For history lovers…
Swellendam is an historic town in the Republic of South Africa approximately 220 km from both Cape Town and George.
The town has over 50 provincial heritage sites, most of them buildings of Cape Dutch architecture.
“Early travellers and explorers who visited the Cape in the 16th century traded with the Khoikhoi people who lived on these shores and in the interior…when the Dutch East India Company established a replenishment station at the Cape in 1652, trade continued inland as far as Swellendam.” Wikipedia ’18
I also liked to learn more about the history and culture of the African people when we visited a new place and reflect on the impact that European settlements (sometimes conflicts) had. In Australia, many of the early settlement conflicts the British had with our Indigenous people (Aboriginal and Torres St Islanders) weren’t documented accurately until recent years (something I’m also interested in reading about).
A book related to African/Australian history I’d like to read in the coming months (I hope…have so many on ‘to read’ list!) is Unnecessary Wars by Henry Reynolds 2016 In this book he focusses on Australia’s involvement in the Boer Wars. He says “the Boers (‘farmers’) were not Australia’s enemies, but troops from all six colonies fought them…the 2nd Boer War was waged between 1899 to 1902 (spanning our Federation), and it conditioned Australians to think as many still do about war”…he continues on “the two Boer Wars, by any measure, were unnecessary.” Many hundreds of young lives lost of course on all sides…Reynolds notes the awful numbers in this book. Reynolds is a world renowned Historian who always “likes to find out more” he responded when recently interviewed.
Interesting thing for us was that he was our neighbour when we lived in Townsville Tropical Nth (96-00) and on one occasion I went to one of his book launches there which was fascinating and inspired me to learn more about Indigenous/European conflicts in Australia. Next book on this topic I want to read is “The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the early colony, 1788-1817″ by Stephen Gapps (2018)
Where we stayed: Schooneoordt Country House
I found the history of the homestead where we stayed fascinating (interesting stories on their website – link below) as it dated back to about 1800. If interested in an excerpt from their “house story” keep reading otherwise skip over to whatever topic is of more interest…I have a tendency to get off track!
The “house story” starts with the current owners, Alison & Richard’s early days in 2003 of renovating the house inbetween having babies and trying to save money by doing a lot themselves. That story resonated with Tony and I as we designed and built our dream house (well as far as budget allowed!) in 1989 and again renovated a small/old coast house/garden in 2010-present…not a house with significant history like Schooneoordt but equally loved and one day we would love to learn about the original owner/builders who have now passed away.
Back to Schoone Oordt Country House history…
I also love the excerpt from the story of previous owners…particularly Dulcie’s perseverance and hardwork:
“they (Herman & Dulcie Moore) pushed open doors and braved spiders’ webs inside. It was pitch dark, a shelter for bats and creepy crawlies, but when the couple emerged with spider webs across their faces, the house had bound them with much stronger ties. They promptly bought it, for very little money and the massive restoration began.
After 3 building contractors threw in the trowel, Herman began to doubt their decision. Dulcie did not. She would drive the main road in her Volksie (Volkswagon) and pile in anybody that looked like a builder or carpenter. She worked tirelessly alongside her labourers, fixing, building, stripping, painting, carrying, hammering…her work is apparently prosaically recorded in a manifest and we wish that we knew where it was!” (I’ll note year this happened tomorrow as must finish dinner now!)…
This story then connects back to the current owners’ story...”Richard’s restoration has mirrored Dulcie’s in so many ways and always, that thread of passion and connection. It took her two long exhausting, incredibly expensive, but exhilerating years to complete her home….no sooner had the drapes been hung and their collection of beautiful antique furniture fitted into each room, and Herman fell seriously ill. After not even two years of living in Skone Oord (sic), the Moore family had to move closer to Cape Town for medical care.”
For garden lovers….
Australians travelling in the area might be interested to see shrubs and trees that remind them of home…see shrubs in foreground of feature photo – they look very similar to our native Hakeas. We had many of these at our family home garden in Canberra which backed onto a nature reserve – loved them especially when flowering.
Where we stayed in Swellendam: Schoone Oordt Country House – see feature photo and 3 photos below:
We loved this historic house…if you go, try to stay at least 2 nights as there’s lots to see and do in the region and then a comfortable half day drive across to the coast near Hermanus (our next stop) or even just onto Cape Town. There are many vineyards in the area, outdoor walks/sports as well as restaurants – some that reminded us of our travels in the Netherlands. Note the distinctive Dutch Colonial architecture in the photos above.
For food and wine lovers…The food and wine in this district is beautiful and for many overseas tourists here in SA, comparatively well priced. In Australia the cost of dining out in some of the popular restaurants in wine districts is quite high. Where we stayed here was expensive but if you included the food/wine package, very reasonable; the ingredients were fresh and beautiful and the chef clearly knew his trade well. It was a v cool night so the fire was burning and it was so cosy and relaxed. The restaurant is open to both guests and the public…a few locals also dining there so it had a pleasant buzz.
The only negatives…lighting – as you can see there were candles but dimmer lighting would have created a more romantic ambiance and sense of occasion as it was a special evening…for a while there (with my spinal issues) an occasion I thought I’d not get to see so I was super pleased that we made it! Unfortunately, at that stage I wasn’t able to linger over dinner (backpain from extended period of sitting especially after a half day in car) but since my surgeries last August I’m so much better and now planning a trip to Europe this August with a stopover in Asia. Life is looking up again!!
Breakfasts at many places in South Africa are beautiful!…
It was a gorgeous buffet breakfast in the Conservatory (photo below) – we had an early sitting because we were driving a few hours that day and a storm was predicted. Fortunately, our car was a bit large/more solid than we usually hire which was just as well as the storm turned out to be the worst they’d seen in/around Cape Town in about 20 years. We drove right through it!…a bit scary as the car got buffeted around but we were able to get to Mosaic Lodge near Hermanus (last 2 photos) safely before the very worst of downpour finally hit. The temperature then dropped dramatically so we were pleased to find that the Lodge had fires burning both in the shared restaurant/bar/lounge space and in the rooms. The standalone cabins were gorgeous – connected by timber boardwalks and fortunately ours was close to the shared space. Once the wind dropped they gave us large umbrellas to get to/from the cabin. We had 4 nights here – quite a lot to do, even though the rain for first couple of days forced us to slow the pace and enjoy more time in/around our peaceful little cabin in the middle of the most stunning setting – more photos in next blog post.
This included the wildlife in the area (nothing big & scary so quite safe to stroll down by the lagoon etc). Mostly spectacular bird life including flocks of flamingos (photo below) near the lake which was a short walk from the lodge. I’ll post more photos of this beautiful area in a future blog entry.
Next stop – MOSAIC LODGE near HERMANUS – about 1 hr 40 min from Cape Town. Hermanus is a large seaside town…more info in next post.
RECIPES that remind us of the beautiful food we were served in both Swellendam at Mosaic Lagoon Lodge and in Franschhoek (see previous post if interested):
Tonight’s dinner – a French? (definitely European) Favourite we cook/serve in one of our favourite Le Creuset dishes. It’s a cool autumn night in Canberra (similar to what we encountered in SA) so we’re looking forward to it! I’m thinking it might have French origins because I remember tarragon being served in many dishes in France and on this African holiday, in Mauritius (see previous post if interested).
A note on tarragon for those not keen on gardening: it’s so easy to grow! It dies off a bit in Canberra’s winter but if I keep it protected from frost ie. under cover, it survives ok and bounces back in Spring. The outdoor frost affected tarragon will probably re-grow as well but keeping it undercover in a smaller pot will extend it’s life if given at least morning sun.
If you don’t have tarragon my guess is that Thyme or even Italian Parsley would work ok or experiment with other herbs you like – I don’t believe in strict rules with cooking Tony might disagree!…but I did talk him into putting fresh turmeric in our home made veg soup today! My British/Indian/Oz Dr!… tells me that it prevents Dementia…an illness my mother/Tony’s grandmother suffered from. Let’s hope!!
TARRAGON AND BRANDY BRAISED ONION AND CHICKEN
50 g unsalted butter, chopped; 1 kg onions (thinly sliced into rounds using a large sharp knife or mandolin); sea salt and cracked black pepper; 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced; 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon plain flour; 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup brandy; 3 cups chicken stock (we reduced it by 1 cup for a thicker sauce); 2 teas extra virgin olive oil; 6 chicken thighs (about 1.4 kg), skin on and bone in; 6 sprigs tarragon.
Preheat oven to 220 deg C (425 F). Melt the butter in a large heavy-based flameproof ovenproof shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20-25 min or until golden brown. Add garlic sugar and flour and cook stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes or until caramelised. Increase heat to high. Add the vinegar and brandy and cook for 2 minutes or until reduced slightly. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
While the onion mixture is cooking, heat the oil in a large non stick frying pan over high heat.
Sprinkle the chicken skin with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, for 4-5 minute or until golden brown. Place on top of the onions, skin side up and cook in the oven for 15 min. Add the tarragon and cook for a further 5 min or until the chicken is dark golden brown and cooked through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to serve. Serves 6…or left overs for another night!
From a Donna Hay “Fast Food” magazine…the chopping of all the onions wasn’t particularly fast but this recipe easy for most home cooks.