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Myrna Robins

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Subcategories from this category: Reviews, News, Events

Posted by on in Reviews

MY CAPE MALAY KITCHEN by Cariema Isaacs. Published by Struik Lifestyle, 2016.

 

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Unusually, this cookbook has a sub-title that precedes the main title. “Cooking for my father in” indicates the importance of the tender relationship between author and her late father. While her grandmother taught her how to cook, it was her father, recalls Isaacs, who taught her why we cook.

Her culinary interest was sparked in the family’s Bo-Kaap kitchen when, as a small child, she discovered jars of aromatic spices and was given tasks like shelling peas . Preparing food developed into a passion that endures today, as she recollects dishes she and her father cooked and enjoyed together as he shared his philosophy of the importance of cooking with love.

Opening chapters focus on bredies and Cape Malay classics such as denningvleis and mavroom. Cabbage-wrapped frikkadelle are placed on top of a mutton stew, while Cape Dutch or Afrikaans recipes nestle them in a tomato-based sauce. Either way, this sustaining comfort fare has been influenced by Indonesian heritage cuisine, along with many others.

Smoortjies star in another chapter – referring to fast meal solutions when time is short and money minimal. I like the fact that Isaacs includes humble dishes like Braised Penny Polonies (Gesmore Olap Worsies) in her book, which few others do. Onions are chopped and fried in oil, potatoes and water added, tomato paste follows, then the viennas or polonies are added to the sauce and the mixture simmered and served with fresh bread.

Curries make an aromatic section and readers can choose from mutton, mince, dal and prawn. Isaacs discusses th culture, customs and food served at times of celebration and sadness, including Ramadan. Snack fare that helps break the fast could be samoosas, daltjies , boeber, koesisters, pancakes, spring rolls and that ultimate comfort bite, pumpkin fritters. Eid sees cooks turn to biriyani, steak pies and corned beef and tongue for savoury highlights.

Contemporary recipes for working mothers break with tradition and include stir-fries, while novice cooks are encouraged to try one of Cariema’s potato and rice variations. Sweet treats include trad favourites like hertzoggies , Eid trifle and chocolate cake, along with sponge cake, kolwyntjies (cupcakes), date loaf and chocolate mousse, with lemon meringue pie making a luscious finale.

It’s been a while since we have seen a new Cape Malay cookbook – along with Cass Abrahams’ classic collection released in 1995 (and reprinted since,) Faldela Williams published two well-received titles and Zainab Lagardien added her beautifully illustrated title to the mix. In 2013 Bo-Kaap Kitchen presented a recipe treasury contributed by many Cape Malay cooks. Cariema Isaacs will renew interest (not that it has ever really flagged) to the flavourful delights of this exceptional cuisine, one that I think should be rated among the top peasant cuisines in the world.

Comparing versions of heritage classics shows that what some cooks call “the holy grail of bredies”, aka cauliflower bredie, does not feature at all on other Cape Malay menus. One bredie that everyone cooks is tomato, today a firm favourite with many South Africans – especially Afrikaans-speaking. For this, Isaacs uses no spices other than salt, and adds one green chilli. Abrahams starts hers by simmering peppercorns and cloves with onions then adds cinnamon, ginger and cardamom pods with the meat, along with green chilli . Lagardien includes green chilli plus turmeric and leaf masala. Williams adds a dry chilli, but no other spices. And so recipes vary and evolve, crossing continents , changing according to the availability of ingredients and personal tastes. This new title, a well-illustrated softback, adds much to the Cape gastronomic heritage, with added appeal in the form of an enjoyable family story.

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Posted by on in Events

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Bigger and better than ever! That’s the promise from the organisers of the 2016 McGregor Book Fair, taking place from Friday to Sunday May 20 - 22 in the village hall in the main road. Join book lovers in diarising the 10th event ( regarded as the biggest single book fair in the Western Cap) and a decade of dedicated service to rescued, retired and destitute donkeys.

This annual sale of new and used books has developed into an important event for book lovers, bibliophiles and is a major fund-raiser for the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary, just outside the village. Africana and special collection volumes get snapped up fast, so collectors should plan their trip to take in the first day.

Current novels and travel, cookery, art, gardening and lifestyle books abound, there’s also biography and a good selection of children’s titles, both new and used, on offer. The fair opens at 10h00 and closes at 17h00 but at 15h00 on the Sunday. A coffee shop makes a venue for a break from browsing and guaranteed to be among the refreshments, is, naturally, carrot cake.

The village tourism office invites book-lovers to make a weekend of it, and explore the serene surroundings of this historic village. Bikers and hikers are among the many visitors that make McGregor their weekend retreat. Contact the Tourism office on 023 625 1954.

The donkeys – around 22 of them – retired, formerly destitute and rescued animals, will benefit from the entire profits of the event. Visit them after you have done your shopping – they enjoy meeting their supporters. There is also a charming rustic restaurant and small souvenir centre at the sanctuary.

For more information on the 2016 McGregor three-day Book Fair, email info@donkeysanctuary.co.za or telephone 023 525 1593. Visit www.donkeysanctuary.co.za to read about this impressive organisation.

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Posted by on in Reviews

GIANT STEPS by Richard Peirce, published by Struik Nature, Penguin Random House South Africa, 2016. R180

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While the focus is more on the decimation of our rhino population, the elephant slaughter in Africa goes on at a truly alarming rate. Richard Peirce has penned a very readable book, largely about the lives of two elephant calves orphaned in organised culling operations, taken from their natural lives. A shorter section on elephants in captivity and the mammal’s chances of survival follows.

In the foreword Richard’s wife Jacqui wonders whether elephants have a future as truly wild animals. The human population explosion, plus a seemingly insatiable demand from China and south-east Asia for ivory points to this being unlikely, so these magnificent, intelligent animals may survive only in zoos and game parks.

In his introductory remarks Richard Peirce confirms that one elephant is being killed every 15 – 20 minutes by poachers, a nightmare that sees nearly 100 dying every day.

In 1992 little Bully ‘s mother, the matriarch of her group, was the first to go down when the family was culled all around him in the Kruger National Park . The culls were a management decision made to maintain the park’s elephant-carrying capacity. By 1994 more than 16 000 elephants had been killed.

Only Bully and two other calves survived and experienced bushman John Brooker and his partner Old Joe were on hand to take them to safety, darting them with sedatives, before lowering them into crates for their journey to Skukuza and on to a holding area and quarantine centre near Hartbeespoort dam. Finding the right milk solution was the main problem, but after this, the calves settled down and bonded with Old Joe who talked to them constantly.

Days were spent on this protected farm where they could wander to the dam and indulge in dust baths. As more Kruger Park orphans followed them, Bully, Five and Three became teachers and role models.

As Bully grew up, his charm and cheek made him a natural in front of the camera and over several years he appeared in close to 30 films and television commercials. The Brookers adhered to strict training standards and their animal welfare always took precedence. Their young son Jonathan became close friends with Bully and the boy was heartbroken when, aged seven, he had to bid farewell when Bully was sent to Elephants of Eden in the Eastern Cape.

The story of Bully’s friend Induna, born in 2003, is a less happy one. Orphaned as a baby, sold to a game reserve involved in hunting in northern Limpopo, he grew up with other elephants, living largely wild, but mistrusting humans. In 2007 he and three other youngsters were captured and sold to Elephants of Eden where he met Bully and the two bonded strongly. Induna was among those destined to be trained to take human riders, using methods unknown to the author, but at that time the NSPCA was bringing a case of alleged cruelty and abuse against the owners .

In the Tankwa Karoo the Vergnaud family spent years transforming Inverdoorn, a 10 000ha failed fruit farm into a thriving game reserve. By 2011 Damian Vergnaud wanted to add free-roaming elephants to the mix. He was offered Bully and Induna and set about organising accommodation and finding a good elephant carer, investing millions in the process. A Zimbabwean called Mishak, previously at Addo, joined the staff. After a familiarisation period in a prepared camp the day arrived when Bully and Duna (as he was now known), would walk out to a life of semi-wild freedom. With television and camera lenses trained on them the two jumbos strode out of their camp and soon vanished into the acacia trees: - Elephants had returned to the Tankwa Karoo after more than 200 years, and Inverdoorn had become a Big Five reserve.

In part two Peirce brings up the debate about whether elephants should ever be kept in captivity. To avoid injury to humans or death, total control is required, achieved by dominance and discipline. The survival of the African elephant and their population management are also discussed.

In a moving epilogue young Jonathan Brooker and his mother Jenny visited Inverdoorn during school holidays, the boy overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of seeing Bully again. The record of their meeting is memorable, and the photos proof that elephants don’t forget friends .

Richard Peirce is best known as a shark conservationist and has also written an exposé of rhino poaching. He and his wife Jacqui are nomads who spend the half the year in South Africa. Part of the title’s proceeds will be channelled to Tusk, an organisation which protects wildlife and helps alleviate poverty in 18 African countries.

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JAN - A Breath of French air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Published by Struik Lifestyle, Penguin Random House, 2016.

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There can be very few chefs who not only cook and style their gastronomic creations, but complete the process by doing their own photography.

There are even fewer – in fact, just one - South African chef-patrons who can boast of cooking, styling and photographing fare in his renowned French Riviera restaurant JAN, a venue that has just been awarded a prestigious Michelin star.

Meet Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South Africa’s first Michelin star chef, presently working his way through a hectic programme of launches, talk-shows, dinners and more in Gauteng and the Western Cape. His second glamorous cookery book, JAN, is getting star treatment, along with its author.

It’s a covetable hardback, lavishly illustrated with the chef’s photographs, both culinary and moody shots of antiques, bountiful floral arrangements, timeless French doorways and tiny balconies with curly balustrades. South African pincushions fill a small container, a touch of home in an otherwise Gallic book. Whereas The French Affair, published just three short years ago, contains much that was inspired by his mother and grandmother, this collection is sophisticated gourmet, up-to-the-minute fare, beautifully styled and presented. What adds hugely to each recipe is Jan’s generous instructions, enabling all but the most ignorant to reproduce their choice of his dishes.

From his childhood on a farm near Middelburg in Mpumalanga to the opening of his restaurant in Nice, is a story, he says, “filled with many obstacles, hard work, determination and more than a little bit of luck.” He took over a former motorbike repair shop, and dived into the world of doing business with French. As opening day grew near, Jan continued with his French classes, published his first book and shed a few kilograms. They were fully booked when they opened their doors to diners on a Saturday evening. A little later, with half the main courses yet to be prepared, a power failure led to a comedy of errors, when, Jan relates, there was only thing to do: drink a shot of your dad’s homemade mampoer, offer guests complimentary champagne, take a deep breath and regroup.

Today not only his guests but his staff come from all over the world, and his high standards of service and cuisine have brought plentiful rewards and awards.

The contents of JAN the book follow the menu formula, opening with Boulangerie, recipes for baguette and other French loaves. The Cape with its famous seed loaf, inspired by those served in a Stellenbosch restaurant where Jan had worked as a waiter is there, and another for mosbolletjies, which the French have taken to with enthusiasm. The ideas for amuse-bouche in the next section include squares of pissaladière, mini tarte tatins of fig and blue cheese, his mother’s souttert with sundried tomato jam and Charroux mustard, all easy to copy if you plan a bistro menu. Sophisticated alternatives will please ambitious cooks.

Seasonal dishes inspired by what’s available at the Nice market fill a chapter – salt-roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese crepes, shallot and orange custard, salads of glazed endive, spelt and caramelised sunflower seed and an easy roasted butternut and almond quiche. Meat and poultry are up next, starting with chicken liver and Parmesan mousse (it will be hard to improve on the liver paté in his first book, topped with a Old Brown sherry jelly). Duck, beef, pork and lamb – his lamb shanks look irresistible – precede fish and seafood. Sardines, scallops, and shellfish are given original treatment, alongside good ideas for salmon and trout. Patisserie encompasses several dessert delights – including a luxurious milk tart teamed with muscat-poached pears and quinces, perfect autumn fare for Cape hosts…

Chocaholics will hone in on Jan’s finale of berries and chocolate mousse, his pear and white chocolate hazelnut cake and a chocolate and cassis tart. Buchu sparks his version of classic madeleines with burned butter and honey, and locals will love naartjie panna cotta with white chocolate rocks. Cooking for the staff is a chapter one doesn’t often find in cookbooks but at Jan’s restaurant they can tuck into spag bol, pot-au-feu, courgette fries or a traditional Gallic banana rum and raisin rice cake before or after a busy evening’s work. Alternatively, they make themselves after-midnight snacks before heading home: these could include a banana and salted caramel popcorn smoothie, or Jan’s favourite, biltong, mayonnaise and Mrs Ball’s chutney filling a sandwich of white bread, with crinkle-cut chutney flavoured crisps on the side. Ah, clearly you cannot take South Africa out of this boy! A detailed index concludes the text.

Good food  is a popular subject in South Africa, and when a farm lad makes his mark in the glamorous Med region of the western world’s gastronomic champion, it’s a good news story indeed.

 

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Posted by on in Reviews

A CULINARY JOURNEY OF SOUTH AFRICAN INDIGENOUS FOODS [compiled] by Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Ursula Moroane-Kgomo. Published by Indiza Co-operative and Modjaji Books. 2015.

 

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Myrna Robins enjoyed the gastronomic trip through our provinces, but questions the fare included in one of the chapters.

Those following western diets may gulp at thought of a snack of salted stinkbugs fried in butter, while others – who spend as little time as possible in the kitchen – may appreciate the Swati dish Indakala,or boiled,salted peanuts. Both can be found in the second edition of a compilation of our indigenous dishes, following on the original, published in 2000 through the CSIR.

The new and intriguing collection of heritage recipes from 11 ethnic groups across South Africa, reveals that much of the fare is also contemporary, as current generations of rural cooks continue to use local ingredients and traditional recipes to feed their families.

IndiZA Foods is a Pretoria-based company headed by MD Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Operations Director Ursula Moroane-Kgomo, both high-powered businesswomen with degrees in food science, business management and considerable experience in the food industry. Both are also passionate about the preservation of indigenous culinary cultures, women empowerment and rural development. Their joint enthusiasm resulted in the publication of this worthy addition to our traditional culinary literature.

Women in the rural communities were invited to submit recipes for the food they cook daily: These reveal simple fare using local ingredients, occasionally enlivened by stock cubes, seasonings, and items like margarine. Several high schools were also involved in the project.

The compilers started in North West, with Tswana dishes and went on to Mpumalanga where Ndebele and Swati specialities were hunted down. The Free State yielded Sotho staple fare and the northern province of Limpopo saw recipes collected from Tsonga, Pedi and Venda cuisines. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa gastronomic heritage was celebrated and Kwa –Zulu Natal presented Zulu menus. From the Western Cape comes a listing described as Khoisan recipes and the final grouping is Afrikaans marked, somewhat strangely, as centred in Gauteng.

The dishes are, as one would expect, simple, largely straightforward renderings of grains, legumes and leaves, gourds and tubers, sparked by indigenous fruits and enlivened by worms and insects. Beef and chicken feature occasionally. There is not a single seafood recipe in this collection.

Perhaps because of their (comparatively) exotic nature, I enjoyed browsing through the cuisines of the northern groups in particular: Among the Pedi recipes is one labelled baobab-fruit yoghurt, a good start to the day, while Venda cooks lift their protein intake with Mashonzha (mopani worms and peanuts) and Thongolifha (stinkbugs fried in butter ). Several species of Morogo, or wild leaves are used, including Pigweed or Amarinth, Blackjack, Spider plant, pumpkin, and wild jute. Breads are uncommon, but the Tswana make Diphaphata, a flatbread using wheat flour, Ndebele cooks use brown bread flour for their steamed bread, while others are based on mealie meal. Desserts are almost non-existent although there’s a Sotho recipe for bottling peaches in sugar syrup.

I contacted the compilers to ask why Gauteng was used as a source for Afrikaans recipes and was told that they invited several groups in the Western and Northern Cape to take part, without success, so eventually resorted to finding them from Gauteng-based Afrikaners. The recipes are authentic Cape cuisine, dishes that have become South African classics.

I gazed, somewhat incredulously, at the pictures and recipes in the Khoisan section, pages where I expected to find items like shellfish, venison, ghaap, sour figs, veldkool, waterblommetjies, and perhaps drinks based on milk. Instead, there’s a Greek-style salad with feta and olives, a caramel pud and a standard white bread recipe. Liver and onions and a mutton potjie (with red wine and packet soup powder) could just pass muster but there is virtually nothing that says “Khoisan” or “Khoi-khoin” in this mini-collection. The recipes were sourced from a group of cooks in Vredendal, and I contacted one of the contributors to ask her how these came to be regarded as Khoisan. Freda Wicomb is the housekeeper at a local boarding school, and is a popular and capable cook, but she had no answer, saying this was how she cooked.

Khoisan, referring to two distinct groups of early South African inhabitants, is a term that should not be applied to their cuisines, as they were very different. The Bushmen, or San were hunter-gatherers while the Khoi were herders. The latter group’s culinary and cultural heritage has been well researched, by fundis such as Dr Renata Coetzee whose brilliant book Kukumakranka presents an exhaustive discussion on the subject. Ingredients used in the past can still be found today, and cooks of both Griqua and Nama descent use veldkos in their potjies, and make askoek, potbrood and vetkoek, as did their forbears.

I suggested that the compilers also contact Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms Delta’s Fyndraai restaurant, whose Heritage menu includes Khoe-Khoen breads, waterblommetjie soup and desserts starring herbs like buchu, for their next edition.

Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga assures me this section will be more authentic and will also include Cape Malay cuisine. Sadly we will have to wait until 2024 for the new edition.

Meanwhile, this title, illustrated with photographs of many of the recipes, is well-indexed and includes information on many of the ingredients unknown to western cooking. The book is endorsed by the SA Chefs Association and supported by the Department of Arts and Culture.

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