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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The South African Food Scene

Paul Murray - 2010-06-24

On the historic occasion of the FIFA 2010 World Cup thousands of foreigners are currently flooding our local scene. At some or other time there will be those who will want to know more about what is really local and lekker when it comes to eating. And there will be places here and there where they will get a taste of it. But they will never get it as good as the cognoscenti know how to prepare it and serve it up. I suppose it is much the same for every country and its traditions of regional cooking.

Peter Veldsman, Cass Abrahams and SJA de Villiers, together with C Louis Leipoldt (posthumously), were recently bestowed high honour for their great contributions to food writing in South Africa. The legendary Veldsman commented that it is the first time that food culture has received the recognition it should (in South Africa). Veldsman says the first awards for cookery were made way back in France in 1478.

Figure 1. Peter Veldsman serves Cass Abrahams in his restaurant, Emily’s, at the Clock Tower, Waterfront. Both were honoured by the ATKV as “Afrikone” (Africons) recently at a ceremony for their great contributions to food writing in South Africa.
Photo: Lulama Zenzile (Die Burger)

See the article online here and in Die Burger of 30 May 2010.

SJA de Villiers’s book on cookery is considered in many quarters the “bible” of South African cooking. It was first published in 1951 and continues to appear in bookstores. Cook and Enjoy it, as the English translated title reads, is filled with recipes which are typically South African, written in an easy-to-follow style, including colour photographs.


Figure 2.
Cook and Enjoy it by SJA de Villiers is a wonderful book filled with recipes which are typically South African! All the recipes are written in an easy-to-follow style and some include colour photographs.
Image source

Cass Abrahams, the doyenne of, and leading authority on, Cape Malay cookery, has produced her own cookbook. Today Abrahams is “known worldwide for her cookbooks and expertise on the food culture of the Cape Malay community in the Western Cape”.

“Spices are the words with which Cass Abrahams tells the bittersweet culinary tale of her adoptive Cape Malay community and she is determined that the world should know, and taste, their rich and delicious history.”

For the full article click here.

Figure 3.
Cass Abrahams, South African Chef Extraordinaire
From: www.cookinthecape.com

Figure 4. Cass Abrahams's book on Cape Malay Cookery
Image source


Figure 5.
Peter Veldsman and Cass Abrahams at Emily's, Peter's restaurant at the Clock Tower
Image source


C Louis Leipoldt (died 1947) was honoured posthumously at a recent ceremony for his great contribution to food writing in South Africa.


Figure 6.
C Louis Leipoldt - Medical doctor and chef
Image source

Leipoldt loved writing about food and below is an extract from one of his books, The Mask, in which he describes a typical meal that one would find cooked up for a household in early 20th-century rural South Africa – one of those meals the FIFA tourists will never find in any local restaurant; not today, since it would take ages to prepare.

The big house had dined early, true to its custom on Lodge evenings. It had been a family dinner and Santa had enjoyed the intimacy of it, as she had enjoyed similar dinners since her return from Europe. Mother had sat at the end of the big cedarwood dining table facing father at the opposite end and she had sat between them, a vast expanse of empty space on either side of her and a long length of table in front of her. Ayah Mina, an excellent cook, had served a meal worthy of her culinary skill, a simple, well-cooked dinner such as the old master delighted to eat because it not only pleased the palate but pandered also to his nationalistic taste. Home-baked bread, crisp-edged and loose in the crumb, made from farm wheat ground between stone rollers by the homemade machinery in some oak-shaded farm mill-house where the water splashed monotonously over the slits of the big wooden wheel and the big tarantula spiders twinkled their diamond eyes from between the cobwebs dusty with the powdered flour; 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 of cooked beetroot, decorated with hard-boiled eggs; and for dessert a baked custard with stewed 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. But the big house tolerated no strong drink, and it was Elias’s boast that in his cellar there was only ginger beer and vinegar.

In fact, one evening several Leipoldt fans decided to prepare a replica of the meal. The results were phenomenal, and the food was really good.

Figure 7. A serving on Leipoldt's cedarwood table one cold night in 2002 at Ochterlony, the Newlands home of Ian and Karin Woods, where the dinner was held – this is the dinner described in the extract in this article (see above).  It was prepared by Jessica Setterberg and enjoyed among friends. (Chapter 5 of The Mask by C Louis Leipoldt)
Photo: Anne Emslie


For more on Leipoldt the writer/chef click here .

It is a tribute to Peter Veldsman, Cass Abrahams, Mrs SJA (Ina) de Villiers and C Louis Leipoldt that they be honoured in such an appropriate way as they recently were by the ATKV.
Of course it is rather sad that visitors to South Africa usually get only a glimpse or taste of the true South African cookery that, through the legacy of Veldsman, Abrahams, De Villiers and Leipoldt, will live on in cookery books and in some of the homes of South Africans and also, of course, in some of the restaurants and eateries in this country, where they are to be found.
Floreat South African cookery in its broadest possible way to include the many rich influences and cultures of our rainbow nation.