The sad news that iconic Ceres fruit grower Jan-Linde du Toit is no longer with us, saddened Fredo. It also took him back to some wonderful moments he spent in the company of this great fruit grower.

Recently, when Fredo was encouraged by legendary table grape grower Piet Karsten to write a book about table grapes, he stated that the most interesting people in the industry are coming to the end of their lives. The magical stories are disappearing from around us. When you get the news about Jan-Linde, Piet’s statements came home again.

The world we live in is rapidly changing and those who could tie us to the past and our iconinc history in the South Africa fruit sector are fading away. As they say in Afrikaans – ‘Die Ceders val om ons’ – which means that ‘The cedar trees are falling around us.’ We are losing our greatest sons!

At times like these there is inevitably also stories that spring to mind. Having walked a few kilometres over the years in the company of Jan-Linde du Toit, many special moments come to mind.

Jan-Linde’s pocket knife travelled the world

One of them is how he always produced that magical pocket knife of his whenever you bring overseas customers to his orchards – or when you walked in the markets of the world next to him. There we would be standing at Rungis in Paris, Brussels Square, the cold stores in the continental ports or in the UK’s markets and supermarkets, that knife would appear from almost nowhere. He would pick up that apple or pear – not only the South African ones, but also from other countries. He would size it up, and then neatly sliced it down the middle. He would check the texture of the flesh, the pips at the centre and also comment on the outside colour.

Then all around him would receive a neat little slice – to taste. He would put his slice in his mouth, chew it and then pronounced his verdict. At the end of his visit to the markets, he would know exactly what he needed to do to deliver the best products to the market. And he would share it with all those around him.

You see, Jan-Linde valued the way his fruit tasted – he wanted the consumers in far-away countries to have the joyful experience of tasting his fruit – and have the best tasting experience they ever had.

The family man

Jan-Linde was always the big family man and was proud of his heritage. He knew as the business was growing into one of the leading pome fruit businesses in the world that it would pose challenges to the unity of the family. He was bothered about just how one would go about to ensure that future generations would also find a home in his beloved family business.

Once when Fredo was travelling around the Cape with Neil and Mary McCann, the leaders of that equally iconic Irish family who made Fyffes Bananas the leading sales brand for that category in the world, he got a call from Jan-Linde. “Can you pop round with Neil because I need to discuss family businesses and their future with him?”

I do not know what was discussed, but I am sure that the way the Dutoit business developed since the 1990’s was routed in that meeting. That was Jan-Linde – always planning for the future.

The conservationist

One day Jan-Linde called Fredo to come and assist him with some media coverage of a rather rare species of the Erica plant which had not been seen at the Cape for many years. It was again found in the mountains near Lindeshof. We met Jan-Linde the conservationist – planning again how the seeds of this Erica Greyii could be placed in the national seedbank where it could be preserved – hopefully for centuries.

Then there was the late afternoons at Lindeshof – when the day was done and Jan and Cathrine would invite you into their home. He opened a chilled bottle of wine! He would sit back and then settle for a nice chat that would always have deep meaning. He had little regard that somehow you had to still drive from the Koue Bokkeveld back to Cape Town. There were always lessons to be learnt!

He was really a true son of the Koue Bokkeveld – where he started farming with his father and where he – and his older brother Gys, became legends.

Go well Jan-Linde! It was privilege knowing you! We are sure that if there are apples in Heaven, somehow you will find that knife to check the quality – and perhaps also share some with your brother Gys.