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Death on the Limpopo: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew. Published by Umuzi, 2019.




Tannie Maria has, at last, had the chance to travel, to places north of the Klein Karoo, where her father had lived and told his small daughter tales of adventure, of mountains and places about which she had dreamed, for many years.

But the journey was not a simple one and the destination part of a sequence of events that would tax the most resilient traveller. Tannie Maria proved to be more than equal to the task.


This title is the third in the Tannie Maria series of mysteries, the first two best-sellers that have been translated into 14 languages. Tannie Maria is a gentle character, a true foodie, an agony aunt on the local small newspaper that runs the letters she receives and her answers – which always include a remedial recipe for a bake or a nice pot of good home-cooked food. Tannie Maria carries unpleasant memories of an abusive relationship, but that’s all in the past and her boyfriend, Henk is strong and kind and a detective at the local police station. He loves Maria and tells her so, but she has not yet expressed her love for him.


Maria has helped to solve two local murders, her comfortable looks and motherly demeanour concealing a keen sense of observation and an excellent memory. But this time she is faced with a murder committed many years ago while also  coping with the murderers who are determined that their dark secrets not be revealed.


A tall dark stranger walks into her life, a black investigative journalist who was well known for her exposés of corrupt government and business deals, and an environmental and gender activist. Zaba was in danger and soon Maria was too. When Zaba revealed that the two had a special relationship, the bond between them  is sealed.

The pair had things they had to do, up north, where Maria's  journalist father had lived and worked, so she took her little bakkie  to the road for a journey filled with adventure and danger that ended at the Limpopo river, where Botswana and South Africa and Zimbabwe meet.

In this setting, scene of centuries of conflict, the drama plays out to a happy ending. There is equally happy news for Tannie Maria’s many fans – we hear that her next adventure is already taking shape.


[Just a quick question to the cooks and chefs who help to compile the recipes at the back of the book. Tannie Maria is, we know, a great cook and baker, who produces wonderful Karoo fare, from bobotie to melktert, lamb pie to malva pudding. Would she, I wonder, really want to make a cake – however special the occasion – that requires a recipe filling nearly six pages, starting with grapefruit curd, followed by meringue, followed by the layer cake followed by white chocolate “lightning” shards, held in place by mascarpone. Would she?]

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Friday July 6 2018



Two days ago, Renata Coetzee’s latest work – another striking social history dealing with early South African cuisine – was shown to the committee of the McGregor Heritage Society. Recently released, a local resident had given a copy to the Society, a gesture much appreciated. Unknown to us, the author had recently died, bringing an era of impressive and prolific research to a close.


According to the notice in today’s Cape Times, Renata was born in 1930, and certainly lived life to the full to the age of 88. Her research in to our early eating habits saw a number of titles published, and these were readable, enjoyable books, rather than dusty tomes. Her interests were not only acadaemic, but practical, as her weighty manual on creative catering proved.


But let’s backtrack for a minute, and have a quick look at her impressive career. Her initial degree in dietetics was awarded at Potchefstroom, but she received her Masters degree in home economics at Stellenbosch University. She studied food and nutrition at three universities in the US of A between 1959 and 1974 and lectured at the University of Pretoria for some years .


Her first title The South African Culnary Tradition was published in 1977, a delicious mix of social history and eating habits of the early Cape Dutch community from 1652 to 1800, with more than 100 authentic recipes. It’s a title that has always been at my side when writing about the historic aspect of our cuisine , whether for the Cape Argus, for magazines or for any of my own titles.


Her interest in the food of Southern African tribes saw intensive research being conducted over several years, at a time when this received scant coverage in English and Afrikaans cookery books. Renata’s second book, Funa, Roots of traditional African food culture was the result, and one on the customs and traditional fare of the Batswana followed.


As the new South Africa came into being, Renata was ready on the gastronomic front with a large manual containing the fruits of long labour. Cost-Consious Creative Catering was launched to provide mass-catering for every cultural taste in South Africa. In a hand-written note she told me that this ground-breaking achievement presented user-friendly recipes , with clear instructions, for caterers to provided “Africa’s Natural Nourishment” as she termed it, in portions ranging from 50 through 200 to 1000.


Here her experience as Anglo American’s Gold and Uranium division manager of dietetics and catering becomes clear, as does her decade as senior dietician for Stellenbosch university. As a commercial venture she packaged traditional ingredients like sorghum, marogo, isjingi into quick-cooking food packs for caterers and included dozens of dishes that used traditional fare, with western ingredients (pilchards, bread, cheese, salads) to produce healthy and varied menus for balanced meals.


Fast forward to 2010 when Coetzee and photographer Volker Miros launched Kukumakranka: a triumph of a title embracing Khoi-Khoin Culture, Customs and Creative Cooking. Acknowledging contributions from those who talk about Griqua and Nama diets, this precious item of Africana is dedicated to the Khoi-Khoin women, who showocase their art of cooking on these beautifully designed and illustrated pages.


Around this time Renata advised the owner and chef of Solms-Delta near Franschhoek on what to plant in their veld-food garden and what to put on the menu to reflect the fare enjoyed by the region’s early inhabitants. The results have seen travellers from across the globe sit down and try ingredients truly foreign to them, but well received in the farm’s restaurant.


I presumed that Renata was enjoying well earned retirement in Stellenbosch. What a thought! Her latest and final title is a culinary and historical swansong that will surely complete some forgotten aspects of our nutritional habits that she wrapped up quite recently. I have not yet got hold of a copy, but will do so very soon.


In the meantime, my admiration and heartfelt thanks  to this amazing lady, whose unfailing enthusiam,  talent and work lives on between the covers of her titles.


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Isn't this a great way to start the summer season in Cape Town? Alexander McCall Smith's delicious detective novels, starring the irresistible Mma Ramotswe who sorts out numerous problems from her No 1 Detective Ladies Agency in Botswana is about to be celebrated in a theatrical musical  on stage at Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, with its premiere on  October 8.


Expect issues of morality, humour and love  intertwined in the cases of fake fathers, beauty pageants and muti, which our beloved Mma Ramotswe solves, whilst building up her business with her friend and secretary Mma Makutsi–as well as falling for the comforts of motor mechanic JLB Makatini. With the back drop of the Botswana bush, the local villages, the traditional people and the great animals that live beneath Africa’s vastness, the story is brought to theatrical life by award -winning director Nicholas Ellenbogen. The music score is composed by Scotsman Tom Cunningham and Cape Town’s very own Josh Hawks (of Freshlyground).

The show runs until mid-December 2015.

Cost: R250 Booking: Webticket

For further info contact Gabrielle Palmer, Public Relations Manager, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, ph: +27 21 483-1593 or e-mail:

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