By Louise Liebenberg
THIS recipe is a favourite of guests at the Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, some 60km from Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape.
The reserve is known for its hearty “Karoo cuisine” and the more-ish kudu casserole with herb dumplings is particularly popular when nearby Nardousberg is snow-capped in the winter months.
Daron Slater, who handles the hospitality side of things at Mount Camdeboo, says there is always a little story attached to a good recipe.
“This recipe came about many years ago while I was working in a very remote part of South Africa’s bushveld and the nearest town was 80 miles away. I always stocked my pantry with food like tinned beans, mushrooms and so on.
“You may ask, why not grow my own? Well to be honest, I found the competition was too great and the wildlife always won,” she chuckles.
Kudu Casserole with Herb Dumplings
This recipe serves 4 to 6 people and the preparation time is 20 minutes and the cooking time 45 minutes. Scroll down first for the casserole recipe and then for the dumplings.
Ingredients for the casserole
1kg kudu fillet or a good cut of meat – cut into cubes the size of your thumb nail; 1 knob (1 tsp of butter; 1 tsp olive oil; 1 tsp freshly-grated or crushed garlic; 1 large onion; 1 tin chopped tomatoes; 2 tsp tomato paste; 500ml vegetable stock; fresh herbs; 1 tin butter beans; 1 tin mushrooms; 1 cup red wine (optional).
Method for the casserole
In a hot frying pan add the oil, butter and garlic and brown the meat. Fry in small batches and do not overcook. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
In the same frying pan brown the onion, remove and add to the meat.
Put the meat, onions, seasoning, tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock and herbs into a pot and bring to the boil.
Add the red wine (if using) butter beans and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes.
Make and add the dumplings as per the recipe below and add to the casserole.
Ingredients for the dumplings
½ cup self-raising flour; 65g butter or lard; 1 tsp fresh or dried mixed herbs; a good pinch of salt; water to mix.
Method for the dumplings
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter / lard with a knife, blend in the herbs and stir in enough water so that it binds together and can form soft balls.
Split the mixture into 10 portions and roll into balls on a floured surface.
Check that the casserole liquid is boiling and 15 minutes before the casserole is ready, add the dumplings into the liquid of the casserole. The casserole should be kept at a steady boil in order for the dumplings to cook through.
At peace with the world on Camdeboo’s ancient plains
IT MUST have been his idea of paradise – the endless plains and mountains of the ancient Camdeboo stretched before him, nearby Nardousberg wearing its shimmering mantle of snow, the veld an almost impossibly vibrant green after generous rains, and fattened game enjoying the early winter rays.
It was exactly the scene that greeted us a few weeks ago when, after the first cold snap of the season, we arrived at Mount Camdeboo, a 14000-hectare private game reserve in the Camdeboo Valley, some 60km from Graaff-Reinet.
Where once was overworked farmland, Logie Buchanan succeeded in restoring the pillaged veld through faith, love and vision. He also re-introduced many of the antelope and other species that would originally have roamed these plains, made famous by Eve Palmer in her book, The Plains of Camdeboo.
The well-to-do Cape Town philanthropist died suddenly in 2000 and lies buried at an old pepper tree between the reserve’s Camdeboo and Hillside Manors, in accordance with his wishes.
But Logie’s legacy lives on at Mount Camdeboo, now a private game reserve which his family have opened up to paying guests.
Thanks to their careful input the historic properties on the reserve, particularly Camdeboo Manor, retain the integrity of a 19th century Cape Dutch farm house, but boast a more modern sense of space, light and luxury.
There are several beautifully renovated farm houses at Mount Camdeboo; we stayed at Camdeboo Manor which has five luxurious suites.
All the obligatory special touches are there. Exquisite bed linen, check. The finest stemware and silver, check. Under-floor heating and heated towel rails, check. Spot-on, unobtrusive service, check. No, double check. For, unlike many reserves where you will find yourself constantly marshaled and fawned over, Mount Camdeboo is delightfully different in that they don’t have annoyingly over-attentive staff. And yet, when you need them, they do magically appear, ever poised and polite.
Things are also refreshingly different on the food front, with general manager Richard Slater and his wife Daron having found their Karoo cuisine formula always goes down a treat with visitors, particularly the foreign ones who’ve had their fill of fancy, Big Five reserve menus and just desire an honest, hearty meal, in keeping with the spirit of true country hospitality.
We spent the first night dining under the stars in a fire-side boma; the next enjoying a fine venison fillet and other excellent courses in the manor’s dining lounge.
The hospitality staff have been expertly trained by Daron and are so adept and professional at what they do that it is hard to believe most were once farm workers.
Mount Camdeboo is not a Big Five game reserve, but it does have an abundance of noteworthy species, including many antelope and also rhino, giraffe, buffalo, black wildebeest, zebra and more.
And, unlike most Big Five reserves, it is more than happy to give visitors a behind-the- scenes look at the dynamics of what is very much a working game reserve. Guests may therefore do several different “project walks”, accompanied by a ranger, in which they are allowed access to breeding projects, such as for sable antelope or African wildcat, or a visit to the buffalo capture area.
Mount Camdeboo is also committed to helping preserve the Cape mountain zebra, its own numbers having expanded encouragingly since the first family units of this species were introduced there.
We spotted much game during the weekend, but the highlight surely was walking (some of us more gingerly than others) right up to a cheetah as it lay finishing off its kill from a day or two before.
Head ranger Ettiene Larson took us on two game drives – one in the late afternoon when some welcome red wine warmed our icy bodies as we marvelled at picture-perfect vistas; the other the following morning when we enjoyed rusks and coffee on a mountain plateau – and even managed to spot a black eagle’s nest down below. The unforgettable view of the splendid Sneeuberg Mountains made every member of our party – which included Wendy Dold who for many years has marketed some of the Eastern Cape’s most elite establishments (including this one) – quit our chatter a while and truly feel at peace with the world.
As our lungs gulped the Great Karoo air we stood, for lack of a better word, gob-smacked at the scale and grace of this timeless land.
It may have started as one man’s family retreat, but Mount Camdeboo is the ultimate living legacy – and one of which Logie Buchanan might be justifiably proud.
(This article was originally published as an Explorer feature in the print edition of Weekend Post on June 18, 2011.)
TO REACH Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve when travelling from Nelson Mandela Bay, take the R75 towards Graaff-Reinet.
About 15km before Graaff-Reinet, take the Pearson turn-off (right), where Mount Camdeboo will be signposted. About 7km on, turn left at the Petersburg / Mount Camdeboo / Samara signpost.
There is a 27km gravel road (and several electronic gates) before reaching Mount Camdeboo’s reception area, from where we were taken to the manor house by the head ranger in his game-drive vehicle.
Our GM-sponsored Explorer comfortably handled the dirt road, but do take care in an ordinary car if the road is wet and muddy.
On the way, we stopped at Noorsveld Farm Stall, outside Jansenville, on the right-hand side. We enjoyed kudu pies made with home-made pastry, and their popular burger on roosterkoek. They also stock country produce like biltong and preserves at excellent prices – these make great gifts for when you get back home.