Escargot – WHAT?

Jac Dowling

This month’s blog was a bit of a toss-up; April 23 has come and gone – shall I write about Shakeapeare’s birthdays I have known – or the theatre – or the latest banking shenanigans? No, none of those I decided. The current global news offerings are so tragic that I thought a happier scribble might be the better option, so here we go – a regular salad of bits and pieces.

Some years ago we set out to explore the villages over the mountain, proper Boland stuff: grapes, wine, leiwater, cheeses, black springbok and a donkey sanctuary: the tranquil thatched village of McGregor. The day was hot, brilliant bougainvillea shaded broekie-lace stoeps and roses tumbled across the walls and gardens in a riot of blowsy colour; huge blooms in full summer dress, like Edwardian ladies at a garden party.

A small restaurant, hidden in a garden ablaze with flowering shrubs, lured us in across cool polished clay tiles to a vine covered patio. It was quiet there, peaceful. Just birdsong and a hidden trickling stream. The wine, light and chilled arrived in a bucket of ice shortly followed by smoked chicken salad – mounds of crisp lettuce, cucumber, baby tomatoes all glossy with olive oil, and crusty seed bread. A French couple sat nearby, deeply engrossed in their aromatic mounds of bobotie and sambals.

I gently disturbed the sculpture before me, in search of smoked chicken lurking below. A lettuce leaf moved, unforked. Thinking it was the wine working its early magic, I watched as it continued to twitch, and a slug the size of snail-100183169a small frog sleazed its way onto the plate, antennae working the four points of the compass as it slid its oily way through my beautiful salad. Now I’m not a lover of snails, cooked or on the hoof as it were. In fact I can honestly swear that I have never, knowingly, eaten one. So my OTT response to the unwelcome extra protein excited the attention of our French neighbours, who left their bobotie to inspect our find. ‘Ah bon!’ they exclaimed exultantly. ‘Escargot sans maison.’ Which described it perfectly and had the waitress in a tizz of mortification. The salad was replaced and the maison-less escargot despatched without further ado.

In 2005 our son and daughter-in-law were married at The Old Mill, not far from the restaurant. A beautiful day: the air still, the sun warm. We sat on baleimages1s of straw under jacarandas in full bloom as the simple and moving ceremony took place: the ground carpeted with compacted apricot pips, purple jacaranda blossom and golden acanthus. That evening tables were set among the vines with little candles lighting the way under a full moon. No sounds other than roosting birds, cicadas and happiness. A perfect setting for a wedding feast.

Last month we celebrated ten years of their marriage, and a special birthday with a weekend at The Old Mill , now renamed Green Gables. The vines have gone, but the old eucalyptus trees remain, their bark bronze and gold in the setting sun. Dinner (sans escargot) was candlelit, under a splendid Victorian chandelier. There was a full moon that night, no sounds other than that of roosting birds, cicadas and happiness. I thought how very fortunate we are to still find that sort of peace and simplicity, and the friendship, love and warmth of our children and their friends.