The great thing about going on a guided tour is that the places you are visiting comes alive with the stories of the past and the present, through the stories of the tour guide. If you are simply sightseeing, you actually miss out on so much, sure we get a cool little picture for our Instagram account but unfortunately, I feel, that the human touch is missing. As a tour guide , I am always on the lookout for new tours to experience with other guides, even though I have visited some places in and around Cape Town many times, other guides might have a different interpretation or an interesting story, which I haven’t heard before.
Recently I was wandering and wondering around the Castle of Good Hope, a place so steeped in history and stories, it could be cut with a knife. I was hanging about the Governors old residence in the Castle of Good Hope, the residence is named De Kat, this was when I overheard one of the site guides talking about the room on the second floor of the De Kat. This second floor was and still is used as a entertainment room or banquet hall. A well-known dame of Cape Town society in the late 1700’s, Lady Anne Barnard, used to host parties up there. And if you think your little wedding was something special, well there is a table up there that seats 101 people. Yes, imagine catering a little Saturday night soiree for 101 people, well Mrs. Barnard the secretary of the Cape’s wife at the time, regularly did just that. Then again, she was also apparently the first European lady to hike up Table Mountain and expedition into the hinterland all the way to Stanford in the Cape Overberg. A lady of substance and adventure she was, the Lady Anne Barnard.
But back to my story, so the guide and his client continued talking about catering and food in those long-gone days and then something came up that was completely new to me. Spanspek, now if you are not South African, you probably don’t know what Spanspek is, well it’s the Afrikaans word for cantaloupe or rock melon.
So then how did Cantaloupe become Spanspek. The story goes that in the year 1828, a couple by the name of Smith, came to South Africa. The gentleman was Sir Henry Smith who hailed from Britain and his lovely wife, Lady Juana Maria Smith, who was from Spain. Henry who preferred to be called Harry, served the British crown as governor of the Cape Province from 1828. Sir Harry and his wife enjoyed great popularity with the local people , Xhosa as well as the Boers in the colony. The one thing the British Occupation, which started in the Cape colony in 1806 brought, except off course the English language was the well-loved English breakfast.
According to legend from the couple’s South African years, Sir Harry loved bacon and eggs for breakfast and would have it each day. Lady Juana, on the other hand, who came from a European background certainly didn’t enjoy having to eat bacon (called ‘ spek ’ in Afrikaans) every morning . She preferred cantaloupe melon for breakfast. And so, it was that in the Smith household, these melons were soon known to the staff as the ‘Spanish bacon’, or ‘die Spaanse se spek’ in their mother tongue, which was Afrikaans. Apparently, this is how rock melon got the name ‘Spanspek’ in South Africa.
Sir Harry and his lovely wife came to South Africa in 1828 and stayed in the Cape until they were ordered back to Britain in 1852. The names of several towns and places still testify to their popularity in South Africa. The story goes that when Lady Juana boarded the return ship to England she cried, and in the years to come she declared on numerous occasions that her time in South Africa was the happiest of her life.
So come and join Cape Tourism Solutions on a wonderful Historic walking tour of Cape Town, so we can discover the hidden secrets in the streets and buildings of this wonderful city. Maybe you will be like the lady Juana and cry when you board your flight back home.