We’re in Tasmania and it’s pouring rain upon the Bay of Fires, the coastline is being savaged by waves and there’s some bloke and his dog waving madly as we get out of the car. I’m wearing only underwear and a rain-jacket (it’s the obvious way to keep your pants dry in this weather), but our waving mate seems indifferent as he strides confidently towards us.
“G’day campers! Don’t worry about Jack Daniels, he’s the friendliest pup you’ll meet! OI, JACK DANIELS, GET BACK ‘ERE.”
Jack Daniels (a.k.a ‘JD’) has a duct-taped cast on one leg, a wild enthusiasm for naked human legs and a serious saliva issue. Old mate seemed to materialise from nowhere but looking towards the cliff-top behind the car, there’s now no missing his white camper and wildly flapping awning.
After introductions it’s clear that the man has powers of communication beyond average with his canine and spends most of the time talking directly to JD and looking towards us as if we too understand the riffs and the ruffs. He’s here on the coast to give JD a chance to rest his broken leg (“aren’t we JD? And how’s it feeling today mate?”) – and invites us to join them both for a sundowner later when the weather clears. Although this sounds like an excellent opportunity to learn a new language, I’m praying the clouds have settled in for the evening.
Even with the tendency for rain, this stretch of the Tassie east coast is increasingly popular, the free campsites and beautiful bays just too much to pass up on. Apart from JD and his owner, this particular inlet, overlooking a stretch of white sand and the surging blue-grey Tasman sea, is so far unoccupied.
After acquiring some pants and erecting the tent, we set about nursing the tiny fire. A Corona branded car mat and a sparsely-leafed branch protect it from the rain, allowing us to bring Tasmania a little pot of South Africa in the form of a vegetable Potjie.
Potjiekos (“poy-kee-kos“, and literally meaning ‘small pot food’) is a stew made in a cast iron pot that resembles a witch’s cauldron. Luckily I have a ridgy-didge South African with me to don the chef’s hat on this one. As the sous chef I get to stay inside the dry tent and take control of the slicing, dicing and occasional witch’s cackle.
The Launceston Harvest Farmers’ Market is well worth a look-in if you’re in the area, open every Saturday 8.30am-12.30pm, there’s a broad selection of fresh produce, bread, meat and cheese, breakfast options are abundant, and the coffee was spot-on.
Our morning spent roving the market means we have all the makings of a fully layered, seasonal vegetable Potjie.
The trick with the Potjie is that each sliced vegetable is stacked up in the pot in order – those taking longest to cook sitting near the bottom. With the lid firmly on, and the coals making determined efforts to stop burning as we continually provoke them to liven up, our little pot food is on its way.
The Potjie is traditional fare in South Africa, especially during winter months – often a meat stew served over rice. The size of pots available range from our tiny camping-sized edition to large cauldrons that will cater for a crowd.
An hour and a half later, there’s no more containing our hunger, or the bubbling stew, and as we savour the delights of the spice-infused veggies, chunks of Launceston-baked bread make an excellent accompaniment. The rain on the tent becomes the soundtrack for the hearty meal, while up on the cliff a man howls with his dog at the sky. It’s a shame the Potjie pot only holds enough for two, though it sounds like JD and his best mate are happy with each other, a bottle of whiskey and the sea.
A Camping Potjie
For one small potjie pot to serve two hungry campers
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 large potato, cubed
1 large carrot, sliced
1/2 baby cabbage, shredded
2 cloves minced garlic
1 can of tomatoes
8 small mushrooms, halved
1 small handful green beans, roughly chopped
1 stock cube dissolved in water
Seasoning at hand (e.g. paprika, chilli, ginger, lemon pepper)
- Heat potjie pot over coals of a fire until nice and hot (use common sense not to touch pot with bare hands)
- Add a dash of oil and the onions and cook until the point of browning and translucency, remove onions from pot
- Begin layering the veg in the pot according to their size and need for cooking time with the veggies that take the longest to cook going down the bottom, e.g. potato and carrot. Add the onion about halfway up the layers. Leave out the mushrooms
- Pour over the can of tomatoes and stock and add any desired seasonings
- Make sure the coals remain hot and cook with the lid on (without stirring) for 1.5 hours, adding the mushrooms in at the 1-hour mark.
- Holy delicious, it’s ready! Eat accompanied by rice, couscous, bread or your best friend.
p.s. You can use whatever vegetables (and meat) that you have at your disposal; what’s in season will produce the tastiest results.
And in an illustrated recipe…