A hard nut to crack

The avocado industry is a hard nut to crack. On the one hand you have customers, like Mark Banks and me, complaining about the cost (two for R65, labelled “ready to eat” but as hard as nails). On the other you have suppliers like Woolies dealing with farmers battling with frost and hail and tempted to sell to the UK and 
EU for twice what they can earn on the local market.

On top of that there is the difficulty of knowing when the cussed green things are ripe. It’s the same problem whether it’s an avo bought from that bakkie on Spaanschemacht River Road or if you are Tom Murray, Woolworths produce technical manager, dealing with 500 tons of avos in storage with substantial refrigeration costs.

I asked him how he goes about it.

“Traditionally we have relied upon destructive testing to see if fruit is ripe. In other words, from a ripened batch, we take random samples and cut them. If they are okay, we pack the fruit.

“As with everything in life, there is a bell-shaped curve. On one end of the spectrum, you will have over-ripe fruit, in the middle perfectly ripe, and on the other side unripe fruit.

“In October last year, we installed non-destructive infrared ripeness testing equipment, which has helped immensely. We are still learning to use it and to quantify what is ripe enough to eat on day one, but will also last the three nights’ shelf-life we give the product. We have got it pretty 
spot on, except for a glitch we had around 
three weeks ago, when they mistakenly packed fruit that should have been put back in the ripener.”

Perhaps that was when Mark Banks claimed he nearly broke his teeth!

A Google cook tried five different ripening methods. Microwaving an avo for 48 seconds resulted in “steaming hot fruit oozing a strange murky stench”. Leaving the avo in direct sunlight for three days produced “mushy but beautiful green fruit for guacamole”. But the outcome of putting an avo in a tightly wrapped paper bag with 5cm of flour and leaving it for two days in a dry spot “achieved perfection”!

Great find

You can live in the Cape all your life and suddenly come across an area you’ve never known existed but is only 45 minutes from Rondebosch. This happened last Saturday when we went by bus to a wine tasting and lunch at “Vondeling” estate in the Voor-Paardeberg. Though the views make it seem like another country, the area has a long tradition of winemaking dating back to Swedish immigrant Oloff Bergh in 1704.

Another immigrant, Julian Johnsen, is now the enthusiastic owner, along with Anthony Ward and Richard Gower. When Julian bought the farm in 2003, he wrote to 10 of the richest men in the UK inviting them to invest. When that didn’t work, he asked his two good friends for lunch, a good lunch I suspect, because their financial support enabled him to replant the vineyards and rebuild the winery.

It’s unusual to find an English Englishman, 
rather than an English South African, owning 
and running a wine estate with multiple tourist attractions including a beautiful little thatch-
ed roof church for weddings and Sunday services. St Clement’s was built three years ago but has old-world grace complete with stained glass windows, steeple and bell.

Julian met his wife, Bridget, in a Paarl pub about twenty 20 years ago, and they now share two children and a joint love of the farm’s fynbos. Bridget is the driving force behind the Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI), an NPO, which, after the terrible fire on the Paardeberg in January 2011, undertook with Vondeling Wines a botanical survey to record the fynbos regrowth over 18 months. To date, more than 900 species have been collected of which 10 percent are listed as threatened.
Vondeling’s flagship white and red wines have been named after two of these red data listed plants, namely the Babiana (white) and the Erica (red). I suspect when you’ve had a glass or three of these wines you’ll detect among the tannins and fruit a hint of fynbos.

Fix the path of cyclers and runners

The tedious stop-go controls along Spaanschemat River Road for the cycle paths are getting in the way of my annual hanepoot “fix”. Stopping to buy freshly picked grapes at the shaded stall near the cemetery is too much of a hassle.

However, I’m all in favour of the cycle paths, which not only are giving employment to many but the finished paths will also benefit speed walkers, runners and pedestrians. The paths are wide, smooth and free of the roots that undermine many pavements around here.

One cycle path badly in need of resurfacing 
is the orange strip round the Lower Tokai Park. It has not been resurfaced since it was laid 
years ago. Rains have washed away the orange topsoil leaving great lumps of exposed gravel 
and stone which make for a bumpy bike ride 
and are easy tocould cause a runner or walker to trip and 
fall.

Making sherry

I had a surprise email from Ann Morris telling 
me she wanted to try her hand at the Catawba sherry which her mother had made 40 years 
ago from Mrs Beeton’s recipe. Was there any chance that my friend, who some years ago 
offered readers Catawba grapes from her abundantly producing vine, might again have some to spare?
Indeed she has, so the sherry-making story is on!

Beach babe

Probably the worst thing you can hear when you’re wearing a bikini is, “Good for you!”

fionachisholm@iafrica.com