“It is reassurance to the young and the old, that there will be food, always, in this house. Cats and dogs swear by it, and claim its fed them well till now” The Calabash by Abner Nyamende.
As I was doing my research on the topic I came across the poem cited above, about the calabash, I just love how its significance and functionality in the household are depicted. Back in the day it played a big role, that of ensuring visitors had something to drink and that families had sour milk / amasi for meal times.
Calabashes were and are still used to transform fresh milk into sour milk. This is done mostly by the Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape. Once again I had never tasted sour milk from a calabash before and as I was chatting to some elders they kept on emphasising how good it is and how different it is from the retail version. That got me so curious I made it my own personal mission to look for and buy a calabash.
Looking for one almost became “mission impossible” then suddenly one summer day as I was walking down the streets of my hometown Queenstown, I saw a small shop at the back corner of a Chinese grocery store. As I started chatting to the owner she was amazed and asked “My child, what are you going to do with iselwa?” “Youngsters nowadays don’t bother with such”. That is the sad truth, but then again youngsters are used to convenience, my mom calls it a generation of here and now.
Anyways, I ended up buying two calabashes, one for me and another one for my mother. You should have seen the excitement on my face when I got my calabash….I was like a child on christmas day! Upon my return to the city I put fresh unpauteurised milk in my brand spanking new calabash, kept on monitoring the progress on a daily basis. My mom did the same and we kept on communicating over the phone describing the progress.
I now understand the excitement, enthusiasm and love expressed by the elders I had chats with regarding the sour milk from a calabash. It is rich, thick and just plain delicious. I must say this is the best sour milk I’ve ever tasted. If you happen to find a calabash I suggest you try souring your own milk, it beats the retail version by far!
Recipe for souring milk in a calabash
(Adapted from Hunger for freedom)
2L ml fresh unpasteurised milk, depending on the size of your calabash
In this case umphokoqo is a dish fit for the former president- uTata Nelson Mandela. Well, according to Anna Trapido, the author of Hunger for Freedom, this is TaTa’s favourite dish and he likes it served with sour milk from iselwa (calabash).
It’s true when they say you can leave the rural life and go to the city but your roots will never leave you. That’s the case with Umphokoqo, better known as African salad. It is a dish best served in the Summer and does not require much preparation. This dish is versatile in that Xhosas serve it with sour milk whereas Zulus and Sothos serve it with stew.
Now let me take you through my experience with this dish……
Growing up on a farm cows were milked everyday and that meant we ate Umphokoqo on a daily basis. We had it for breakfast, lunch and supper. It was dished up in a big bowl and four children had to share two spoons i.e. two boys and two girls. There was a big competition you had to eat pretty fast and pass the spoon, the boys used to beat us. As you can imagine boys eat faster than girls. Because I had it everyday I just hated it as a teenager and as a young adult. However, I have recently made a conscious decision to start eating umphokoqo again……….whenever I think of this dish I just remember the good times on the farm.
700ml mealie meal
575ml water, boiling
7.5 ml salt
5 ml butter / margarine (optional)
1. Boil the water with a kettle and add to a medium saucepan.
2. Continue boiling the water in the pan and add mealie meal. Stir with a fork until mixed and cover with a lid.
3. Let simmer and continue stirring at 5 minute intervals. Cook for 30 minutes at stove setting 2.
4. Transfer to a big bowl and shake the umphokoqo up and down to cool it down. Serve with milk or sour milk. For extra flavour and richness, add 2 tablespoons of cream.
Thuli’s Tip: A lot of people who love umphokoqo also love intshela (foundation), so when cooking this lovely dish try not to scorch the foundation otherwise your family will be very upset with you! It’s very nice with milk especially when it’s still warm mmmmmm!J