I HAVE already told you about Barbara, my German friend who will be 99 in December.
In her day she was a keen traveller who explored the country in her Volkswagen Beetle (what else would a gnädige Frau drive?) One fine evening she was on her way to the farm of some in the middle of nowhere when a small buck suddenly appeared in the headlights. Unfortunately, there was no time to swerve or brake, and when the dust settled the buck lay on the road behind her. Roadkill.
And because Barbara is not wasteful, she loaded it in the Beetle's nose in case the farmer's wife could use the meat for the dogs. At the farm, she greeted and chatted while the dogs sniffed around the car.
But when she opened the bonnet, the buck decided it had been dead long enough, thank you very much, jumped over the dogs and disappeared into the bush.
Speaking of which: I find it mildly amusing that the same green warriors who aggressively insist on pitter-pattering over the planet as lightly as possible will not put their mouths to platkos (the advocate's contribution to the Afrikaans vocabulary for roadkill).
What on earth would bother them about it? If it is a wild animal, then you are eating the meat of something that lived freely and grazed widely, was not stuffed with goodies, died suddenly (although perhaps a little messily), and with the right preparation is completely safe for human consumption. I would think it beats those unrecyclable plastic packets full of organic vegetable protein in Woolies hands down, and it costs nothing.
But no. Even my children, who love snakes and bugs and have experienced the life and death of various animals on their grandfather's farm, were not at all amused when I once picked up vegetables that had washed up on the beach. I was so pleased: potatoes, onions — purple onions, to boot — and a large head of cabbage, ideal for a nice pot of soup. But they flatly refused to participate in their mother's spectacle, despite my protestations that the sea had washed everything clean.
I suspect our discomfort with the idea of food that is picked up stems from our denial of the truth that our life — any life — is sustained by death. We get our food nicely packaged, meat without eyes or intestines, vegetables without soil or foliage: everything clean and picture-perfect. We have banished the sight of death to the furthest corners of our existence. And touching a dead animal — or even worse, killing a badly injured animal — taking out the entrails, cutting off the skin then cooking it, is too much for our tender hearts. We want to be wild but not that wild.
But we are not all like that. Picking up and eating usable roadkill is done all over the world and the Americans even have cookbooks for it. (Have a look on Amazon.) But the man who made it a life's work is from England, that undisputed Xanadu of eccentricity. Arthur Boyt did not buy any meat for 50 years and lived only from flattened food. He called himself a freegan.
There are even dishes believed to have originated from the use of recycled animals, such as Brunswick stew (traditionally with squirrel or rabbit) from the US South. In Australia, kangaroo is the king of flattened food; in Kentucky it is opossum and in Indiana it is raccoon.
In Finland, killed animals are treated as waste, but where bears or European moose have been in a collision with a vehicle, the meat is inspected and auctioned by the police.
We don't have legislation about it and the advocate tells me such things will be considered res derelictae — discarded things. “Before my mind's eye, I see an argument developing," says the advocate, his fingertips against each other, “that food that falls off lorries has been silently abandoned."
This was not the case when a lorry driver took his truck out of gear at the wrong time on Kloof Nek Road and it came to rest on its roof in front of our house. The entire road was littered with boxes of frozen krill from Antarctica. But the owner of the truck was on the scene within minutes, and apart from a fleet-footed opportunist or two, the usual raids were thwarted. My request in the late afternoon for a broken piece of the krill, after everything had almost been cleaned up, was unkindly yet firmly rejected by the foreman.
I was rather taken aback, because I had the most delicious shrimp cakes in mind that we once enjoyed at the Costa do Sol restaurant in Maputo. But all was not lost, because the very next Sunday when I lamented my fate to a Russian at church, it turned out that his company — he is a shipping agent — happened to have handled the order! Within days I was the proud owner of a block of the shrimp, this time delivered by a car with its wheels firmly on the ground.
I immediately decided to make pan-fried, stuffed dumplings with a dipping sauce. (You didn't really think I was going to provide a recipe for battered dachshund?)
Easy shrimp dumplings
- 400g cleaned shrimps, thawed and chopped. If they come from a lorry that has crashed, inspect for gravel chips.
- 100g ground pork, or a strip or two of finely chopped bacon. (Pork is optional, but sometimes frozen shrimp is tasteless and then the pork or bacon helps.)
- ½ cup finely chopped cabbage
- ½ cup or more finely chopped oriental herbs, such as coriander, lemongrass or mint. I added Thai lime leaves.
- 1-2 spring onions with green leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp sesame oil, less if very strong
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
Mix all the ingredients and let them rest for 30 minutes.
- a pack of frozen dumpling dough circles (gyoza wrappers at Chinese stores)
- cooking oil
1. Place a dollop of the filling in the middle of each dough circle, dip your finger in water and spread around the ridge of the dough, then fold the ridges over the filling to make a crescent. Press firmly to seal and flatten the dumpling slightly so the seal is facing upwards.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan and pack the pan full of dumplings, but without touching each other. Fry until the bottoms are light brown.
3. Lower the heat, pour ¼ cup of water into the pan and put the lid on so the dumplings can steam for 3 minutes.
4. Remove the lid, turn the heat up a little again and fry until the bottoms are nicely golden brown and crispy. Repeat until all the dumplings are cooked.
5. Serve with a dipping sauce made from:
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 sliced hot chilli if you feel like it
I was still mulling over my roadkill food plans when I heard my Piet Sands cousin from Witsand was baking a wheel bread. I called him right away. He says he was introduced to it in the Kalahari.
You hollow out a café loaf of bread and mix the crumbs with what you feel like or have left in your camping pantry: cheese, fried bacon, mushrooms, green pepper and… a packet of chips. You stuff the filling into the bread and put back the crust.
Then you tie the bread in two Spar bags (don't ask), put it behind a wheel of your car, ask a friend to hold your Klippies and Coke and reverse over the bags. The flat product is grilled and cut into slices for serving.
I still can't say whether the intentionally flattened food filled me with horror or fascination, but I had to try it.
- 1 whole store-bought loaf
- a container of mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 pack of bacon of your choice, finely chopped and fried
- 2-3 cups of grated cheese
- ½ red or green pepper, diced
- handful of chopped fresh herbs or a finely chopped chilli
I wouldn't recommend the chips, but you're welcome. Go big.
1. Cut off one side crust of the bread and hollow out the loaf, but leave a little buffer around the ridge.
2. Mix the crumbs (perhaps not all, there must be room for the other things too) with the other ingredients and season with a handful of freshly chopped herbs, salt and pepper or the seasoning of your choice.
3. Stuff the filling back into the bread and put the crust back in place. Now tie the bread tightly in two plastic bags to keep the crust in position. Place behind the (rear) wheel of your vehicle and drive over it once.
4. Remove from the plastic and braai over coals until golden brown and crispy. Cut into slices for serving.
By the way, Arthur Boyt also ate washed-up dolphin in his day. But he drew the line at pets with a phone number on the collar.
♦ VWB ♦
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