By day STEVE HASKINS is a businessman. After hours he fulfils his passion for growing heirloom tomatoes on an allotment in Assagay. Here he explains his love of good coffee, food and the appeal of heirloom tomatoes. Once tasted… never forgotten.
I arrived in South Africa from Europe in the mid 70’s after having fled rightwing warmongering America. Ironic to end up in South Africa you say. Well, there is one thing worse than fascist fanatics waging never ending war, and that is a European winter. The allure of the “endless summer” brought me to South Africa in spite of the perils and politics of the time. Having arrived in Johannesburg in June it was like summer compared to what I had been through in Europe. Then, after arriving in Durban in July and going for a dip in the 23C water, I decided I was going to stay and try to survive. Avocados were R1 a dozen! I will try to survive.
One of my early experiences in Durban was to go to a well-known Italian restaurant on West Street called Aldos. I had spent a year in Italy and it was there I first experienced fine dining and true coffee. Being American I had been exposed to what was referred to as “Joe” – percolator coffee served in mugs in an endless cycle of refills. It was black and watery and it was all we knew.
In Italy I first experienced traditional Italian cooking and real coffee made in a simple stainless steel espresso pot. Chalk and cheese. The bars and cafes had pressurised espresso machines, but for home the simple espresso pot was the norm.
So going out to an “authentic” family Italian restaurant in Durban I naturally was looking forward to real Italian coffee, but was shocked to be served the standard of the time, a Frisco-type coffee substitute. Disappointed, I politely called over the owner, one of Aldo’s son’s and asked him why they didn’t serve proper Italian coffee. His reply was, “we did at first but the South Africans complained and turned up their noses. So we gave them what they wanted.”
So now 40 years later South Africans have changed their tastes and few choose the chicory that was then the prefered norm.
So what does this have to do with heirloom tomatoes you ask? Well, it’s about going back to a food’s origins and discovering authentic flavours.