South Africa’s olive queen Annalene du Toit invites friends to join her and husband Pieter for a family braai under the olive tree in Riebeek-Kasteel.
It’s a sweltering Saturday in Riebeek Valley in the Swartland. Fortunately, Kloovenburg wine and olive estate has a canopy of oaks. They’ve stood here for a few hundred years and nowadays provide welcome shade for visitors who come to taste the wines and olive products – not only dipping oils, tapenades, olive jams, salts and pestos, but everything you can imagine to pamper the body too. All were created by Annalene du Toit, serene and pretty blonde wife of the estate’s owner Pieter du Toit.
It’s a popular place for visitors to the Riebeek Valley Olive Festival. This weekend, groups are sampling treats in the cool, high-ceilinged dark tasting room, where Springbok rugby jerseys from Pieter’s father are framed on the wall. Our lunch is on the other side of the property – under a vine-covered pergola behind the manor house, past a sign that says PRIVATE.
“The sign makes no difference. Some people still come to see where we live,” says Pieter with a chuckle. Tall and jovial, he’s manning the braai. “The secret is the wingerd stompies – the wood from the vines,” he tells me.
The Du Toits’ four blonde sons are here too – Pieter Steph, 20, Johan, 17, Anton, 15 and Daniel, 13. They’d make a hot boy band but they all want to be farmers. Pieter Steph has already made a name for himself as a lock with the Sharks rugby team. Two metres tall and built of iron, he’s home for the weekend from Durban, where he’s doing a BCom in Marketing. In May he’ll be heading east with the Sharks, playing in New Zealand and Australia.
They’re all tucking into Annalene’s olive bread that she cooks for the olive festival with stoneground flour – up to 400 loaves in a huge mixer. Kloovenburg has been a popular part of the festival ever since its launch more than a decade ago. “We put tables under the oaks,” says Annalene, “and people make up their own picnics with food from the stalls.” Today she serves the bread with a bowl of basil pesto, mascarpone and sun-dried tomato pesto, a deliciously satisfying starter. She’s made two loaves – one with sun-dried olives and fig preserves, and one with sun-dried olives and sun-dried tomatoes that give the loaf a rich, golden crust.
“Soak the tomatoes in water beforehand,” she says. “The water for the dough must be lukewarm – a little warmer than the room – or it won’t rise. In winter I close all the kitchen doors. I bake it on a baking tray lined with a silicone baking sheet, not wax paper.” At heart Annalene is a country girl. She grew up on a fruit farm in Ashton and loves cooking.
“I started bottling olives about 20 years ago after we put in the olive trees to keep the farm busy when the grapes were over. My youngest son is my taster. When he says something is good, I know I can put it in a bottle.” Farming is in the family’s blood. Pieter’s grandfather bought Kloovenburg for Pieter’s father in 1958, and Pieter was only eight when he decided he wanted to buy the farm next door. “I was a hunter,” he says, “and that farm was full of guinea fowl. The farmer said he would give me first option. Ten years later, when I was in matric, he phoned to say it was on the market.” Pieter’s father sold a farm he had in the Karoo andbought the one next door.
Kloovenburg soil provides most of today’s dessert – home-grown luscious black figs served with mascarpone drizzled with moskonfyt made from the fermenting must of Kloovenburg grapes. What a delectably decadent end to Annalene’s traditional South African braai.
The Riebeek Valley Olive Festival takes place on 4 and 5 May.
Photographs by MYBURGH DU PLESSIS