by C Louis Leipoldt
Now is the time for waterblommetjies.
My late Aunt Trifosa always claimed that the best waterblommetjies are found in spring. She said her great-grandmother had told her that in the days of the Dutch East India Company, people from the Hantam used to come to dig up the bulbs, but we no longer do that today. We eat only the upper part, the flowers.
What my aunt told me was true. Thunberg [a Swedish botanist, 1743-1828], who was apparently some kind of smous around here [Thunberg stayed at the Cape from 1772 to 1775 and collected some 3 000 plant species, 1 000 of which were new to botany], tells us that people also did that in his time: what mattered was the bulb, not the flower. When I tried to dig up a waterblommetjie bulb, all I got was potter’s clay and a dead water skunk.
Today we restrict ourselves to the waterblommetjie flower and stalk, from which you can make a delicious bredie. It’s a pity they’re so scarce these days. Previously it was possible to find a klonkie on the Parade, or on any street corner, with half a dozen bunches for sale at thruppence each. Now you have to pay – can you believe it? – up to two shillings a bunch, and be grateful that you get any at all. The week before last I noticed a vlei full of waterblommetjies, but was there a klonkie willing to wade in and pick them for me? No such luck. I had to roll up my trousers and wade in; and naturally, the first thing I stood on was the remnant of an old jerepigo bottle, as a result of which I’m still limping today. But I did return with three or four bunches for the pot.
The secret of a good waterblommetjie bredie – as with every green vegetable bredie – is the marriage of the green – in this case the white – vegetable with fat. The foundation of every bredie is a few pieces of fat mutton rib, well braised – either in its own fat or with the aid of some caul. Aunt Trifosa once showed me how she used ox-marrow, but I’m not convinced that marrow-fat improves the taste of a green bredie. I think the particularly good taste of Aunt Trifosa’s bredie – and no one made a better bredie than she did – was due to the sprig of rosemary she always added.
Braise the meat well, and braise it properly: do not roast it. Do so slowly and carefully, for as the Suinige Keukenmeid said: ‘Dat goed schijnt zeer lightelijck aan te branden en vereijscht dus met voorzicht gehanteerdt te worden’ [‘The stuff tends to burn very easily and therefore needs to be handled with care’].
In the meantime, clean the waterblommetjies in salt water, using only the flowers, the flower petals and the youngest, softest stalks. Dry them, then place them over the fire in an iron pot, with enough water to cover them. Allow them to boil. The water will extract the brown, bitter juice from the stalks, and as soon as it is reddish brown, the pot should be removed from the fire. Drain through a colander, and throw out the red water. (Aunt Trifosa was convinced that it improved the colour of her zinnias, but I have my doubts about that.) Now add the waterblommetjies and a lump of fat to the braised meat, and – according to taste – a bay or lemon leaf, or a small cutting of whatever other herb you choose. I’ve already mentioned that my aunt used rosemary, and it’s certainly worth a try. Place the lid on the pot, and braise well for twenty minutes. Shake frequently, taking care not to let it burn.
Now take two or three handfuls of sorrel leaves – the yellow sorrel that grows in the vineyard is best. If you use garden sorrel, cut the thick stalks away first, and cut up the leaves as well. Add boiling water, then dry well. When using the wild sorrel, which is much softer, you don’t need to cut up the leaves first: just bruise them when getting rid of the water. Then add them to the bredie, and braise again. Stir well, so that the vegetables braise nicely in the fat and become thoroughly oil-soaked. Take care that the heat of the fire doesn’t become too strong, for then the bredie will lose its green colour.
Finally, the spices. Add salt to taste, a small piece of green ginger, a sliver of green chilli, and a thimbleful of fine white pepper. Dish up, and serve with soggy rice.
What to drink with it? A good white wine, well chilled and not too dry. A Riesling, if that is available, or else a Sauvignon. Both go well with the delicate waterblommetjie taste that pervades the meat.
24 September 1943