A visit to the Cape’s rural towns often brings many surprises! It was the same when Hein Smal and Pine Pienaar of Sharon Fruit fame recently suggested that we should take the Sunday Times team of Hilary Billar, Food editor, and Raymond Preston, photographer, for lunch at a restaurant called Karin’s on Main in Bonnievale.

Bonnievale is one of the towns on the Breede River in the Southern Cape where Sharon Fruit orchards do well. Known for its wine and cheese, last week the town got a new claim to fame – it served the first entire Sharon Fruit meal!

[divider] Vicki Kleingeld of Karin’s on Main and her staff presented the menu on the other side of this page to welcome Hilary Billar to the town. The judges were those season Sharon Fruit men, Hein and Pine, along with Hilary and Fredo. The soup was a curry butternut soup cooked with fresh Sharon Fruit which was served with fresh bread. The sweetness of the Sharon Fruit worked extremely well to balance the tangy taste of the curry. The entrée was simply delightful. It was followed by Fredo’s favourite, a  soft and juicy pan roasted chicken with a magnificent Sharon Fruit basting sauce.

Amongst the trio of deserts the ice cream served with Sharon Fruit syrup, with sweet Sharon Fruit pieces inside the ice cream, was great.

Hilary and Ray took many photographs and reserved their views for the Sunday Times columns.  Hein, Pine and Fred agreed that Karin’s on Main served a magnificent meal and argued that it should be the regular Friday menu for the rest of the season.

In December 2010, the sight of Bonnievale in the heart of the Valley of Cheese and Wine was enough to inspired three business women, Karin, Karen and Patricia, to rush to an estate agent in the town, with the instruction, “Find us the perfect place to grow olives somewhere near the Breede River and Bonnievale!”

[divider] In the short space of time the ladies purchased a farm on the banks of the Breede River, the run-down hotel, and the building that is now home to the bed & breakfast and restaurant/deli, and in so doing employing 26 locals. Their restaurant serves up many surprises and is well worth a visit.

The farm is bustling – prunes and lucerne are already planted – the deli is doing brisk business, the B&B is up and running with a productive herb and vegetable garden (and a huge hydroponics plot rapidly taking shape), and soon they will begin refurbishing the old hotel. What next?

In January 2012 the third business partner, Patricia Bekker, started a hydroponic nursery at the back of the old Bonnievale Hotel. With the help of friends Hannes Bezuidenhout, Engela and Jan Kemp, the demarcated 20x20m space was transformed from a ramshackle overgrown area, to a fully functional hydroponic nursery.

Vicki Kleingeld tells Fredo that growing plants hydroponically is not a new technique and dates back to ancient times. As noted in Hydroponic Food Production (Fifth Edition, Woodbridge Press, 1997, page 23) by Howard M. Resh: “The hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico and those of the Chinese are examples of ‘Hydroponic’ culture.

[divider] “We use the ebb and flow method and what makes this particular system so unusual, is that the plants grow in pots filled with ordinary 13mm gravel,” says Vicki. The pots are flooded with water and nutrients every two hours, after which the water is drained into an underground reservoir, to be re-used again with the next cycle. Soil-borne pests are virtually non-existent, due to the fact that the plants grow in gravel instead of soil. The shade netting furthermore provides protection against airborne pests. For these reasons, no chemical sprays are necessary for pest control, effectively making the air, water, and produce cleaner. There are 648 pots in the nursery.

The first seedlings were planted on 16 March this year and the first harvest for Karin’s on Main was on 12 April, an unbelievable and exciting four weeks later!

She says the principal purpose of the nursery is to supply Karins on Main with a variety of fresh produce of exceptional quality, which are used to prepare the delicious meals that patrons have become accustomed to. In the planning phase of the hydroponic nursery, Patricia compiled her plant list based on Chef Zandi’s “Deli Wish List”.

There are currently 42 different varieties of plants in the nursery, with more to be planted soon. They are all growing exceptionally well, in fact, so well, that they have decided to make some of these exciting hydroponically grown produce available for sale in the deli. Customers will soon be able to buy some exotic varieties of herbs and vegetables, which are not always readily available in the country districts.

Fredo applauds the efforts of the team at Karin’s on Main. Judging by the number of people who passed through the restaurant while we were there, the other dishes are hits too – especially those enourmous home made burgers. Fredo cannot wait to visit the restaurant again.