By Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit
If you thought you were currently living in the age of hi-tech kitchen appliances, man, you should have been around in the days of the Victorian off-grid Karoo!
Those aunties who cooked an astonishing array of heart-warming, tummy-rubbing dishes from the Dryland didn’t produce such gastronomy by simply rubbing two meerkats together.
Walk into a Victorian-era Karoo kitchen and you will find cunning little peach peelers, raisin pip removers, nutmeg graters, sugar-cane cutters, egg-boxes, coffee roasters, candle-moulds, mincers and copper water heaters that fitted neatly next to the hearth.
Keeping food fresh and free of pests was another issue. If you visit the kitchen in Olive Schreiner’s childhood home in Cradock or the Hantam Huis kitchen in Calvinia, you’ll notice the walls are a distinctive blue-green – the result of arsenic being added to the paint to repel flies.
Peach pips used to be embedded in the clay-and-dung floors to firm them up. The floor was then coated with a layer of aloe juice, to keep insects away.
The kitchens always faced south to keep food cool. But in the heat of summer, more was needed. Sometimes you’ll see a small box-like building outside an abandoned Karoo farmhouse kitchen or a deserted railway station.
These were evaporative fridges, the walls made with pieces of charcoal or pumice trapped between chicken wire. Water trickled down the walls and the evaporation made for much cooler storage space.