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Are You Afraid of (Cooking in) The Dark?

Sometimes, living in South Africa can teach you a very specific set of skills that may not be useful anywhere else in the world – identifying proximity to herds of elephants when driving a small car is one of those skills, as is deftly dodging potholes or having an encyclopedic knowledge of rugby.

One skill that I’ve had to hone over the years, though, that is becoming increasingly important in the rest of the world, is cooking without electricity. Here in SA, we must deal with what the government has termed ‘loadshedding’, which is a sly euphemism for ‘we can’t supply enough power for the entire country, so we are scheduling power cuts instead of fixing the problem’. Grievances aside, South Africans have had to become creative when the scheduled blackouts hit around lunch or dinner time. With extreme weather events and a looming energy crisis that are having a net negative impact on American infrastructure, now might be a good time to learn how to cook a little more… creatively.

Get a Camper Stove… even if you don’t camp

In general, it pays to have a backup power source. At our house, we have an inverter, but some places have full-on gasoline-powered generators that are loud and smell terrible. However, since gas prices and accessibility seem to be the main reasons that the energy crisis is happening in the first place, let’s think a little smaller.

I use a little, portable camper stove. It’s enough to hold a single pot and can be switched on with a relatively small cannister of gas, nothing like the huge propane tanks used for outdoor barbeques. These things are incredibly energy efficient and allow you to cook simple meals quickly… even if you don’t have the luxury of an extractor or a light above it. Pastas, soups, and even more complex dishes are all achievable with these guys.

Barbeques come in handy

South African culture, to be fair, already prizes non-electricity-centric cooking with our obsession with the braai, something I think I shoehorn into my blogs as often as potatoes. Traditionally, in South Africa, braais are made over charcoal and lit by fire lighters rather than with propane like North American grills. However, either can work. If you’re cooking in decent weather (or are very intrepid), a barbeque can be pretty versatile, actually. While meat usually comes centre stage on grills, you can easily get a little creative and cook corn, roast potatoes, or even bake bread using your barbeque!

Cook for many!

One positive (if you could even call it that) of loadshedding is that in South Africa you usually know when your power is going to be cut. However, if you don’t know it, cooking a big meal is probably smart. Make use of the power and time you have to make a meal that could feed a whole army. Also, focus on something that won’t spoil quickly so that if you do have to pluck something quickly out of the fridge or freezer, you can rest assured that it’s already prepared and just needs heating up… either on a camper stove or a braai.

Sometimes, reality can be tough. Dealing with government incompetence, infrastructure failures, or just plain hurricanes are, unfortunately, part of life in 2022. What are your favourite blackout-inspired cooking tips?

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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