Biltong in the old days

Posted by Jeremy Dreyer on 7/15/2017
Biltong in the old days

 My father would from time to time arrange for a local farmer to shoot and provide the family with a springbok for the huge sum of ten shillings and then get our next door neighbor, who for a portion of meat would skin the animal and also prepare different cuts of meat for us along with a supply of springbok biltong. After marinating the meat he would hang the biltong to dry in a little room attached to the side of his house which he also  used as a tool room, the door was always kept locked in order to prevent some salivating young boys looking through the window from any criminal intent. My mother would often grate the very dry biltong and spread it on our sandwiches for school, absolutely delicious! and something boys would fight for!

I also remember that on the local railway station platform there would often be trolleys laden with springbok carcasses each with a tag in the ear listing the destination address of the animal and which was shipped in rail cooler trucks all over the country. Every small Karoo town also had along with the proverbial Royal Hotel always had a Karoo Slagtery (butcher) and as youngsters and of course as often as our meager finances and pocket money would allow, we would make our way to the local slagtery to purchase 6d worth of droewors which along with biltong would hang in the shop like a black wall at the back, the aroma of the meat was unbelievable.

The origins of biltong and droewors in South Africa are now lost in the mists of time however there is some speculation that this was introduced by the very early Dutch settlers from Europe, where in medieval days salted meat was cured and dried in a similar fashion to biltong, however in the Cape the settlers had an abundant supply of venison meat available from the vast herds of trekbokke which roamed the Little and Great Karoo, along with perfect curing conditions provided by the very dry air of these regions, you could simply hang the meat in the Ossewa as long as it was out of reach of the dogs.

I can well recall the stories of uncle George an old man we new and who lived with us and who had fought in the boer war at the age of sixteen. Uncle George had worked in later life for the SAR as a railway conducter and would recount to us that when the train travelled through South West Africa the train was sometimes held up by huge herds of buck and game because it would take several hours for the trekbokke  to cross the railway line.

Sadly those days are now lost in the past and only survive in memory and books of South Africa's history, so until next time, may the wors be with you.     

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