Usually I invite only one or two people at a time for a meal. I like real conversations and paying attention to detail, which is difficult with mass catering. However, I lost my mind this year and invited 50 kids to come camping in Umgeni Valley – to connect with friends they had made on our trip to Hlatikulu last year. Oh boy.
In the end it was the anticipation which was the scary thing. Being in a supermarket with two trolleys loaded with bulk packs of pasta, rice and popcorn does not suit me. Fortunately, my pal Nkulu steered merrily along the isles and counted out the 60 bananas, 60 apples and carried the giant watermelon. I really do find supermarkets quite terrifying.
We loaded Penny’s vehicle with all the supplies (there wasn’t even space for the boys to sit inside!) and headed into the valley.
To make the experience extra special, I invited a few extra special people to spend the night before the hordes of kids descended, in the valley too. It was such a good idea. We could settle in and sort out the camp kitchen and make the 60 peanut butter sandwiches (for arrival snacks) in calm. It meant just supper for six – a very civilised number. Gugu built a great campfire and we sat around with bottles of red wine enjoying the beautiful evening.
We had fresh artichokes with garlic and lemon butter, tossing all the nibbled leaves into the fire. That was fun.
Penny laughed that only camping with me would one get artichokes and a multi-course dinner! For seconds, we had minestrone soup made at home earlier, with lots of laughs and lovely conversation. We needed a good night’s sleep before the crowd arrived.
I’d planned the weekend menu carefully combining good fresh ingredients with what I hoped would appeal to very different palates from mine. I’d had a bit of practice with the Cobham trips earlier in the year and knew chickpeas were out of the question! Christeen, Penny and Ann were magnificent at helping me grate carrots, chop cabbage for coleslaw and wash the big pots. Nka magically opened the huge catering cans of tomatoes without a can opener (I forgot). I made a fresh herb (I brought along a bin bag full of rosemary, marjoram, parsley, celery, bay leaves and mint) and tomato sugo to go with the pasta. I was over-enthusiastic and cooked TWICE the amount of pasta we needed. It was served up for breakfast the next day too! Oh dear.
Supper was curry (green beans, potatoes, lentils) with rice and salad (thanks Bridget for the fresh lettuce from your garden) and veggie sausages sponsored by Fry’s foods. The kids cooked the sausages on the campfire (while snacking on big bowls of popcorn that Charlene had made) and toasted marshmallows afterwards. Not being familiar with cooking on open fire, I was interested when Wendy used half a lemon to clean the grid – such a great idea.
The one thing I had been trying hard to imagine ever since I planned this excursion was boiling 120 free range eggs for breakfast. It actually was just the same as my daily single egg, just bigger pots! Amazing.
I’d avoided the standard fall-back of masses of bread, but for breakfast, it really was the easiest option – pre-sliced, Low GI seed loaves. With bananas, boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, local jam – it went down fine.
Everyone hiked through the valley for a few hours, finding their way to a picnic at the other end, with packs of trail mix to keep them going. Penny carted the 120 sandwiches we had made (veggie polony, tomato and lettuce) across. A feast with plums from Christeen’s garden and other fruit.
Just in case you are cooking for 60 anytime soon, here are my quantities:
- one cup of dry pasta per person is enough. 7.5kg tomatoes, 4 head of celery, 10 onions, garlic and masses of herbs for sugo.
- 2 cabbages, 3kg carrots, 1 kg raisins and 1 litre of mayo made more than enough coleslaw for 60.
- Curry – 3kg potatoes, 4kg green beans, 1,5 kg brown lentils, 500ml red lentils, 10 onions, one packet of Woolies Cape Malay curry mix and 500g dhania/jeera mix, curry leaves, a head of garlic, lots of lemon zest.
- 2kg of rice is more than enough. I was amazed – I bought too much.
- there are 18 slices of bread in most loaves. So at 4 slices per person two loaves feed 9 people for a picnic.
- we used 10 packs of Fry’s slicing sausage, three iceberg lettuces and 20 sliced tomatoes for the lunch sarmies.
- trail mix, divided into small zip lock bags: 2kg raisins, 1,5 kg raw peanuts, 1,5kg salted peanuts, 500g sunflower seeds, 1 kg apricots.
- Popcorn – 500g made 4 enormous bowls full.
- 2 big jars of peanut butter was enough for 60 sarmies.
Everyone survived and the kids had a ball. I enjoyed it thoroughly too. It is very energising spending time in nature with enthusiastic youngsters – and dear friends. You can read the official version of the weekend here if you like. Christeen recorded all the wonderful flowers and little critters we saw too, if you are interested.