Catawba grape jelly


In my first summer at Vastrap I was thrilled to find we had an old Catawba grape-vine in the backyard. It made me think of my Nana, Sheila Fassler who had a large trellis covered in Catawba grapes at her home in Emmarentia in Johannesburg. I have such fond childhood memories of these grapes – funny the things that make an impression on a child. They made a huge mess on her front veranda, but I loved their distinct sweet, but slightly tart taste. We used to squish the flesh out of the black skins and discard them as we ate. Most of all, I loved the jelly that she made from the grape juice. It was such a treat, served with warm home-made custard!

I checked on the grapes this weekend and to my delight there were a few ripe bunches. On the spur of the moment I decided it was time to make jelly. There are only one or two opportunities to do this in a year and they absolutely can’t be missed!

Catawba and Hannepoort grape vines.

Catawba and Hanepoot grape vines.

Catawba grapes ripening on the vines.

Many people don’t know these grapes, because they are quite old-fashioned, but one often finds them growing over trellises in old houses. They are small, black grapes with a very distinct flavour. They aren’t used to make wine and they don’t make great table grapes because they have lots of pips and the skins are quite tough. Hence the idea of jelly!

Little grape harvest.

Little grape harvest.

Ready to make jelly.

Ready to make jelly.

If you ever happen to come across a box of these or find some growing on an old trellis in mid-summer I highly recommend you try this for a treat.

Sheila Fassler’s Catawba Grape Jelly

1 x small colander full of fresh Catawba grapes

3/4 cup sugar

10-15g Gelatine powder

Remove the grapes from their stalks and rinse clean. Discard the green ones. Place in a pot with the sugar. Slowly bring to the boil and leave to stew for a few minutes stirring occasionally to release the juices.

Pour the stewed grapes into a colander balanced over a bowl to catch the juice. Be patient while the juice drains off. Don’t squeeze the grapes too much because the pips can be bitter! Discard the grape skins and pips and strain the liquid through a fine sieve. At this point you can taste the juice to see if more sugar is needed. It should be tart, but not unpleasantly so. If the flavour is too strong you can dilute with a bit of water, but I like it as is.

The amount of grapes shown in the photo above yielded 700 ml of juice, but obviously it will vary depending on how many grapes you use and how ripe they are. Measure the quantity of juice you have and then follow the instructions on the gelatine box to make the jelly. You will need to split the mixture and dissolve the gelatine in some hot juice before adding the rest of the juice that has been cooled.

Pour into a large mould or individual moulds and refrigerate for a few hours. The jelly is a gorgeous deep purple colour and quite rich so you only need a small serving per person. Use a glass bowl to show off the colour to full effect. I got about 6 servings out of the 700 ml, but got distracted and forgot to take photos of the final product!

Serve with warm home-made custard or vanilla ice cream. Heart shaped moulds are great for a seasonal Valentine’s day treat!

Sunflowers and things

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We are having a glorious summer! Everything is growing like crazy on the farm and in the garden spurred on by the scorching heat and the occasional thunder shower. Fruit trees in our back yard hold a bounty of riches: figs, prickly pears and yellow cling peaches and almost-ready pomegranates and quinces. I spent the whole of Saturday tidying things up in the garden – cutting back unwieldy bushes and dead-heading roses and dahlias. The bumblebees were having a feast!

There is a row of sunflowers in the veggie garden that have grown in a curious way. They were all planted at the same time, but the ones on the right are two meters tall and in full bloom, while the ones on the left are not even a meter tall and haven’t flowered yet. Quentin will tell you that sunflowers are temperamental beasts. The soil and moisture conditions have to be just right for the seeds to germinate and then there is no guarantee that they won’t grow unevenly like the ones in my garden. Next time you drive past fields of gorgeous, uniform flowering sunflowers have some respect for the farmer who planted them!

Sunflowers in the veggie garden.

Sunflowers in the veggie garden.

Reaching towards the sky.

A feast for bees and bugs.

White maize.

White maize coming along.

I planted some zinnias for the first time this year and have been very happy with the result. I just scattered some seeds and look at what came up a few weeks later! They seem to be as easy to grow as nasturtiums and the flowers are very pretty in lots of different bright colours. I’ll definitely use them again next year.

Red and white zinnias.

Red and white zinnias.

Gorgeous zinnias.

Pink zinnia.

After a busy weekend in the garden we were treated to this amazing marshmallow pink sunset on Sunday evening. I was so blown away by the colours in the sky that I completely forgot to look at the full moon rising! The sky literally looked like a painting and I had to rush out from the kitchen to take this photo. A beautiful end to a lovely weekend.


Full moon sunset at Vastrap.

Summer loving


We’re back! It has taken me a while to get round to blogging since we returned from our short seaside break at Nature’s Valley. It was wonderful, but oh too short! We managed to spend some quality time with family and friends and even started our new year’s exercise routine with a bang on our mountain bikes. There’s nothing like a seaside holiday to clear the mind and rejuvenate the body. Nature’s Valley holds a very special place in my heart since it is so gloriously unspoiled and my family have been going there since before I was born. Apart from the beach, we also love the walking trails through the natural forests full of bird life. Last week we dropped Ashley back in Johannesburg to start her first day at her new school for Grade R, and now it’s back to reality and a very busy year.

Glorious Nature's Valley beach - a little piece of paradise.

Glorious Nature’s Valley beach – a little piece of paradise.

Quentin, Marisa and Ashley - our last sun downer on the beach.

Quentin, Marisa and Ashley – our last sundowner on the beach.

Back on the farm, things are looking beautiful in their full summer glory. It’s been raining so I only managed to take some photos late this afternoon on our way back from lunch at my sister-in-law’s farm, which is about 40 kilometers from us. We had a spectacular drive home past lands planted with very healthy looking soya crops, mealies and sunflowers, exceedingly lush veld and clusters of colourful wild flowers. The sunflowers at Vastrap will only bloom in February, but parts of the district are already a beautiful patchwork of greens and bright yellow. One cannot help but love this time of year, especially when we have been blessed with an abundance of rain. The photos don’t do it justice, but hopefully you can imagine!

Dark green maize fields contrasted with yellow sunflowers in the distance.

Dark green maize fields contrasted with yellow sunflowers in the distance.

Lush veld and more sunflowers.

Lush veld and more sunflowers.

Grass bales and more sunflowers!

Grass bales and more sunflowers!

Late afternoon sky.

Late afternoon sky. 

An explosion of colour!


As most people start returning home from their holidays, we are setting off for a short seaside break tomorrow. I absolutely cannot wait! This will mean a total break from technology and blogging for a while.

For anyone interested in cattle, I’ve been working on a website/blog for Vastrap Boran ( to showcase our herd and keep people informed of latest developments. It’s very much a work in progress and not particularly sophisticated given my minimal IT knowledge, but it’s a start. The blog posts will focus on Boran-specific topics that I would not necessary include in my own blog. Many people come to my blog via searches for Boran-related information and I’m sure they don’t want to have to wade through photos of my garden and kitchen before finding what they are looking for! Please have a look and let me know what you think.

In the meantime I leave you with some photos of the garden taken in the beautiful afternoon light on 2 January. I am just loving all the bright colours of the roses, dahlias, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, agapanthus, salvia, cannas and geranium. I even still have a few sweet peas! My garden is a totally uncoordinated mish-mash of colour, but I love how it is developing, especially all the old-style flowers that don’t always find a place in modern gardens.

Salvia, agapanthus and violas.

Salvia, agapanthus and violas.

Mixed bag.

A mixed bag.

My favourite towering hollyhocks.

My favourite towering hollyhocks.

Rose garden ready for its second flush, but the bright pink Rina Hugo never seems to tire.

Rose garden just starting its second flush, but the bright pink Rina Hugo never seems to tire.

Mixed dahlias.

Colourful dahlias.

The dahlias in these photos were planted last year and came up on their own quite early in summer, but I have planted a whole new patch in oranges, yellows and reds that is now on the brink of flowering. The last photo shows the first tiny pom-pom dahlia from the new bed. I had no idea it would be so small, but it’s just too gorgeous and delicate. I can’t wait to see what they all look like in 10 days’ time when we get home. By that time the rose garden should also be well into its second flush, which is just starting now. So much to look forward to. Au revoir!




Chilling as we work

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It’s been quite a strange period since Christmas, with lots of work happening on the farm combined with some really fun chill time over the New Year’s holidays. The weather has been spectacular between rain storms – still and clear and warm. Perfect to relax on the lawn with a glass of wine whilst enjoying the view over the Vastrap valley. Ashley joined us just before New Year and she has been in the pool non-stop with whoever is keen to join her!

Late afternoon view over the Vastrap valley.

Late afternoon view over the Vastrap valley.

We even managed to play some croquet – a first since I moved to the farm! And of course, let’s not speak of the inevitable festive season overindulgence that goes with all the entertaining and socialising!

Did Paris get hold of the wine?

Did Paris get hold of the wine?

Late afternoon croquet.

Kids enjoying a spot of afternoon croquet.

Quentin directing croquet proceedings.

Quentin directing the croquet.

I had a major moment of panic between all of this fun when Coco went missing for 24 hours. I was convinced that she’d been bitten by a snake or caught in a snare on the mountain behind the house (see Coco’s Year in the Wars). On the Saturday before New Year, I was gardening in the morning and heard her howling and screeching up in the mountain. This is not entirely unusual as she often screeches when there is something to  chase after, but when she didn’t come home that night I thought it had to have been something serious. After going out to look for her and finding nothing, I was beside myself with emotion and couldn’t see any hope. Floods and floods of tears ensued!

The next morning Quentin sent some farm kids out on a search party to at least find her body, but when he arrived home and parked in the garage there was Coco staring at him from the next door car! We have no idea how she got there, but that is irrelevant. The important thing is she’s alive and kicking!

Happily reunited with wonder-dog Coco.

Happily reunited with wonder-dog Coco.

The travails continue though. A few days after her home coming celebration, she started behaving funny and showing signs of pregnancy. Her teats are very swollen and she is crying all the time. In fact, that may be why she was hiding in the car in the first place. She was at the kennels for two weeks during her last heat in October so I have no idea how this could have happened, but she had similar symptoms last year, which turned out to be a phantom pregnancy – apparently quite common in dogs. Hopefully it’s the same story this time as there’s a very handsome young Beagle in town called Roger waiting to meet her next year and some very eager kids waiting for their puppies!

Motherly Affection

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The Boran have extremely strong mothering instincts, which make them very protective of their calves. Perhaps this has something to do with their heritage in Kenya of grazing in the veld alongside wild animals (see The Boran: God’s Gift to Cattlemen). I saw this first hand one day when I was walking the dogs and came across Hope MHB 07-12 who had been separated from her new born calf. Some how the calf had landed up on the other side of the fence from her. She was going crazy and started charging the dogs! I quickly got them out of the way and went to call Quentin to help. It was quite a struggle to get her through the gate without being charged, but all she wanted was to keep her calf out of danger. She was perfectly happy once they were reunited.

Below are some beautiful photos capturing special moments between Boran cows and their calves.

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