Sunday, September 25, 2011

Waterblommetjies (Aponogeton distachyos)

Waterblommetjies also known as Cape pondweed, Cape hawthorn or Cape asparagus, is an ingredient in one of the most loved traditional dishes in the country called waterblommetjie-bredie (This word is a mouthful!!!!) While I lived briefly in other provinces of South Africa, I had to rely on the tinned products to make the popular stew. Here, of course, I am so close to many traditional food sources: only 90 km from where the bokkoms are harvested and a 3 minute walk from crayfish and other seafood. The nearest dams for harvesting waterblommetjies are on Lelieblom Farm in the Darling district. (The farm where I get so much material for my blogs!!)

I find that they appear in the markets more and more and this might mean that they will soon be available in fresh form all over the country. The ones I painted here were from a large fruit and veg market. The first people to utilize these greenish hard little flowers growing on long thin grass-like stems, were the Khoikoi people. They used it in stews, mostly with mutton, onions and potatoes and flavoured with salt, pepper and sorrel. Sorrel, of course grows in springtime so it is available at the same time as the waterblommetjies, and it is used to give a slightly acidic taste to the dish. I do not use the common garden sorrel at all, as it is much safer to have the plant positively verified by an expert. In fact, we will only eat it if three experts point them out! The little sorrel flowers on my cooked dish was placed there briefly for the photo!

Recipes? Just do what comes naturally. I always fry some onions first, then some lamb knuckles, add cubed potatoes and water, stock or wine and prepare for a slow simmer. Add the sorrel only if you know your garden weeds! The waterblommetjies are added last and steams on top of the dish as they soften and break up quickly. Mixed herbs, a little salt and some white pepper are a must. We find this dish filling and would eat it with salad things only, but rice is the traditional accompaniment.

For soup: Steam the waterblommetjies with potato and onion in a little milk and vegetable stock. Flavour with garlic and the usual dried herbs/salt/pepper. Liquidize, serve and enjoy this healthy vegetarian soup with some warm crusty bread.

I was unable to visit a waterblommetjie harvesting, but in the background I painted a man, knee-deep in water, harvesting the plants and putting them in a floating dish.