A Free State Christmas braai

How I wish I could have invited all of you to the real Vrystaat Christmas braai we’ve just had. Especially after the rains, it was a particularly festive occasion for all the members of the community.

It was an evening filled with love, laughter, good food and just enough beer to keep everyone in a good mood. (Although I must admit that my two oumas tended to slip away regularly to the spare bedroom, where my dad keeps some bottles of wine in the wardrobe – to the two oupas’ chagrin. But you must promise not to tell anyone about this, it’s a closely-guarded family secret!)

A Free State braai consists of mutton chops, boerewors and pap and sous, with a luscious trifle for pudding. That’s that. This is a no-nonsense part of the world, where we serve down to earth, hearty and tummy-filling food. Nothing comes close to a Free State Merino chop with a nice fatty border on the husk coals.

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You see, a real Free State braai requires maize husks. We don’t braai with wood or charcoal or anything like that!
Our neck of the woods is hardly known for fruit production, but our watermelons are the tastiest in the whole wide world – big, dark green old-fashioned varieties, such as All Sweet and Congo. It is indeed a glorious time if the rains came early enough for us to have ripe watermelons for Christmas. 

Oom Willem Marais grows the best melons in the district. They’re so big and fat they literally burst open when he starts cutting them with his worn old Joseph Rogers, revealing the blood red flesh.

And don’t forget the cactus pears! These glistening pale green jewels in one of my ouma’s earthenware dishes are indeed a sight to behold. The watermelon and cactus pears are served as a starter, before the braai starts in earnest.

A Free State braai is not for the faint-hearted. We don’t do ‘dainty’.

When we braai, we BRAAI! Three, four grids that take enough meat for a multitude are manned by the younger guys with the older men as supervisors. As soon as the meat is done it’s taken to the tables in a big cast iron pot.

The pap is brought in the huge soup kettle it was cooked in. And then it’s party time!

But not before Oom Willem, the old patriarch, calls everyone together to say grace. To say thank you for the good year we had, for the grace bestowed upon us. For the food we are about to receive and the blessings already granted to us. For the Holy Birthday.

As the sweet sound of Silent Night flows over Hakbospan’s moonlit veld we revel in the knowledge that we belong together. That we’re bound to each other by the love of the land. What a privilege!

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.