Photographs Chris Marais
All over the Karoo, you’ll find ‘house museums’, and the most fascinating part is always the kitchen.
This is where you’ll discover cunning little peach peelers, raisin pip removers, nutmeg graters, sugar-cane cutters, egg-boxes, coffee roasters, candle-moulds, sausage-makers, giant soap pots and copper water heaters that fitted neatly next to the hearth.
Urquhart House, one of the Graaff-Reinet Museums, has one of the best old-time kitchens where you can marvel at Victorian ingenuity and Karoo practicality.
But the first thing you’ll notice is the floor.
Peach pips used to be embedded to strengthen clay floors across the Karoo, according to the late Helena Marincowitz of Prince Albert. In her book Karoostyle: Folk Architecture of Prince Albert, she writes “They were placed in rows and beaten down with a wooden board to obtain a smooth surface. After six months, the floor was coated with a layer of aloe juice; this was to keep the insects away.”
These days, designers from all around the world sing the praises of this uniquely South African flooring technique. So interesting to the eye, so easy to clean, so therapeutic to walk on, beetle-resistant, eco-friendly and warp-free, they enthuse. Freshly varnished with aloe juice, the floor gleams as if freshly polished.
Yet it’s hardly used these days. One of the rare exceptions is the Elandsberg Wilderness Camp at Tankwa Karoo National Park which features peach pip floors in the open plan kitchens.
- Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais are the authors of Moving to the Platteland: Life in Small Town South Africa.