Friday, January 24, 2014

Rock Buns at the River

A cup of tea, a rock bun and a canoe - relaxing by the Breede River
Ever since the dawn of time, holidays at the Breede River have been synonymous with rock buns. In my husband’s family at least. 

Nostalgic memories of long ago winter holidays snug in a caravan on their family plot with an apparently endless supply of the fragrantly spiced buns (how did they manage that endless part?... any time I bake them they disappear within 24 hours!) are part of his family history, enduring long after the plot was sold, the family grown up and scattered.

The River continues to exert its pull and our family holidays have been taken there ever since we moved back to South Africa, albeit in a series of rented houses, so the family rock bun recipe has been added firmly into my repertoire, to be baked several times over the course of a holiday, as long as the ingredients last.

Nutmeg and mixed spice, dried fruit mix and a light cakey mixture, they have some of the flavours of Christmas without the heaviness and are perfect to go with early morning tea when a swim or canoe ride are planned before breakfast, or to go with a cup of tea anytime really.

Rock Bun Recipe
Makes 12

2 cups (500ml) self-raising flour (or plain flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder)
pinch salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon mixed spice
125g / 4 oz butter
½ cup sugar
¾ cup mixed dried fruit / fruit cake mix
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 175˚C / 350˚F

Sift together the flour, salt and spices.
Cut the fridge- cold butter into dice and rub them into the flour, until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Stir in the mixed fruit and sugar.
Beat the egg and milk together then stir it into the dry ingredients.
Mix till it starts clumping together. Use a bit more milk if it is still too dry.
Place in rough heaps on a greased baking tray.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown.
Cool on a rack or eat warm.

And best bake a double batch while you’re about it, as they will disappear in a trice.

I thought I hadn’t put this old family favourite recipe on the blog yet, but I proved to be wrong. I wrote about baking rock buns on a very hot summer night back in 2009 for a class bake sale, and once at the very beginning of my blog in 2006 for my husband to take to a family wedding. I was rather light on photos back then, so hope you don’t mind the re-run with the ultimate river rock bun pics taken on our recent flooded holiday there. Just goes to show that the best recipes stand the test of time!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

George's Big Adventure - River Holiday

All our other dogs have been farm dogs. We go places, they stay at home and look after the house. They were happier that way, we were happier that way; who wants to share a car with a whimpering, shivering wreck more often than they have to? Right from the start with George however, he was going to be the family dog, the one who comes with us to the beach and ultimately on holiday to the Breede River. The first trip to the beach was a resounding success and from then on we knew he’d love the river. We just weren’t quite sure how we were going to fit him, no longer a puppy but a large, lanky dog, and our luggage, including food for ten days, in the car for the four hour journey.

In the end it was fine. The food and bags went on the roof, George and his cushion squashed in the back and drooled over Middle Daughter, who drew the short straw and got the very back seat. As a variation he panted down the neck of our son and tried to see out of the window clearly enough to count cars, sheep and telegraph poles, in between whining “Are we nearly there yet?” He was duly hushed by the teenagers, who with the diversion of iPods and earpieces tune out for the duration of the journey and no longer ask that dreaded question.

Exploring the sand bar in the afternoon at low tide

The reward for such patience, a steep grass hill leading down to  a wide stretch of water, a shallow sandy beach and, joy of joy, a sand bar that had shifted into perfect place since we’d last visited, allowing us to walk out into the middle of the river at low tide and creating a huge, relatively safe water play zone for dogs and kids.

As soon as we’d done all the regrettably essential grown-up things, like getting all the cool boxes off the roof, checking that the cool blocks had successfully countered the bright sunshine and stowing food into freezer and fridge, it was time to cool off from the hot journey in the river. George plunged in with joyous abandon, swimming and swimming between each and every member of the family, trying to keep tabs on us all. To start with we worried about him getting over-tired and sinking, but he just kept going.

"Hurry up, there the whole river to swim in!"

George heading out for an early morning swim at high tide

"It's hard work herding kayaks."

George's first voyage in the canoe with Youngest and me.

It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to be left behind when we took the canoe out either, as he leapt in after us next morning and started followed us up river. In the end we paddled back to shore and let him climb in with us, but made a shorter trip than usual, as he kept dipping a paw over the side, trying to drink the river and seemed likely to dive back in any minute. Over the next few days he got more used to being a canoe passenger and it became a slightly less hazardous under-taking.

We had four days of perfect summer holiday: swimming before breakfast, canoeing and the kids making their first attempts at water-skiing behind our friends’ boat. George regarded this activity with deep suspicion and it took just a few splashy failed attempts by the girls getting up on the skis, for him to become convinced that they needed rescuing from the persecuting noisy monster circling around them. He kept jumping in to swim out to them and in the end he was becoming so distressed that my mum had to put him on the lead and take him off for a walk to distract him.

In between times there was much baking of bread and rock buns (essential fodder in the river family tradition), and generous meals conjured up by each of the two families in turn. And croquet, can you believe that with such limited space we still found space for the croquet set on the roof?! Middle Daughter devised a complex course worthy of golf that kept the game going for hours.

A rainy day was forecast and we looked forward to huddling in bed late with books and cups of tea,  long games of Catan or cards, perhaps just a bit more baking. That was Monday, duly wet with storms and rain showers. Tuesday dawned with rain reduced to drizzle and looked set to clear up, but at breakfast I noticed that the water level was just creeping over the high tide mark onto the grass. Ten minutes later we were sure of it. The river was rising.

Suddenly we were at action stations, dragging the canoes higher up the lawn and taking the motor boat out of the water, just in case. We swam in the rising water as we did so and within an hour were able to paddle the canoes over what had been the bottom lawn. A slight check came when my glasses, carefully removed to avoid losing them in the river, were no longer when I’d left them with shoes and hats on the kayak, well above  the waterline. Our son had taken the things off the kayak to paddle it into the flood waters and hadn’t noticed my glasses. After much crawling around the ex-lawn in the rising water, we gave them up as lost and retired up the hill to tea, rock buns and to watch the still rising waters creep alarmingly quickly up the hill.

That clump of green mid-stream is the willow tree from previous pictures.

Luckily the house we stay at is high up the hill, so unlike the family several plots down, we weren’t having to move furniture and pack our bags. There were several meters of hillside in reserve. My husband had planned to go into Swellendam, but got as far as the dip in the access road, where water was already lapping at the edges, and changed his mind. Lucky that he did as the water kept on coming and halfway through the afternoon the road was at least a meter under water.

Watching trees float by on the flood
George was used to high and low tide by now, recognising that sometimes he could walk out onto the sand bar and others it was swimming all the way. But he knew that here was something wrong about the water this time and wasn’t nearly as happy letting us swim in it. There were some rather painful rescue attempts, as his idea is simply to grab hold of an arm in his mouth and drag you to shore.
That night there was more thunder, more rain and next morning we watched as the river rose even further until we could paddle the canoes right around the milkwood tree halfway up the hill between the house and the river. The main flow of the river was fast and deep brown, all memories of tidal cycle forgotten, carrying branches, logs and whole trees rapidly past. Our lawn became our own private lagoon just enough removed from the strong current, where we could swim, hold canoe races and explore the jungle of trees on the adjoining plot by canoe, an adventure in itself.

P restraining George from leaping in to the rescue

Heading off to explore uncharted jungle waters

Middle Daughter practising fishing casts, and the water now round the milkwood tree
Kayak vs canoe, racing across the lawn. That wisp of green is the willow again!
We had four days of being officially marooned, luckily without any real hardship, as we’d all brought enough food with us for the whole holiday. At last on Friday the waters began to recede, leaving a stinking carpet of mud behind them. George needed a hose down after each river foray, as did our feet after we finally braved the main river in our canoe to explore the aftermath. Even then the current was strong and violent eddies every now and again would knock us off course, so it was a perilous adventure!

By our last day the river was almost back to normal levels, but the tide hadn’t quite resumed normal play, and the sand bank we’d so enjoyed at the beginning of the holiday seemed to have been shifted bodily into the reeds. The kids never did get to work any further on their water-skiing, which was disappointing, but we had had an adventure that we’ll not forget and plenty of relaxation and down time to set us up for the new school year. George enjoyed his holiday and was just as happy to get home again and back to chasing hares every morning.

A promise. The waters at their highest.

Happy 2014 to you all! I hope your holidays were relaxing and free of floods and other natural disasters!