Oudtshoorn is in the dry and dusty Klein Karoo region of South Africa, which is best described as a vast and unforgiving landscape. Fortunes were made with indigenous ostriches between 1864 and 1885, when every noble lady decided she needed a feather as an accessory in her hat. Oudtshoorn was the only town that had them in abundance. The feathers became worth more than diamonds by weight, and farmers changed from food for humans to lucerne for giant birds that stand 2.5 meters tall and can weigh as much as 115 kilograms. The oversupplied market collapsed when ostrich feathers became commonplace and nobody wanted them.
The Ostrich Capital of the World
Feathers in Abundance
Demand resurfaced in 1913 when ostrich feathers were back in fashion, and were only outranked by gold, diamonds, and wool only among South African exports. Ostrich barons built themselves grand palaces. When motor cars arrived in Europe they had open tops and the feathers in gigantic hats blew away. Oudtshoorn’s moment in history was over.
Ostrich Baron Palace
Karoo farmers are tough and stubborn. They were not prepared to abandon their farmsteads and their way of life. Gradually markets developed for alternative products including ostrich skin handbags and wallets, ostrich feathers for dusting, and ostrich meat – which has the taste and texture of beef fillet, but is far healthier in terms of fat, kilojoules, protein, iron, and cholesterol. Visitors flock to Oudtshoorn every summer to visit ostrich farms, buy ostrich eggs and feathers, eat ostrich fillets in restaurants, and enjoy traditional farm stays were the view is forever.
How to Cook the Perfect Ostrich Steak
The best things in life are simple. Obtain a supply of the hardest, driest firewood you can find. Individual pieces should be as thick as your wrist. Split the larger ones and use as kindling. Allow the fire to burn down to red-hot coals. Meanwhile prepare your healthy and nutritious meat. Ostrich steak is drier than beef because there is much less fat, and you must cook it quickly.
Roll the steak in cracked peppercorns until generously covered, sprinkle a little salt and gently baste with olive oil. Place over coals hot enough to make it sizzle, and grill for four minutes a side. Allow to rest for five minutes in a warm place. Top with a rich plum sauce, your favourite béarnaise, green peppercorn and brandy sauce, or enjoy à la mode in country style. Never overcook.