Karoo foodie venture a big hit

Angela Daniels savours the delights offered at the Cradock Food Festival


“I was worried about you until I remembered you are travellers, not tourists.”
That little snippet of an overheard conversation piqued my interest in the group sitting on the veranda of Cradock’s Victoria Manor on a balmy Friday evening last week.
Utterly ordinary looking, if somewhat rowdy, the group of “travellers” from Pretoria were not your ordinary guests at the Cradock Food Festival – they were an intrepid little band who travel the country searching for small-town festivals as the ultimate kick.
The snatched conversation I overheard led to a chat with the travellers that led to some side-splitting laughter and ultimately an invite to a braai at a Cradock resident’s home.
Because those travellers pick up friends easily.
It was definitely a making-friends kind of weekend, lively conversations with people who had converged on the town to attend the hugely successful Karoo Food Festival and generous invites to the homes of those who live in the area.
From a Rhodes University ichthyology professor and his partner who after many years had returned to student life, to a couple from our hometown of Port Elizabeth, to a proper Karoo boer – who boasted that one year at the festival he had braaied more than 1,000 skaapstertjies (sheep tails), we made many friends along the way.
The most notable were certainly the “train people” – our intrepid little band of travellers – Johan and Helen Steyn, Brian and Linda Ingram and Neteska and Wouter Gerber.
The “train people” had hopped aboard the Shosholoza Meyl to make their way from Pretoria to Cradock.
And everyone in town knew just who they were – people who know that life is for the living.Everywhere they went they were welcomed by people who said “ah, the train people” when they heard the group were from Pretoria.Small-town gossip networks are apparently in good working order in Cradock, as is warm country hospitality, and the “train people” were welcomed with all the bells and whistles.They certainly made a good choice in selecting the Karoo Food Festival.
Quite amazingly, the festival is organised by four rather astounding local women – Helen Ker, Amy Coetzer, Melina Smit and Cathy Knox – who all have other jobs but organise the festival because “we love people, and we have a passion for Karoo food and our town”.
The organisation of the festival might be fitted in among their busy jobs – at the local hotel, in education and design – but you would never know it, because it rivals the best there is on offer countrywide.
From paid-for cooking master classes to free demonstrations to the varied food and drinks stalls and the top-notch entertainment, the four Karoo townsfolk could well give any event organisers a run for their money.
They managed to draw in some big names for the master classes – Lani and Louzel of My Kitchen Rules fame the most notable.A wonderful aspect of the festival is the partnership with the Hantam Community Education Trust which is based in Colesberg.Over the past four years 80 youngsters – all from small towns across the country – have been awarded full bursaries, for an internationally accredited diploma in food preparation and cooking.The passionate youngsters provide free demonstrations and we absolutely loved watching them make pesto and mayonnaise, their faces lighting up as they interacted with festinos.Aside from the very obvious foodstuff on offer – the Karoo lamb, offal potjie and a variety of game meat – the festival brings opportunity for some out-of-towners, people Ker refers to as “friends of the festival”, to showcase their wares.Making me feel right at home was the popular Bridge Street Brewery stand.So popular in fact that almost every second festival-goer was carrying an on-tap ale or pink gin.
The venue I speak of is The Palms, a wedding venue with massive grounds, big trees and oodles of character.It is the perfect spot to host a festival of this nature, with plenty of shade and various indoor spaces for exhibitors.The drinks venue was an exciting space with tasters of flavoured rums, gins and even rooibos vodka on offer.If you ever get the opportunity to taste a litchi vodka I say go for it, it’s a real winner.Cradock is, of course, like many small towns where the municipality is not particularly well run, a little shabby and potholed in parts, but the festival brings it alive and the residents are ones any town should be proud of.Everyone is friendly and sitting out on an old-style veranda at night is a really special treat as passersby greet you and the stars shine bright.It’s only the odd truck rumbling down the N2 and possibly hitting a pothole to remind you that you have not travelled back in time.

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