This article first appeared in House & Leisure Online and is entitled “West Coast Wander: Family Ties, Finns and Fishing in Velddrif”. It is accompanied by a recipe – “Bokkom Pâté with Cape Gooseberry Chutney”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
Of all the towns along the Cape West Coast, my favourite by far has to be Velddrif. Unique in its position, Velddrif straddles the Berg River mouth, spilling up towards Dwarskersbos and looking out over the Atlantic towards St Helena Bay. Home to both a natural and constructed harbour, Velddrif also features the man-made delta of Port Owen, replete with palm trees and pleasure yachts, but even this exudes the same sleepiness as the rest of the town. Little has been touched by modernity and one has a sense that perhaps the locals prefer it this way. There are no malls, no large-scale housing developments and few franchises to be found here.
The town also marks the end of road, literally, for the R27 – the West Coast Road – and so for some, Velddrif is the furthermost point that they have explored yet. Although not sporting the abundance of eateries, blue flag beaches or holiday resorts as towns situated closer to the city, Velddrif has it’s own eclectic collection of attractions that will likely only appeal to a particular kind of traveller. The most popular of these is Bokkom Laan, a cluster of historic structures that were originally used to salt-cure and dry the small silvery haarder fish caught out of the river. Whitewashed and pastorally picturesque, the drying-huts are listed buildings and thankfully have thus been allowed to remain in their original state – give or take a few small amendments from the restaurants that have taken up residence within them. For a number of years only a few drying-huts were in use while the rest fell into disrepair but since the realization that it takes capital to keep them whole, Bokkom Laan was reborn into a bankable tourist attraction – complete with Weskus fare, boat trips along the river, curious pelicans and charmingly dilapidated jetties. A few of the huts are still used for their original purpose, but due to decline in their numbers, haarders are no longer caught in the river, but rather out at sea. The only processing that occurs on Bokkom Laan is the making of the area’s namesake – that infamous West Coast delicacy, the bokkom.
Like so many others, Velddrif is primarily a fishing town; its predominant livelihood is one that is linked to both river and sea. The mouth of the river is rich in salt and Cerebos and Khoisan Salt harvest the seasoning on either side of the Carinus Bridge. Birdlife is abundant too – flocks of pastel-hued flamingoes, snowy egrets and the African fish eagle can all be sighted wading in the shallows or soaring overhead. Colourful fishing trawlers offload their catch into the numerous fish processing plants that make up the industrial area of Laaiplek. It’s this amalgamation of natural beauty and regional industry that lends Velddrif its distinctive appeal. An unspoilt place with a richly multicultural past, a community that exists in relative integration and a strong sense of identity, it is no secret that those to whom Velddrif is home value their situation and hold it dear.
On a personal level, the family ties to this town run deep. Having originally bought a plot for their holiday home in 1983, my maternal grandparents became lifelong members of the Velddrif Yacht Club and both them and my mother sailed in the numerous regattas and races held there. My father happened to own the first house in the fledgling development of Port Owen and belonged to the yacht club too, where he sailed and stored his Finn. The Velddrif Yacht Club was renowned for their jubilant New Year’s Eve parties, which, fortuitously for me, is how my parents met, and I arrived on the scene a few years later. Early childhood memories include playing in the mud at the edge of the river; it’s green water lapping gently on a shore shaded by the vast Australian imports of bluegum and manatoka, the warm Berg wind the only element stirring the stillness of summer afternoons.
It is this same wind that has allowed Velddrif to produce its largest attraction – the bokkom. Small fish of the mackerel genus are caught, salted and finally dried by the arid wind that blows from the Cape Fold Mountain escarpment down to the coast. As unique as the wind that creates them, bokkoms are considered to be an acquired taste as they can be overly fishy in flavour for some. Admittedly I’m not a fan myself, but I do find that when soaked in olive oil and used as a seasoning, these desiccated strips of fish have a flavour not dissimilar to anchovies. This is yet another surprising aspect to emerge out of an often-overlooked town.
Although our property in Velddrif has long since been sold, since my father’s passing in 2007, I find that I am drawn to the town on an increasingly consistent basis. Perhaps I keep returning to the places he frequented in Velddrif in an attempt to hold on to whatever memories I have left of him.
Either that or I’ve finally developed a taste for bokkoms.
Bokkom Pâté with Cape gooseberry Chutney and Roosterkoek
Prep time: 2 hours including soaking time / Cook time: 15 mins / Serves: 6 to 8
For the pâté you will need:
- 3 large bokkoms, cleaned and filleted – about 200g in total
- 250ml milk
- 500g full-fat smooth cream cheese
- 10ml fresh cream
- Half an onion, peeled, grated and excess liquid removed
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, washed
- 10ml freshly ground coarse black pepper
- 5ml dried chilli flakes
- The zest of a lemon
- 10ml fresh lemon juice
Cape Gooseberry Chutney
To make about 400g of gooseberry chutney you will need:
- 125g caster sugar
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
- 500g fresh Cape gooseberries, shelled and washed
- 100g golden raisins
- 75ml apple cider vinegar
- 75ml white wine vinegar
- 5ml cardamom pods
- 5ml black peppercorns
- 5ml coriander seeds
- 5ml salt
To make roughly 20 roosterkoek, you will need:
- 1kg white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2ml salt
- 10g instant yeast
- 500ml lukewarm water
- 15ml melted butter or olive oil
Place the bokkom fillets in a shallow bowl and cover with the milk. This will draw out any excess salt and rehydrate the dried fish to give it a plumper, softer texture in the pâté. Allow to soak for about an hour and a half. In the meantime, make the chutney and the dough for the roosterkoek.
For the roosterkoek, combine the flour and salt and sprinkle over the instant yeast. Add just enough of the lukewarm water to create a pliable dough. Knead until elastic then fold together and brush with the butter or olive oil and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. On a floured surface, knead out the excess air and separate the dough into small balls. Flatten them slightly and cook on a griddle over medium coals until done. Keep warm until ready to serve.
For the gooseberry chutney, sauté the onion in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until soft then add in the raisins and the vinegars. In a mortar and pestle, crack the cardamom pods and extract the fine black seeds within. Combine these with the black peppercorns and coriander seeds and stir through the onion mixture. Add about a third of the gooseberries to the mixture and combine. Add the salt and sugar and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and allow the chutney to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking. Stir through the remaining gooseberries, turn up the heat and let the mixture boil for 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened and clingy. Remove from the heat, ladle into sterilised glass jars and serve at room temperature.
To finish the Bokkom Pâté, drain the bokkom fillets, discarding the milk, and rinse under cold water. Add all the pâté ingredients into a food processor and blitz on high until the mixture is smooth. Spoon into two bowls and serve immediately with the warm roosterkoek and the Cape gooseberry chutney.