You can tell a lot about a country café by the size of its slice and what’s on the side
When you’re on a road trip it’s always good to know where you’re going to stop for lunch, whether it’s a roadside picnic of sarmies and boiled eggs or an off-the-beaten-track country café that serves food you won’t find anywhere else in South Africa.
You won’t find The Blue Cow Café in Barrydale if you stick to the main drag and all the biker stops. This is a place to seek out if you are more of a bird-lover-seeking-nature and some substantial-country-food type.
When we set off from Numbi Valley Permaculture Farm near De Rust in the Karoo, we set our sights on a slow drive along Route 62 until Barrydale where we would veer off the main drag and have lunch at the Blue Cow Coffee Shop.
What comes to mind when I tell you that there is something called a chicken cheesecake and that it is served at this very cafe? Before you write it off, I’m here to tell you that although your mind is probably grappling with the thought of a sweet cheesecake combined with a chicken filling it is a thing of great deliciousness and savouriness (banish all thought of sweet cheesiness).
We discovered the chicken cheesecake in 2018 when we did the first of two roundtrip road-trips, from Cape Town to De Rust via Barrydale, then Plett and back to Cape Town. I think we shared a portion the first time around, slightly apprehensive about the dish but this time I ordered my own portion. My very large portion.
But before we get to the food, let’s talk about the Blue Cow. It’s, literally, perched above a small dam on stilts with a wooden deck and weaver birds all around, weavering away at their dancing nests. And then there’s the view, over Barrydale to the mountains in the distance.
Owner Hannette Cooke starts chatting to us about “my girls”, two young women sitting in a quiet corner of the Blue Cow’s large wooden deck. “They’re not really my daughters but they go to the high school near the Blue Cow and I’m helping them out, making sure they work hard, study for exams and get to go to university,” says Hannette. The “girls” are smiling in agreement as Hannette explains her tough love policy.
“I’ve been accepted for Stellenbosch University for 2020,” says the older learner confidently. “After every exam I come to sit here with Hannette and we talk about the paper and start planning for the next one. “
“I’m tough on her,” says Hannette, delivering my chicken cheesecake.
It’s got a delicate, savoury crust and a cheesy-chicken filling and it’s topped with a creamy mushroom sauce. And let’s not forget the sides. There’s fresh coleslaw and green salad. Small dishes containing beetroot and olives. It was a big lunch and I devoured it. This is a holiday meal worth loosening the belt for, literally and figuratively.
I had been planning on having some freshly-baked apple pie (bursting with apple) or a hot scone but perhaps that will have to wait for another roadtrip.
Country slices are a fine thing when you’re exploring the back roads and hidden places in South Africa. When we were off-grid in De Rust we were lured into the bright lights of De Rust village to sample the local cuisine one lazy lunchtime.
We had the stoep to ourselves at The Trading Post and we both ordered the chicken pie with “half chips/half salad” on the side, not 100% sure what we would be getting but it sounded filling.
Our pies arrived and they had been served with salad, roast veg, beetroot and enough robust chips to be called more than a quarter-portion. This was generous country-style cooking and the pies were packed with chicken, the pastry crisply layered.
Crucially, the pies were homemade and, equally important, they weren’t reheated in a microwave. But not to dwell on the occasional badly-heated pie, the pie with alles that we had for lunch at The Trading Post felt like a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. And then we followed it with the freshly-baked pear tart made with a sponge and served with creamy vanilla ice cream.
It was a country lunch that left me sleepy and ready for a nodding nap. We went back to the farm and I sank into the hammock next to the freshwater plunge pool where I digested my pie at a leisurely pace.
This story originally appeared in Daily Maverick TGIFood: A basket of pastoral goodness, off the grid
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