I’ve visited Van Reenen on the border of KZN and the Free State a couple of times this month to write about community heroes. I adore this village – it is so much more interesting than anyone imagines when zooming by on the highway. Next time, stop and explore a little.The Little Church and Tea Garden is a bit of an institution and advertises the “best scones on the N3”. As it was pouring with rain on my first visit and jolly cold, I needed a refuge and decided to test the famous scones. They were indeed extremely good. Served with local nastagal/umsobo jam beside a roaring fire – perfect. This jam is a speciality of the area – the purple berries are gathered from a naturalised weed in the Solanum family.I was staying over in a completely ‘green’ house on top of a hill. Part of the lovely Highlands Estate with views of the hills and valleys and lots of space. The building is owned by an oil dealer, which amused me no end! How interesting is that? Double cavity walls, double glazing, solar panels and geysers and even a biogas digester which supplies gas for cooking. The wood fired stove and the huge fireplace (using alien trees felled on the property) are very cleverly connected to an underfloor heating system too. I really liked the various verandahs around the building – positioned to make the most of the Northern sun in winter or escape the summer heat. I had breakfast on the East verandah and afternoon naps on the North one – perfect.There was a lovely friendly Anatolian Sheepdog which lived there, whom I shared my padkos veggie sausages and dog biscuits with.I like to ‘live local’ when I am away, but the village stores were uninspiring. Besides free range eggs, the choice was limited – and nothing was green.I was tempted by the beautiful big sacks of mieliemeal, but it would have lasted me for 10 years and was most likely produced from GM corn.In the end, I settled for a couple of jars of asparagus from the tourist shop for supper. One pickled and one not. Actually, they were really yummy and perfect finger food beside the fire. The Free State is famous for asparagus and as I was just on the border, it seemed appropriate. When I visited last year, I was spoiled to taste some freshly picked wild asparagus which is gathered gleefully by those in the know.Luckily, the shop also had some Organic Earl Grey to go with my breakfast, so life was pretty luxurious really. This basket of dried mushrooms was displayed outside the trading store – perhaps gathered by a local foodie who got cold feet before turning them into risotto? I wasn’t tempted to try them, but they did look delicious.
Although I try not to be bothered by the weather, sunshine made things a little easier and meant I could enjoy more scones – in the garden this time – and give resident dogs, Spud and Mazambane, a taste of the handmade Midlands dog biccies I’d brought along.I’d stocked up on new season pecans at the Zand Rivier Padstal at the bottom of the Pass and brought along a big bunch of parsley from my garden intending to make delicious pasta sauce for supper.I didn’t get around to it as the generous, gregarious and hugely entertaining Human family invited me to dinner. Their home (effortlessly stylish) has been hand crafted from converted stables. I tucked into their Wednesday night staple of Macaroni and Cheese and a huge salad – really delicious. “You should come back for one of our Eet, Suip en Vreet evenings” suggested Cas. Van Reenen is a tight-knit, friendly community and I was starting to feel at home.The day before I’d been feeling poorly and needed shade and quiet (although, in a village that spans a very busy highway, quiet is a relative term). The Little Church Tea Garden was where I chose to recuperate, with simple marmite toast that hostess Geraldine insisted on making for me. It did the trick.The next morning I was back (feeling perky) to meet my pal, Bridget, who was on her way to Jo’burg with her precious boys, Lucky and Impi. We had fun discussing the state of the Universe, Rhino poaching and gratuitous meat-eating beneath the oak trees. My off the grid house is in the background.I do like to take home a little taste of my travels. When I got back this afternoon, I split open another of Geraldine’s scrummy scones, slathered it in Wild Pear Jelly I had bought from her shop, and had tea in a pretty little tea cup I found there too. What a treat Van Reenen is – even on my own verandah.