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THE FOOD WE ATE. 8.Konfyt [Preserves]. [10min read]

All one needs is love and chocolate, but a bit of konfyt will get one going.

Here’s hoping that your festives went well. I had a ball. Now real life beckons so this blog will be light and easy and sweet! It’s about konfyt. In our time, so many Cape Town households made their own konfyt. The main sugary preserves were waatlemoen [watermelon rind], suurvye [sour figs] fig, and apricots.

I will focus on the first two as the fruits used were early favourites where farming was tough on the poor sands of the Cape Flats. A plentiful supply of both was available to early settlers who found a ready use for them when imported and later local Natal sugar was available.

The old semantics of the two fruit is cause for concern. It’s not PC to call the watermelon by the popular “K” name. The despised word “Kaffir” has awful connotations in South African – it’s historically worse than the “N” word for African-Americans. My preference is that I call the fruit a Konfyt melon.

It has a fascinating history and was an essential source of food and water for the Khoisan peoples. Even in our semidesert areas, it lasted several months. Its seeds were found in Egyptian pyramids – indeed the food for those of humble and kingly status.

It is also referred to as the African melon. In USA and Australia, it is the pie melon. I suspect they use it mainly to make jams. It is better than the traditional red watermelon because of the thick rind which is so critical for konfyt. I also use the central bits, minus the pips, but more of this later.

The humble sour fig has also had a few semantic convolutions. The early name, Hottentot’s fig stemmed from the original Khoikhoi/Khoekhoe inhabitants of the Cape Flats who ate it. Sour fig is its preferred name, and the name is quite apt. Eaten when dry, it can be quite tart. If it dries out too much, a soaking in water, will resurrect them

It flourishes in poor soil – making it ideal for the Cape Flats where one can find it growing wild along many roads and also close to the sea. West coast beaches seem to be ideal for it. Best months to harvest are at the end of summer.

Picked in Mornington Peninsula

They are found in California with the strange name of Ice plants or in Australia with an even stranger name of pig’s face! [Is that what too much ‘ice” does to the fruit?] We recently picked some at a B&B property in the Mornington Peninsula which is nearly the southern tip of Australia. The MP has equally bad soil and has proximity to the sea.

In Cape Town, the best place is to get them at the Grand Parade in Cape Town where they have probably sold them for a couple of centuries.

I always had the impression that this fruit was more popular with females. They really should be sold with a sign – “Eater Beware”. A few handfuls of sour figs eaten in the car on the way home will cause cramping and an overwhelming desire to go to the toilet. Never was there a more effective cure for constipation than suurvye!

I have not made the konfyt myself, but I loved them at school bazaars. Best way to eat the konfyt is straight from the jar with a teaspoon; better yet, use the fingers, but look out for the sugary drops. I find the home-made suurvye konfyt was always better than the commercial stuff sold these days – it seems that the Constantia stalls and other places have the recipe all wrong and the syrup is a tad on the watery side, and the overcooked fruit is too soft. Probably also needs a bit more cinnamon than their cooks are using. Have to find me another school bazaar sometime. Do they still have them in Cape Town? Google Suurvye konfyt, and it comes up as Boerekos. I would credit it as original Cape Malay food, especially with the added cinnamon. This would certainly also be the case with waatlemoen konfyt. The Muslim community, with its Dutch East Indies and British Malayan/Indonesian links, have these old ties that persist in the CapeTown’s Malay Quarters.

Cape Malay curries, sweets and desserts are popular, and meals at parties and weddings will often have the watermelon sourfig and apricot preserves on the tables.

So, where does one get the ideal konfyt melon? Word of mouth can do it in Cape Town. Plant a few seeds in the garden and forget about it. I once harvested a twenty-kilogram fruit in my patch of dirt in Elsies River. What about Australia? Shop around for Pie melons. In Coffs Harbour, I ask the Thursday farmer’s market fellows to find me a pie melon or two.

They can be up to five kilograms and are rounder than my Cape Flats monster was, but their rind and even the pith[see above sliced melon] are excellent. 2018 summer, I could not get them – the local crop had failed. So I tried a fuzzy melon aka hair melon. It was not quite as good, but it will tide me over till I get my next pie melon in 2019. Like many Capetonians, I have an incurable sweet tooth!

So, let’s make some waatlemoen konfyt!

A pound of rind to a pound of sugar; okay, a kilogram, if you wish. That’s pretty standard as many jam recipes go. Pretty sweet too. In today’s low carb PC world, you can actually reduce the sugar by almost half. Probably also the case if you or spouse or partner are diabetic or overweight. I am also starting to play around with low GI sugars such as coconut sugar [GI of 35], agave [15] and yacon [GI of 1.0!]. Ordinary sugar is 70+!

I cut the melon into round slices about three cms thick. It also makes peeling easier as I can cut down onto a cutting board to remove the skin.

Then cut each slice along the line of the pips – there’s a band of flesh between the pips which will be free of the stuff. Cut close to the pips – it’s the pip-free bit that you want to keep. I tend to throw away the piece with the pips. Separate the in-between seedless strips from the rind. Then cut all the flesh into pieces that will fit onto a slice of bread, if possible. Smaller slices will be easier to stir.

The hardest part is pricking the flesh with a fork. I use a carving fork. Three prongs are better than two. Watch the fingers – I get at least one or two holes in a finger by the time I’m done!

Now use about 1-2 tsp of slaked lime [calcium hydroxide] dissolved in enough water to coat the rind slices. No, do NOT use Builder’s lime from the hardware store! Deli’s/chemists may stock the lime.I have an old packet from Bulawayo/Harare – it probably expired in 1980!. This will firm up the flesh. Soak overnight.

Try to reduce your electric bill. Par-cook the rind in the microwave for 10-15mins, then add it to the sugar solution. Try using golden syrup – I like the colour of Lyles – use a small can to reduce the cooking time. Rather than the pot on a stove, use a rice cooker – watch out for too much fluid. I keep the water just below the top rind pieces. A slow-cook is better than a fast one.

Add ginger. Too many recipes skimp on ginger, or they are vague – e.g. “use two pieces” of the stuff. Like they can be a foot long! If you like ginger, then go for it – I do, so a ten-centimetre strip of ginger will do me. You can also use the stuff in a jar – maybe two dessertspoons full. [I reckon the cut ginger is better.]

I cut the ginger crosswise into thin rounded strips. I NEVER throw away the ginger. The leftover stuff is excellent in cakes etc. – I do a fruit cake thingy with the ginger cut into fine pieces. Gotta love the stuff!

DO NOT ADD SALT AND DO NOT ADD ALLSPICE/PIMENTO. The first recipe I used added these two ingredients – I nearly threw the konfyt away, but my Scottish genes [again] dictated otherwise and I soldiered through.

Maybe cinnamon – it’s good in so many things, but I try to KISS – keep it simple, Simpleton.

So let it cook away while you knock up a pot of curry or whatever.

Now, keep an eye on three things.

Needs a bit more cooking to darken some more

  1. The melon will take on a rich colour – a bit like semitranslucent caramel. Test a piece. Ideally, you want to avoid caramelising the sugar as it will darken the melon. It’s no problem if that happens, but the lighter colour looks more appealing. If need be, remove the pieces from the solution if the syrup needs to thicken more.

2. If the slice starts to hollow out centrally, it’s due to overcooking, and the piece will flatten further. Remove the konfyt from the syrup.

3. Now, let the syrup thicken. Eyeball it as it runs off the spoon – it should be like golden syrup so that it can also spread on one half of a slice of toast. Thin slices of the preserve will layer the other half.

Yes. waatlemoen konfyt, sliced thin on toast and a cup of tea would be my favourite way to eat it. Add butter if you wish. It’s a slice of heaven!!

How do you take yours?

PS BOOK UPDATE: NEEDS PATIENCE. I’M WAITING TOO!

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