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.
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!