Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Daggaboer Farmstall - food and stories

Perhaps some people stand on the brakes when they see the sign.

In South Africa, dagga is marijuana. And just like everywhere else, it is a controlled substance. So the idea of a farmstall dedicated to the weed was, well, brakeworthy.

So we stood on the brakes.

We had left the Mountain Zebra National Park after two wonderful nights, lulled to sleep by the yip-yowling of jackals, had eaten one of our best camping meals, had watched vervet monkeys raid the neighbour's camp kitchen (they ate the Scotchbrite sponges, yum yum)  and were heading south for Port Elizabeth, the coast and eventually, home.  It was around lunchtime and we were hungry.

Daggakoekies? Vince and I are the only people I know in New York, and most other places, who have never smoked pot. Perhaps that makes us backward. Or uptight. I keep threatening to potroast a chicken, haha, with the herbs stuffed under the skin, and my friends tell me that would be a valuable chicken. I like the smell of dagga, unlit.

But back to the point.

It is a pretty farmstall, whitewashed, with red geraniums planted beside a neat path to the neat bathrooms behind. Inside the shop, though, I immediately zoomed in on the biltong and droewors rack. Kos vir die kenner (food for the connoisseur). My mouth watered. The biltong was sliced for us, transparently garnet in the middle, slightly moist, and put into a paper bag, and we bought some sticks of sausage. As I write this I swallow hungrily. Soon.

Then we saw the signs for roosterkoek (lit. roastcake). These are rolls of bread dough traditionally baked over coals, typically on a wire grid so they get crosshatched top and bottom. They are substantial, and these were no exception. At a counter a big man and a big lady were tucking into their roosterkoek lunch.  The best, though, was the filling. Grated biltong! And to really go overboard you combine the biltong with grated cheddar. So we did. And butter of course. They were hot, fragrant, the butter melting onto us as we ate, later, on the move again..

There were tastings of ginger beer but we passed and bought nameless bottles of chilled water. Then we packed ourselves back in 4 x 4 and headed south, chewing luxuriously, trying to make it last, as the Karoo turned into the undulating coastal vegetation of the Eastern Cape.

The Daggaboer Farmstall was exceptional to me because it had an aura of 'eg'. Meaning pure. The 'g' is soft, like the noise an angry cat makes. It had integrity (that's for you, Mommy). It did not sell just tourist-trap junk. Real gingerbeer, the fresh roosterkoek, local honey, and many articles made or woven from the locally raised mohair...You can eat in, or take out. It is well worth a visit.

And that is why I tracked down Charl Pansegrouw on the web to ask about the name's etymology. Charl is the co owner of the farmstall -  his business partner is Isobel Neethling, and the farmstall is on land owned by farmer Andrew Jordaan - and very kindly replied and sent me the explanation you will read below. When he saw my last name, he digressed to tell me some lovely stores about his mother, Nanna Viljoen, who, when he asked her at the age of 89 if she would not please use the cane he had given her five years previously, said testily, Ek sal die ding gebruik as ek die dag oud is! I'll use the thing the day I'm old! When she was a schoolgirl, she earned money by playing the piano for the silent movies screened in town.

Coincidentally, Charl was educated in Bloemfontein, where I was born, and worked at Die Volksblad, the Afrikaans daily. My mother worked at The Friend, the English equivalent. We still have the canteen of beautiful silver The Friend gave her as a wedding gift. Good Friend. Nice Friend. Now I'm digressing.


Baie dankie, Charl, and here is the story of the Daggaboer name, in Charl's words, sent in English so that everyone can understand:

"Daggaboer Farm Stall is situated between Cradock (50 km) and Port Elizabeth (200 km) in the Eastern Cape. The somewhat peculiar name (Dagga is the common Afrikaans name for pot or marijuana) has brought many a smile and a few frowns as well from visitors – but it is much better remembered than for instance Sannie se Padstal (Sannie’s Farm Stall). Literally translated,
Daggaboer means marijuana farmer.

Although we have a sign at our door entrance reading Dagga sold out at 06h00, business hours 08h00 – 17h00, there are almost daily enquiries on whether we sell the ‘happy weed’ . Fortunately as far as I can remember, only one guy was serious in his enquiry – must’ve thought that he had finally arrived in heaven here in the sticks somewhere between nothing and nowhere! It was only when he started rattling off some ‘brand’ names such as Durban Poison, Swaziland
Royal etc., that one of the young assistants realized that he was serious. He was quite upset when she informed him that the name is all tongue in the cheek.

In our area the name Daggaboer is nothing strange. There are several farms with names such as Daggaboersnek, Daggaboershoogte (heights) and just plain Daggaboer. Daggaboersnek is actually indicated on most SA Roadmaps.

Where the name originated from. The following are a few that I know of:

About two kms from the Daggaboer Farm Stall on the way to Port Elizabeth there are some derelict buildings built from sandstone. This was apparently the farm of Piet Retief, one of the well known Voortrekker Leaders of the Great Trek that started in 1838 when thousands of Afrikaans speaking families trekked up north to get away from British Rule. After Retief left the still standing buildings were used as a blacksmith workshop, a general trading store, a police station and even a small hotel. This little complex became the gathering place for local farmers as the area is quite remote – especially in the days when the main means of transport were either by horse, cart and horse or ox wagon. Apparently the farmers had a way of greeting each other with “Dag-ou-Broer” (How’s it old chum) and so eventually the name for the area just became Daggaboer.

The second story about the origins of the name is that in Khoi language Dagga means Game and this area is still today very game rich and very popular with both local and overseas hunters. Therefore it was apparently common to refer to a farmer that had lotsof game on his farm as a Daggaboer (Game Farmer).

However, research seems to have shown that the Trollips who were British Settlers (the original British Settlers arrived in SA in 1820 and the oldest known Trollip grave on the farm dates to 1856), were actually registered as dagga farmers. It was not an illegal substance in those years, but they cultivated it mainly for horse feeding purposes. As horses had to travel long distances those years, they were rationed with the real thing as it would give them extra stamina! It was also common practice amongst many farmers to provide their farm workers with dagga to smoke – the reason also that it gave them extra working stamina. One needs to think back in history when there were no machines or motorized transport, so all the work was done by means of hard and harsh manual labour.

So there you have it – the origins of the name Daggaboer Farm Stall – we are still doing a lot ofhard manual labour but fortunately without the assistance of the happy weed!

So by the by – we sell large bottles of honey in re-used sterilized brandy bottles. The honey is very popular as the grazing areas for the bees are primarily Karoo veld flowers. This honey is often referred to as the Dr Richard Louw brand of honey – the reason being that the most popular brandy in our area is Richelieu and local consumers often refer to it as their ‘good friend’ Dr. Richard Louw…"

Charl is working on a book of stories, Van die Padstal se Stoep (From the Farmstall's Stoop) and when it is published, we will broadcast the news.

Update, 2017: We returned with high hopes. We were terribly disappointed. Unfriendly. No welcome. Like a different place completely. Charl apparently sold his partnership several years ago, I was told when I asked.
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