“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 with some elders they kept on emphasizing 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 unpasteurized 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
- Transfer the milk to the calabash.
- Ensure the stopper is not in too tight as the fermentation process will release gas, which can cause the calabash to burst.
- Leave the milk in the calabash for 5 – 10 days. (I did not separate the whey and the curd instead I mixed them together)
- The resulting sour milk is thick, creamy and very sour. Adjust the sourness by diluting with fresh milk before eating.
- Serve it with Umphokoqo or Umphothulo
- Iselwa breaks easily, therefore, it should be handled with care.
- To clean it use your dishwashing liquid and warm water and leave it to dry.
- Its gets mouldy therefore it should be kept in a dry place (mine is displayed on my tv stand hehe I love the fact that my visitors keep on asking what it is….I’m a proud owner!!!)