Hierdie is die LitNet-argief (2006–2012)
This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Paul Murray - 2007-12-12
C Louis Leipoldt is associated with Afrikaans poetry. One thinks of classics such as "Oktobermaand", or "In die konsentrasiekamp". This polymath, cum universal cum Renaissance man was a fine chef. While studying medicine at Guy’s in Chelsea in London, as if he had not had enough of dissecting bodies at medical school, he went across to The Strand to wash dishes in the kitchen of the greatest of all chefs, Auguste Escoffier, at the Savoy. Quite remarkably, it was not long before he sat for his exams in cookery under the maestro and returned successful, with an international qualification in cuisine.
Where did this interest come from?
After spending his formative years in Worcester, where his father worked as a minister in the Rhenish church, the family decided to move to Clanwilliam. The Reverend Johan Leipoldt, C Louis’s father, became the Dutch Reformed minister there in 1884, and served the community until his death in 1911.
Leipoldt’s severe mother forbade her children to mingle with the town folk, thus the young Louis (actually he was called Christie then), found himself confined to the precincts of the home. He found solace in Maria, the person working in the kitchen, and he soon learnt from her the art of cooking tasty, slow-cooked food. Added to this was an intense interest in pharmacopoeias. By these he enjoyed finding out about the effects of plants as medicines, which he learnt from Outa Klaas. Experimenting with herbs in food became an avid interest.
Leipoldt writes as follows:
My friend had asked me to serve him something truly indigenous. I replied that there was no such thing as an authentically Afrikaans dish, and that all we have are some traditional methods of preparing food.
"But give me a little while," I told him. "I’ll let you know as soon as I have something good I can guarantee you’ve never tasted before!"
This was a promise I simply had to fulfil. What on earth could I offer him that was so Afrikaans he would be unable to find anywhere in Larousse, that wonderfully exhaustive encyclopaedia of food?
Should I give him wateruintjie? Alas, it was not the right time of the year. Or klipkous? But that could be had in Australia or Vera Cruz, that Cape Town-like city in the Gulf of Mexico. Or smoked ostrich egg in a parcel of puff pastry? That was a possibility, and he would definitely not find it under Oeufs in Larousse. But wait, there was something he would not find anywhere else on earth – jakkalskos.
Strolling through Clanwilliam presents many reminders of Leipoldt. In the gaol there is a little museum in his honour, how his sitting room must have looked, for instance. He used to sit and read and smoke his pipe in between writing. His visits back to Clanwilliam were to see his lifelong friend Dr Nortier, but unfortunately Mrs Nortier and CLL were not the best of friends.
The story goes that on the occasion of a visit back to his home town, CLL strolled along the main street to the residence of Dr Nortier, went into the kitchen, looked to see what was cooking, proceeded to add a few spices to Mrs Nortier’s dishes on the stove and walked out. Talk about a connoisseur!
It is one of the old residences in the Main Street of Clanwilliam that a most extraordinary dinner was held, described by Leipoldt in "The Valley" (chapter 5 of the third book, The Mask). Here follows an extract of the meal, reproduced at Achterlony, the then Newlands home of Ian and Karin Woods, prepared by Jessica Setterberg and enjoyed at the cedar wood table that used to belong to Leipoldt at Arbury where he lived before.
White bean soup, richly creamed and served with snippets of black toasted bread; a savoury stew made from the half-opened buds of the scented aponogeton; the white, pink-tinged little water lily that grew in masses on the river ponds; deliciously steamed rice with every grain separate and distinct from its fellow, fully expanded and glistening in its miniver whiteness; sweet potatoes, amber coloured, in a thin syrup; a braized muscovy duck, meltingly tender, stuffed with onions and sage; a salad cooked of beetroot, decorated with hard boiled eggs; and for dessert a baked custard with stewed dried peaches, sun-dried, and flavoured with cinnamon and the peel of tangerine orange. With the coffee, strong, subtly aromatic, for the beans had been freshly roasted and ground that afternoon, there should have been a glass of van der Hum liqueur, or at least of that rich golden muscadel whose taste lingers on the palate.
The greatest proponent of slow food in South Africa, Leipoldt, growing up in Clanwilliam in his formative years as a boy, surrounded by the stimuli that Nature provides, is a real treasure to South African cookery, in so many ways … but especially in the richness and texture of the food that the genius himself wrote about. It can well be considered a national treasure.