“If you can cook our food, then you are one of us.”

I have always enjoyed food—the joy of exploring different tastes and textures, the excitement of experimenting and creating something new, the delight of sharing discoveries and successes with others, the pleasure of fellowship around the table, and the comfort of familiar favorites.

South Africans love their meat (which was such a joyful thing for me especially!), and this unaltered slice of fillet bore natural evidence at a Spur family steakhouse.

Each of those aspects were part of our ministry and life in South Africa, giving us opportunities to begin new relationships and strengthen them, as well as to share our own cultural heritage and to receive gracious invitations into theirs.  Learning to make biltong (South Africa’s preserved meat snack) was a personal goal and priority, but it was also a way to show our appreciation for their culture and our desire to participate in it.

We often invited people to our home for meals in Cape Town.  Friends from church, the mission, and encounters on the street all came and shared a meal, a discovery, a game, and a conversation.  Hospitality is differently practiced and emphasized in different cultures, but it is valued and enjoyed everywhere, and it is a sincere and authentic way to build relationships.  It has been throughout history, and was a major part of the Old and New Testaments.

Sunday night, I was among several missionaries to speak about the importance of food and hospitality in ministry at “Savor the World,” a tasting tour held by Browncroft Community Church as part of this week’s annual Missions Celebration there.  Tracy grew up at the Rochester church, and we both first entered missions there through short-term medical trips to the west African nation of Senegal; we are blessed by their support for our full-time missionary work.  It was a pleasure earlier in the day for us to speak to one of their adult Bible studies, to mingle with other missionaries, and to share a meal and discussion.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

‭‭                      —1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

“If you can cook our food, then you are one of us,” said another missionary Sunday night, translating a proverb from the people she works amongst in Senegal.  She said they are often amazed to learn that Jesus knew how to cook their favorite meal—bread and grilled fish—which He prepared for the disciples in John 21, and that His doing so makes them feel more open to learning more about Him.

It was wonderful Sunday night to be part of celebrating the blessing and joy of including food in our outreach to others.

Biltong is so culturally important in South Africa that there are many, many stores dedicated to selling it only. This was one of two in the mall we lived near, and there was another within walking distance, plus a couple booths at the local craft market, plus several more within a few minutes’ drive, plus every grocery store and gas station.

This was the first batch I helped make, when an older South African colleague taught me the process at his house (and bought us a bag to share while making this batch). He marinated it overnight before hanging it in his garage.

I made about 15 pounds of it for our Christmas open house, and it was all gone within an hour. This box hung in our garage, with a mesh fabric to keep out flies and a fan to aid evaporation.

One of my later batches when done. Because it’s cured whole and sliced for serving, biltong has a soft, red, moist interior more akin to aged steak or prosciutto than to beef jerky, which is sliced into final size before curing and therefore harder and drier throughout.

So how do you make* biltong anyway?

Putting raw garage meat in your mouth for the first time is definitely an act of faith.

The method I learned is pretty simple:
1. take a log of raw meat (beef, venison, ostrich…)
2. season it with freshly crushed coriander seeds, vinegar, other seasonings, and SALT SALT SALT SALT SALT
3. marinate overnight
4. rinse it with vinegar and pat the meat dry
5. hang it in a well ventilated box that’ll keep flies and animals away
6. leave it hanging under a porch roof or in the barn or garage (preferably with a fan blowing on it) for as many days as it takes to dry it to your preference.
*The biltong served at Browncroft was commercially produced per USDA rules and ordered online.
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