Colin Johnston is a living relic of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society, who along with one or two others predates the coelacanth. In 2005 Colin was on duty at Het Posthuys when a visitor asked him – ’waar’s die pekel balie?’ by which she meant the universal pickling barrel that every household had in the days before electricity. It was used to preserve whatever food came to hand, pork, beef, fish, vegetables, and was simply a half-barrel with a lid, filled with brine; highly concentrated salt water. Colin was ashamed, we didn’t have one. He set about rectifying the omission, and made contact with Rob Laurie, the general manager of Radoux Cooperage in Stellenbosch, who to this day make wine barrels in the time-honoured fashion. To the great credit of the company Rob had the pickling barrel made and then he delivered it at no charge. It remains a most interesting feature of Het Posthuys, because it takes the visitor’s mind back to a period the visitor has never experienced, yet can understand.
What did you do back in the day with surplus meat or fish? You could air-dry it as with biltong and fish bokkoms (uncertain in a Cape winter) or you could salt it. Some foods salted well, others did not. I have never heard of salted mutton or crayfish or chicken, for example. And while we might revolt at the thought of eating long-salted beef or cod, it turns out to be a misconception. When being prepared for eating, the food is soaked for hours in fresh water to get rid of the salt. It is then cooked, and (so I understand) the salt is entirely gone and the meat tastes somewhat like the original. I merely repeat what I have read, I have not tried and nor will I seek out bacalhau, for instance, the allegedly popular Portuguese dish of salted cod. Nor do I want my Bouef Wellington to come out of a barrel of salt. Historical research has its limits, after all.