This article first appeared in House & Leisure Online and is entitled “West Coast Wander: At home with history in Hopefield”. It is accompanied by a recipe – “Poached Pear & Rooibos Pavlova”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
Located inland, Hopefield was originally known as the gateway to the West Coast, as the only access to Vredenburg, Langebaan and Saldanha Bay was through the town itself. Closely resembling any number of Karoo towns, Hopefield is now considered to be a hidden gem, attracting a different crowd to that of the better-known coastal destinations. Founded as a Dutch Reformed congregational settlement in the nineteenth century, the town is immediately recognizable by the ostentatious church that holds precedence in its centre. However, the ornate metalwork and gilding of the church does little to distract from more suburban sections of Hopefield.
Home to residents from a multitude of backgrounds, all living in houses that represent a different design movement, one is able to trace the history of the town down through the decades just by studying the architecture.
Here and there, iconic South African farmhouses have settled their stoeps alongside grandiose Victorian matrons, whilst modern business blocks and crumbling Fifties facades make up the main road. A small café stands open on Sundays, selling home-baked lemon meringue, melktert and Hertzoggies alongside fizzy drinks and cigarettes – the whirring of an electric fan and the muted drone of an Afrikaans news station the only sounds piercing the lethargic heat of the afternoon. One could be mistaken for thinking you’d stepped back about 40 years – the sudden desire to switch off your cellphone only adding to the time warp.
Most alluring of all is the Commercial Hotel, a mid-century monolith of sepia face brick and sky-blue plasterwork, kept intact since it’s last renovation in 1973. Bought by the Meltzer family in 1919, the hotel itself is now most recognizable as one of the branches of the successful Commercial Hotel brand – popular for both business and pleasure during the second half of the twentieth century. The original décor and features from the hotel’s Seventies heyday have remained unspoiled, from the brass light switch covers, parquet floors and heavy Scandinavian armchairs to the balcony’s slasto paving, wire patio furniture and signage for the Children’s Dining Room and the Ladies’ Bar. The latter is currently undergoing a revamp, but does boast a hand-carved bar and authentic mid-century bar stools.
Taken over by Jacques van der Westhuizen after his mother inherited the building in the Nineties, the care that he has lavished on the hotel is evident in his attention to detail and appreciation for authenticity. Many of the modernist pieces have been sourced from flea markets whilst a particularly retro credenza was purchased from friends. Town residents have donated trinkets such as a Commercial Hotel teapot and Jacques displays some of the larger donations in the hotel’s private museum. Simply stepping through the hotel’s double doors and into its carpeted lobby is enough to evoke images of polyester pantsuits and pointed collars – it’s no wonder that Jacques is often approached for the use of the hotel for various films and photography shoots.
Further up the road, a small brindle dog lounges on the sunlit pavement before the verandah of the local deli. The small stoep is packed full of enormous cabbages, bunches of spinach and vermillion-hued beetroot, all grown organically in the area. Here, under the heavy wooden rafters, fresh eggs can be purchased daily whilst Hopefield’s famous West Coast honey is available when the local bees cooperate. Honey is a major form of revenue here, with one of the town’s most popular businesses being Simply Bee – a brand specializing in the manufacture of honey and beeswax-based beauty products. In homage to the honey, the August of each year sees Hopefield putting on a comprehensive wildflower show to showcase and celebrate their largest tourist attraction – the Hopefield Fynbos Skou. Walking tours are held, businesses get involved and a farmer’s market is held in the town centre – a tradition not all dissimilar from the church fêtes and grand bazaars of yesteryear.
Hopefield may no longer be considered the gateway to the West Coast, but for those seeking small town nostalgia, it is surely the capital of the entire stretch of coastline.
West Coast Wander Recipe
Inspired in part by Hopefield’s 1970s stalwart, the Commercial Hotel, this retro dessert takes on local flavour with the inclusion of rooibos tea and West Coast honey. Inherently Seventies, the pavlova is appealingly kitsch in both presentation and flavour. A veritable cloud of confectionary, the classic combination of meringue, whipped cream and fruit has been the centrepiece of many a dinner party since it’s inception.
Traditionally made for the festive season, pavlova is able to adapt to myriad toppings – the most popular of which is fruit. For this recipe, I combined the popular holiday flavours of pear, star anise and cinnamon with the rooibos tea endemic to South Africa. Simple syrup made from the tea infusion and thickened with West Coast honey makes for an ideal drizzle over poached fruit.
Poached Pear Pavlova with Rooibos & Honey
Prep time: 30 mins/ Cook time: 2.5 hours plus cooling time / Serves: 6 to 8
For the pavlova you will need:
- 3 extra-large egg whites at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons cornflour
- 250ml of castor sugar
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
For the topping:
- 300ml fresh double cream
- 4 to 6 large pears, washed
- lemon juice
- 250ml readymade strong black rooibos tea
- 4 tablespoons of West Coast or fynbos honey
- 250ml castor sugar
- Aromatics such as a few dried star anise and a cinnamon stick
Preheat the oven to 120°C and line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Place the egg whites into a large, clean glass bowl (glass ensures a stiffer peak) and beat until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add in the sugar, one teaspoon at a time and beat until the mixture is glossy and thickened. Beat in the vanilla, cornflour and vinegar before spooning the mixture on to the baking sheet and spreading into a circle. Don’t worry if the pavlova isn’t symmetrical, the key is height rather than size. Bake for 90 minutes before switching the oven off and leaving the pavlova inside until it is completely cool.
For the topping, peel the pears, leaving the stalks on, and brush with a little lemon juice to prevent them from discolouring. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and rooibos tea and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add in the aromatics and simmer the liquid until slightly reduced. Place the pears in the liquid and poach for about 25 minutes or until soft. Remove and set aside. Remove the aromatics and reduce the reserved liquid down to a syrupy consistency. Allow to cool.
To assemble the pavlova, whip the cream into peaks and spoon over the top of the meringue. Place the cooled poached pears in the centre and drizzle the cooled rooibos syrup over everything. Serve immediately.