic South African biltong. In
fact, we could learn a thing or two from this Khoe and San cuisine. As renown researcher of indigenous South
African food culture, Renata Coetzee, notes the veld with its edible plants and abundance of game was the
food store of the Khoekhoen which was stocked in accordance with the seasons. Whether it was for eating or
medicinal purposes the store cupboard of these people was the open landscape around them. Where
sustainability is the key word of late, the Khoe were living this way off the land thousands of years before we
even coined the phrase.
Recently there has been renewed interest in this lifestyle so that once again people are planting and eating
wild garlic and mint, sorrel, and spekboom in their homes and restaurants. But these herbs are really the tip of
the iceberg (lettuce!) in terms of what this culinary tradition has to offer us. Ultimately it is our choice to
decide if we are interested in it.
Solms-Delta is offering visitors a chance to experience all these aspects of the Cape’s culinary past on Heritage
Day (24th September, and also Sunday 25th). Guests can not only taste for themselves these culinary traditions
in the Heritage Menu that will be on offer (insert website link) but can also be part of a guided tour through
our fynbos reserve, Dik Delta, to learn more about our country’s indigenous and edible plants. It truly is a
sensory experience as farm resident Johan O’Rayn encourages you to taste and smell everything while you
tour around the reserve. A highlight is also the traditional Sanga cattle that the Khoe would have herded in the
past as well as fat tailed sheep (two lambs having just been born a few weeks ago) and a pair of ostriches. In
Johan’s case it was his grandmother in Ceres who taught him the uses of these indigenous plants when he was
a young boy. Years later he is able to impart this knowledge he has inherited onto us, and what could be more
appropriate to celebrate on heritage day.
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When people hear the word `heritage` they often think of timeless