While out hunting, soup is one of the most popular dishes consumed by the light of the campfire; and nowhere have I tasted better camp soup than in the Lowveld during a bushveld camp where the hunters really knew what they were doing.
Camp soup is so much more than just a normal soup.
Carême, one of the great experts in the history of cooking, maintains – and I think he is right about this – that soup should only be used as an appetiser. According to him it should therefore be a thin, preferably clear solution of cooked vegetable or meat juices. Meat extract has a stimulating effect on the mucous membrane of the stomach, much the same as a glass of good sherry. It therefore improves both the appetite and the digestion, even though in itself it has no great nutritional value. You can give it nutritional value by adding flour, milk, wine or anything else nutritional, but a solution of meat or vegetable extract is not really what you’d call food. When food is added, as in a thick soup, what you have is more than an appetising prelude to the meal – you have a dish that is part of the meal itself. Then it is used as much for its food value as for its taste.
Carême’s attitude to soup is not shared by the Chinese cooks, who sometimes serve a nutritious soup between dishes or after another dish, but never to start with. They would certainly agree with me that when out hunting, camp soup is the best form of dining on the open veld.
Such a soup is cooked slowly, all day long.
Early in the morning a large iron pot is filled with water. Into this is put whatever vegetables are available, usually potatoes, onions, dry beans, lentils or peas, and whatever remains of the hunters’ spoils in the form of bones with a fair amount of venison still on them. Salt and pepper are added at an early stage – other spices are usually not at hand, although someone familiar with the local bushveld may be able to enhance the flavour by adding leaves and herbs from the immediate vicinity. Invariably one also finds some local root vegetable that can be added.
The soup is cooked slowly, and stirred from time to time with a spoon or a clean piece of thorn-tree. A civilised cook will scoop off the foam and especially the fat that may be found floating on top, although in my experience this is never done – and it is precisely for this reason that the soup is so hearty and tasty later that night. It is then a thick, doughy soup, served with the marrow-bones and the meat, as a meal in itself.
A bowl or two of such a soup makes the braaivleis that invariably follows somewhat excessive. The truth is that the soup in itself is so nourishing that all you really need thereafter is an aposteltjie with your coffee, followed by a quiet and contemplative pipe.
5 April 1946