Natures Bounty – Food & Home 2017 May 1, 2017
IN ELGIN LIES A PIECE OF EARTH WHERE NATURE PROVIDES BOUNTIFUL BLESSINGS. AT TERRA MADRE, FOOD IS MADE WITH LOVE AND FRESH PRODUCE, RIGHT OFF THE LAND
BY MALU LAMBERT RECIPES AND STYLING BY NICOLE PRECOUDIS PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEIN VAN TONDER
I swore never to open another restaurant in my life,” states Nicole Precoudis emphatically. She’s showing us around her vegetable garden. Artichoke plants cut royal silhouettes among the spinach, chives, red lights and chillies. She didn’t open a restaurant, not really.
Terra Madre in the Elgin Valley, an hour or so out of Cape Town, is predominantly a working apple farm complemented by vegetable gardens and olive trees. The farm’s produce is used in Nicole’s Food Barn deli (and store), which is open on certain days of the week as a casual eatery (it’s also available for functions). “Guests can pick their own veg,” she enthuses as we leave the garden.
“I have a deep connection with food: ethically sourced ingredients, organically grown vegetables and herbs. Everything here is well and truly prepared with hearty doses of love. I will never focus on large quantities. It will always remain handcrafted, artisan produce.”
The Food Barn concept was introduced to support the Terra Madre online store (terramadre.co.za), which offers an abundance of handmade products, from pâtés and dips (the taramasalata is delicious) to charcuterie, organic veg, pickles, jams – just about anything you’d nd in a true food lover’s kitchen.
When in apple country, drink fresh- pressed cloudy apple juice. That’s just what we do in the morning sunshine as Nicole explains her non-restaurant. The lunches on offer are casual and simple. Guests can choose from tables set up inside the Food Barn, on the stoep surrounding the barn, which overlooks the vegetable garden and olive grove or tables arranged in the apple orchards.
“Our visitors can select whatever they want from the deli to make up their lunch and go and eat it in whichever area they prefer,” explains Nicole. “We also have an apple-wood re, over which we grill meats; the wood imparts a wonderful avour. It’s simple, honest food. I call it village food. It’s all about a long, languid lunch, with good food, wine and, of course, great company.” She goes on to say that all the tables receive complimentary spring water from the Elgin Valley, and that the “freshly pressed, single varietal apple and pear juices ow”.
Nicole also makes a cider. But this is no ordinary craft cider. The Terra Madre Pommes Classique is a bottle-fermented vintage (2009) cider made in the same method as Champagne. It comes in a Champagne-style bottle, and has an apple twig tied around its neck for good measure.
Today she’s hosting a function – and cooking for us on top of it. We follow her into the kitchen. “Here, taste this,” she says, offering me a spoon loaded with glossy lentils.
“I feel ridiculously blessed to have this piece of land. I dreamt of having my own farm for 15 years before acquiring it. This is a realisation of a dream.”
Growing up in a Cypriot-Greek family in Joburg, Nicole recollects how food has always been an integral part of her life. “My dad had a butchery for 35 years. I grew up in a butchery! The first year of my life I sat in a blue camping cot watching my dad break down hindquarter after hindquarter – how could I not grow up with a love for meat?”
Her parents, who live with her on the farm, are a key part of this family-run business. In fact, her mom is in the kitchen with us making Greek salads for the function. “I love this woman with every ounce of my being,” smiles Nicole, going over and squeezing her in a hug.
“My mom, dad and I have been involved together as a team in all of our restaurants.” (They previously had wildly successful restaurants in Joburg – Icon and Cilantro.)
Nicole is as generous as the bounty on her farm is. Effusive, affectionate and full of jokes, you quickly feel at home at Terra Madre – and that’s kind of the point. “I want people to feel like guests in our home, with the hope that they’ll walk away having made special memories.” It’s a philosophy she extends to the people she works with too. The farmers and gardeners who work on Terra Madre also help her in the kitchen and with restaurant service.
With her jet black hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail, she stirs bubbling pots, while plating our dishes. We kick off with a Cretan pie packed with Swiss chard, fennel, haloumi, feta and herbs. Then it’s on to the loukaniko, which is a traditional Cypriot sausage made with acorn-fed pork that has been marinated in red wine. “The sausage has been soaking in wine for days,” she explains, showing us the link of loukaniko sausages.
She opens a bag of spice. “This
is what makes the sausage special. Schinia is a spice indigenous to the Mediterranean and it’s used only in loukaniko – its sole purpose in life.” The sausages are then grilled over an apple- wood re and served as part of meze.
For dessert, she’s preparing spiced Elgin Granny Smith apple tarts with fresh strawberries, vanilla-yoghurt ice cream and a kiwifruit coulis (the kiwi is also grown in Elgin).
Nicole adds that, generally, the meze range – spanakopita, charcuterie, pâtés and apple juice – are some of the most popular products.
“We grow as much as possible on the farm for use in our recipes. The honey we put in our granola, baked goods
and so on is sourced from hives on the farm. I also make the majority of the food myself to ensure consistency of quality.”
With the function over, Nicole literally lets her hair down and we wander into the apple orchard to enjoy a glass of the vintage cider.
“It’s really important to me that we celebrate the farmer. The pork and beef we use is pasture-reared and
we source it from Charlie and Julie Crowther of Glen Oakes in the Hemel- en-Aarde Valley. The pork is acorn-fed, while the beef is grass-fed. I can’t do it without these guys. I cannot produce good food without good ingredients.”
Nicole concludes people love eating in the orchards and the feedback from the guests “warms my heart”. She says the neighbouring farmers are frequent visitors too. “They treat Terra Madre as their local and often bring their family and friends. I think they like coming to a family business.”
I like it too; it’s without a doubt the best non-restaurant I’ve been to.
TERRA MADRE: 33 VILJOENSHOOP ROAD, ELGIN, WESTERN CAPE; 082 328 1346; TERRAMADRE.CO.ZA