This time of the year there is only one place where Fredo wants to be. With Janey by his side Fredo leaves the busy city of Cape Town behind to travel to Stilbaai in the Southern Cape for Christmas and New Year. We have been doing so since around 1987, when friends told us about a wonderful place on the Goukou River, about five kilometres from Stilbaai. Johno will be 32 next year and was only six when we first camped at Riverside for the first time and spent Christmas there. Since then Janey and Fredo have spent every Christmas there.
In many cases both Sue and Johno celebrated with us, but there were also years when they were overseas. In those years we had some empty chairs at the Christmas table.
This year, however, the table will be full and we will be six altogether with Sue and Dean and Johno and Kirsty being with us. As we write this, Johno is waiting to board a plane in Geneva to fly home after a skiing holiday in the French Alps. He and Kirsty will be on different flights back to South Africa and will join us on Christmas Eve.
[divider] In the early days we cooked the entire Christmas dinner on the open fire in front of the caravan. There was a seafood starter, which was always prepared by Sue, followed by a lamb roast which we cooked in the traditional South African way in a black pot on the fire. For dessert there was Fredo’s River Trifle, a vintage pudding which is easy to make and which never fails to please. Once, during those camping years, Sue suggested that it was about time that we have turkey for Christmas. We acquired a Weber braai and the first attempt to cook that turkey was reasonably successful.
From then on turkey became part of the Christmas menu, with Sue always reserving a leg for herself.
Over the years things changed a bit. We built a house on the bank of the river and there are now better options for the Christmas lunch. One must remember though that we South Africans are a bit crazy. We are always inspired by the idea of a white Christmas, and the tales of how Christmas is celebrated in the colder climates of the world. We inherited the European ideas of Christmas, tuned them a bit to our own requirements, and still ended up with a hot Christmas lunch, which is prepared by slaving over open fires, more often than not in 30 degree heat. But we persevere! A beer is often within reach to chill us down a bit.
This year our Christmas lunch will be as special as ever. We rise fairly early with a cup of coffee and gather in the lounge to open our presents. Janey is our Mother Christmas because there are always so many surprises, all carefully thought out by the rock of our family.
Fires are lit in the Weber and in the fireplace overlooking the river and we will have the turkey cooking fairly early. This year we will combine ideas from Jamie Oliver and the Barefoot Contessa which Janey has researched recently.
By the way, I do not believe that anyone has more cooking books than Janey. Fredo is a regular contributor to her selection and when we travel to Riverside, there are always a few bags of books coming with us. This year we will dig deep into Janey’s books to add that something extra to our meal.
Along with the turkey we will still do the leg of lamb, but now in the oven, and we will cook a chicken especially for Kirsty – her favourite! Then there will also be a gamon, glazed with cranberry and ClemenGold mandarin sauce. This one is from Woolies and Fredo says this year we will cheat a bit, because he is also on holiday and cooking turkey, lamb and chicken at the same time, can be taxing.
The meal will be further balanced by some beautiful roast potatoes and fresh, crispy vegetables. And a gravy to die for!
Fredo’s preparation starts two days before Christmas when he makes his River Trifle. At the same time, Janey will make her cheese cake. We believe that such things as puddings only get better by the second day and starting on Sunday for Tuesday’s lunch is just the right way to go.
The River Trifle is a simple dessert, intended for those who are camping over this period. Fredo’s River Trifle does not contain any jelly. Fredo says jelly makes the trifle sloppy!
[divider] He acquires three jam rolls, three boxes of custard, walnuts, finely chopped but not too small so they can soak up the taste of the other ingredients, glazed cherries and, most importantly, one of the best red or white Muskadel Jerepigo wines you can find. This normally comes from the Robertson or Bonnievale area in the Brede River Valley. Fredo says that the muskadels from this region taste so good because the wines grow in the semi-Karoo climate. “You can taste the Karoo bushes on them,” he says in his recommendation of these fine wines.
Janey says Fredo likes making his River Trifle so much because there is ample opportunity to sample and taste the fine Jerepigo wines when he is putting it together.
So it is simple. You cut the walnuts in small pieces and slice the jam rolls. Then you take a nice sized glass dish and start placing the jam rolls in the bottom to fill the whole space. Then you open the Jerepigo and sprinkle handsomely over the jam rolls. Next is a layer of custard, on which you sprinkle the nuts and place the cherries in the custard. Repeat the process till the bowl is full, never forgetting the Jerepigo, which should properly wet the jam rolls. Fredo says when he is finished with the Trifle more than half the bottle should be in the Trifle. Janey says quite a bit is possibly in Fredo’s tummy.
On top you make sure you have a nice sprinkling of nuts and cherries so it also looks pretty. Then in the fridge and let it stand till lunch time on Christmas day.
The whole cooking process lasts from around 08:00 till 13:00, by which time the table will be ready, with crackers in place and a chilled bottle of special South African sparkling wine to accompany the entrée of mixed seafood salad. This year we will select Michelle for our sparkling wine, made by the Klaver Cellar on the West Coast of South Africa.
With our main course we will offer a white Pinot Griggio from Robertson Cellar, along with the cellar’s Merlot.
At the end the trifle and cheese cake will be served to complete a wonderful family gathering.
Later, after some coffee, we may start up the Lady Jane and set out for a leisurely family cruise up the Goukou River to enjoy the wonders of nature on this very special day when we celebrate family life and the wonderful blessings that our Heavenly Father has bestowed on us.
We wish all our readers a similarly wonderful Christmas and a very good and prosperous 2013.