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Reviews

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The two titles reviewed here are  publications that will delight many readers, more particularly armchair historians, battlefield enthusiasts, Overberg lovers and travellers who like researching their holiday destinations both before and after their visits.

 

 

Guide to Sieges of South Africa by Nicki von der heyde. Published by Struik, 2017.

 

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Not only is this the perfect pocketbook for the legions of battlefiedl buffs who plan their trips around battlefields of Southern Africa, but it's written with such professional enthusiasm that it will surely draw new supporters to the fascinating  stories of the sieges that accompanied wars over two centuries.

This guide is a companion volume to van der Heyde's Field Gjuide to the Battlefields of South Africa which proved a highly successful publication. This specialist guide presents detailed descriptions of 17 sieges that occurred during the Cape Frontier, Anglo-Zulu, Basotho and Anglo-Boer wars. 

Some are well-known to most South Africans - such as the sieges of Lydenburg, Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith. Others less so - I didn't know that Durban had been besieged in 1842 nor had I read about those at Mount Moorosi in what was then Basutoland or the sieges of Fort Cox and Fort Armstrong in the Eastern Cape.

As public fascination with sieges continues, it's good to have a well-qualified historian who is also a woman in the male-dominated battlefield-guiding fraternity turn to writing on her subject. Not only does she present a very readable text, but includes personal stories of heroism and heartbreak that are part of every battle and siege. As the writer points out, with sieges civilians were freqently involved, and some of them kept diaries recording their hardships and personal experiences both tragic and humorous. 

 The pages are brought to even greater life by maps, timelines, many old and some new  photographs that accompany human interest stories gleaned from diaries and letters and records of the time. 

The detailed and professional index compiled by Emsie du Plessis adds considerably to the book's usefulness as a reference tool.

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HERMANUS by Beth Hunt. Published by Struik Travel & Heritage, 2017.

 

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With a subtitle listing Whales, Wine, Fynbos and Art, readers get an immediate picture of what to expect in this appealing hardback with its front and back cover photographs of the town's iconic old harbour.

As one expects in a publication like this, the gallery of fine photographs by Johann and Kobus Kruger play a major role in illustrating both the natural and manmade beauty of the town and surroundings, its people and many attractions.

Chapters on tourist drawcards like whales and sharks are given much space, as is the art scene which thrives there in  all its diversity.The cliff path, and the equally famous Fernkloof Nature reserve and other sources of floral wealth are featured,

 as is the equally lovely Hemel-en-Aarde valley which not only stirs the aesthetic senses but also offer fine New World wines from a number of farms that form one of the most bewitching wine routes in the Cape - and the world.

The fascination of the the past is well-captured taking us back to the time when the Khoi met the first Dutch settlers and a teacher and shepherd made the clifftops near a freshwater spring the site of his summer camps for his sheep. Hermanus Pieters died  in 1837 and was destined to lend his name to the site which became known as Hermanuspietersfontein.

The stories of the shipwrecks on the coast, of the famous long-established hotels  also make fascinating reading, as does the lure of game-fishing. Current tales take in more recent developments, around new suburbs that have sprung up and new communities settled there, adding to the enormous diversity that makes the town and surrounds so attractive to both permanent residents and holiday visitors. 

 

Well-researched and written this is a charming and informative title for both locals, visitors and those planning to make their way to the whale capital of the world.

 

 

 

 

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When the pile of healthy eating/diet/Banting/superfood cookbooks on my study table threatened to keel over, it was clearly time to tackle the range of diets they recommended. Looking back over my decades as a food writer, I lived through a fair number of diets, fads, claims and crazes, good, bad and indifferent, some of them extreme. They came, they flourished, then faded while most sensible people carried on eating moderate portions of a good, varied diet to maintain good health. Of them all, I have always fancied the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle worth following.

I recall the Mayo Clinic diet that seemed heavy on hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit, with halitosis a common side effect. Then the sugar scare where everyone – not just those overweight - tried to cut out sugar completely and the Sugar Board spent much time and money on telling South Africans that sugar was OK – it offered energy  and had been eaten by humans for many centuries.

The salt scare was next, and as people struggled to enjoy their meals without salt, pretending that crushed dried herbs made a good substitute, others guiltily dropped salt into their vegetable water while cooking even if they left the salt cellar off the table. Butter became an enemy when the focus switched to cholesterol and margarine manufacturers scored big time. (Butter, now unaffordable to most, is now a Banting hero.) How many remember the grape diet which had followers crunching on pips, skins and even leaves off the vine, to be replaced by the avocado diet, which pleased the marketing staff of that particular board no end. And so it went, although none of those has probably had the same influence as the so-called Banting diet of recent years.

With the increase in diabetes among South Africans, a low-carb diet seems to be most beneficial for sufferers, with Vickie de Beer’s family - as reported in her cookbook – offering impressive proof . For those who are over-weight because they eat too much and the wrong food, the jury is still out... But here are some recent titles in our bookshops for readers, cooks and slimmers to digest and compare.

MY LOW CARB KITCHEN  by Vickie de Beer. Published by Quivertree, Cape Town and also available in Afrikaans.

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Vickie is an experienced, professional and popular food writer among both English and Afrikaans readers. Nine years ago her eight-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a potentially life-threatening condition. His parents followed the advice of both doctors and dietitians,  putting him on a low-GI wholegrain diet, with some success but when Vickie read Tim Noakes’ first diet book, The Real Meal Revolution and complemented this with articles by an American physician, the family changed their diet to one of low- carb food, sans all starches, sugars, processed and refined wheat products and processed foods. The results were impressive as their son responded positively, and she reports that the whole family has benefitted on every level, from mood to sleep patterns, energy levels, digestion and improved concentration.  She offers advice on how to achieve this major change of diet, replacing carbohydrate foods with proteins, fats and fibrous vegetables. No more takeaways, ready made supermarkets foods, cook- in sauces and pre-mixes, but plenty of full cream yoghurts, cheese, butter... she offers a weekly meal plan, a supermarket shopping list, and suggests weaning the family off sweetness rather than indulging in artificial sweeteners. The recipes are often aimed to produce leftovers  - roast two chickens at a time – for busy weekday suppers, while bolognaise recipes feature extra veggies, and form the base of cottage pie (topped with cooked mashed cauliflower), crustless quiches, or moussaka. Almond flour and ground sunflower seeds substitute wheat flour in pastry.

School lunches proved a challenge – but there is a delicious section of alternatives to sandwiches and packet chips. In all this is an exceptional cookbook for families coping with a diabetic where the experience of the de Beer family is sure to help and inspire .            

500 low-carb dishes by Deborah Gray. Published by Struik Lifestyle.

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This series of small, fat 500 -recipe compendium is both successful and very useful, no matter what subject they cover. The basic recipes, plus a number of variations offers the cook more choice than found in conventional cookbooks. I have always found the recipes to be of a high standard and those in this title are no exception. They have been designed for a low-calorie/ low-carbohydrate diet and aim to show that it’s not difficult to eat healthy, easily- prepared and tasty food without having to resort to faddy foodstuff or strange concoctions that usually cause dieters to abandon their diets pretty rapidly.

Calorie and carbohydrate counts are given for every recipe. Sugar is regarded as the main culprit behind the increase in obesity around the world – these recipes contain little or no-added sugar and a few of the dessert recipes use sugar replacements. Fats have been cut to a minimum in this collection to reduce calorie counts, unlike in Banting recipes, and portion sizes are recommended ( which I regard as so important, but often neglected). From breakfasts to sweet treats these well illustrated suggestions present a wealth of appetising choices for early starts, packed lunches, skinny snacks and complete meals.

THE MIDLIFE KITCHEN by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice, published by Mitchell Beazley, London, 2017.

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I approached this book with some scepticism partly because the two authors, featured on the front cover, look far too young to know what those from 50 to 70- plus want from the kitchen. But I’m happy to admit that this is an intriguing collection of recipes for senior readers ready to change culinary direction and eat fare that helps meet the changing needs of elderly bodies. I learnt a new word from the introduction: “nutri-epigenetics” which has become a major focus of scientific enquiry, as certain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals have found to be powerful potentials for reducing the risk of age-related disease.

Many older people are cutting their meat intake, lowering consumption of processed food, eating consciously to protect their bodies and the environment. This book, say the authors capitalises on this process, often inspired by the culinary traditions of Bali, Japan, Peru, India and the Mediterranean, all of which have  long acknowledged the symbiosis between health and nutrition. We apparently need a lean protein, moderate amount of slow-burn carbohydrates, plenty of gut-friendly probiotics, green leafy veg and legumes.  The book aims to make these as tasty as possible.

An unusual rating is the use of a star anise logo where each petal is a different colour, and each colour represents a health factor such as digestive health, energy boosting, bone and joint health, heart health, mind, memory and mood etc. Recipes are rated accordingly.The recommended ingredients in the midlife larder include a wide choice of fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs grains, nuts and seeds.  Only yoghurt and eggs in the dairy slot, only olive oil in the cupboard, and dark chocolate makes the list.

The recipes open with recommended mixes of spices, raw seeds, granola, dukkah , salad dressing, curry paste, a sugar-free sweetener and more. These are frequently used ingredients in the recipes that follow. Some recipes will take readers aback, others are familiar enough: Take the breakfast section – a yoghurt topped with citrus segments and pistachios, sweetened with a little honey and spiced with a few saffron threads will tempt western palates.  An oriental option suggests a dish of sweet and salty Balinese black rice, cooked in coconut mil, sweetened with date syrup and finished with the addition of seasonal fruit.

You will find seafood and chicken in the main course section but red meat is very scarce.  Sugar makes a rare appearance. This hardback is well illustrated and is as appetising as it is informative.

JUMP ON THE BANT WAGON by Nick Charlie Key published by Human & Rousseau, 2017. Also available in Afrikaans.

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A self-explanatory title and one on which first-time cookbook writer, regular blogger and Banting devotee Key expands as he shares 90 recipes that are low in carbs, gluten- and sugar-free and aimed at those on a budget. He lost 22kg on this diet after getting a wake-up call from his doctor reporting high insulin levels. He was 29. He also reports other health benefits,

The recipes will appeal to those who enjoy snack fare and fast food as Key has spent time creating equivalents that follow Banting principles. Think onion rings with sour cream dip, garlic butter prawns,  sweet potato nachos, cauliflower ‘pizza’ bases, ‘burgers’, tacos and crustless quiches. He uses xylitol extensively in his desserts and bakes and almond and coconut flour instead of wheat flour.

The subtitle proclaims “Quick and easy on a tight budget “ – I find little evidence of low-cost ingredients in his recipes – just the opposite in most cases.

DELICIOUS LOW CARB by Sally-Ann Creed, published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.

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The writer first leapt into prominence as a co-author of The Real Meal Revolution which started the Banting diet craze and the hullabaloo between Prof Tim Noakes and his detractors.

This new collection of low-carb, gluten-free, sugar-free recipes offer those already on a LCHF diet further culinary choices, It combines eye appeal with all the dishes that most families cook, including sauces and trendy pestos from ingredients like nasturtium leaves.  Pizza and quiche bases from coconut flour resemble traditional wheat flour ones. There’s a baby potato salad – surprise! – as she says our gut flora need resistant starch now and then.

Creed seems to concentrate on Banting-style versions of those goodies that most families love, therefore are hard to give up – finger foods,breads and pizzas , snacks, cakes cookies and desserts. There are also chapters with soups, breakfast, and main courses, and sides (which seems the preferred term today for veggies and salads). I think that nutritionists are focussing on making items like bread and pastry resemble traditional flour recipes, both in appearance and taste. Some of the early Banting loaves tasted pretty awful and were a (pricy) pain to make

iIn her introduction she relates how this diet enabled her to give up the numerous medicines she had been taking for chronic asthma. Her other culinary titles, also recommend  banning sugar, seed oils, margarine and microwave cooking . In one cookbook she bans all grains as they “...have a devastating effect on the intestines and digestive system in general... fattening, make you sluggish and lethargic...” all of which is unlikely to go down well with a few billion Asians who consume rice twice daily.

Creed describes herself as a FINT or Functional Integrative Nutritional Therapist, which – dare I say this – I find somewhat over the top. However, as a successful clinical nutritionist in private practice, she finds joy in “seeing lives changed daily”.

HOW TO EAT BETTER  by James Wong, published by Mitchell Beazley, London, 2017.

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It’s taken a cookbook written by a Kew-trained botanist, science writer and broadcaster to really tickle my tastebuds. Wong’s obsession with food equals his love of plants, which has seen him present BBC programmes like Grow Your Own Drugs and publish best-sellers on similar subjects.

He maintains that the recent advice to ban everyday foods like wheat, dairy and potatoe -, in fact most affordable staples - is not the only way to eat and be healthy. He focuses on careful selection, storage and cooking of your ingredients which can make a huge difference to the nutritional value they yield. And he stays with the more traditional advice that eating lots of fruit, veg, and whole grains, and going easy on the red meat, fat and sugar, are the best ways to go.

Some of his advice we have known about for some time – don’t refrigerate tomatoes, and cook them to get more nutritional benefit. Cooking also does this for carrots, squash and sweet potato.  Avoid processed foods, favour organic, local and seasonal produce.

When faced with the current insistence that we should all switch to a low-carb regime, Wong gently points out that diets based on complex carbohydrates pre-date the modern rise of diseases like obesity and diabetes by tens of thousands of years. In fact the total portion of carbs in many diets has actually fallen in recent years. And, very simply, all human civilisations evolved eating carbo-rich foods, grains especially, as their key energy source because these crops yield maximum calories per minimum land areas. 

Starting with vegetables Wong deals with the health benefits of each, tells us how to store them and cook them for maximum benefits. Which of the cabbage family for example, offers the ability to stop call-damaging free radicals that associated with developing cancer?

Cooking tomatoes more than doubles the quantity of bright red lycopene  in the fruit, also making it easier for us to absorb this antioxidant which is thought to lower risk of stomach and lung cancers. Good to see fruit praised after reading Banting books, such as bananas (“enjoy in all the ways you know and love”) but also trying cooking green bananas (a recipe for Singaporean green banana curry follows.) Grains and  pulses follow, along with discussions on the benefits of various teas, coffee, chocolate and alcohol.   How to make any food a superfood is the claim on the front cover of this hardback.  Living in a country like ours, with abundant sunshine that allows us to produce so much of our foodstuffs locally makes his advice that much easier to follow.

 

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Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa, by Ishay Govender-Ypma. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.

 

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An important culinary addition to our indigenous literature was celebrated with the launch of this impressive hardback, its gold design and lettering on the front cover adding decorative gravitas to the contents within. The endpapers inspire with little bowls of spices, pounded and powdered, to be mixed into the aromatic collection that will flavour the veggies, meat, fish and  poultry that simmer in a variety of pots across our country.

Journalist Ishay added a note to reviewers that arrived with the book, telling us of the fulfilling year she spent travelling to towns and townships, cities and farms across South Africa in search of every version of curry that is served up by our diverse communities. She enjoyed great hospitality, entered into an exploration of our past, and unearthed an extraordinary collection of stories and recipes to present to readers in this treasury. As is increasingly becoming common with current South African cookbooks, the stories often centre around hardship – from poverty and more often about suffering under apartheid laws, homes lost under the Group Areas act even as family cooks continued to make food, stretching ingredients, and keeping treats for special occasions.

Close to 90 recipes share the pages between the fascinating story of curry, related by cooks and experts, in every corner of the country. Crab curry from KwaZulu-Natal,. Cape Malay chicken curry, curried offal  from the Northern Cape, beef from Gauteng townships. You will find Karoo venison curries, lamb for the kerkbasaar, and curries featuring vegetables and fruits that are worth contemplating – and not only by vegetarians.

We follow Ishay’s journey through all nine provinces of South Africa. Indian home cooks predominate, unsurprisingly, in every region except for the Western  Cape where we find residents who specialise in Cape Malay cuisine, well-known cook and author Sydda Essop, weskus family cook Lenora Farmer from Paternoster, renowned spice guru Cass Abrahams, Afrikaans creative cook Inez Espost and an English-speaking restaurateur in Knysna who presents the only Thai curry in the book – the final recipe! Also featured is Emily van Sitters of Franschhoek who  I met when collecting recipes for a Cape cookbook way back when. She shared her recipe for seafood masala bobotie, still the finest bobotie dish ever  tasted.

The many black cooks, mostly women, use fewer spices in their curries, although some, like Lisbeth Mametja, of North Sotho origin, living in Hoedspruit, cooks a mean Indian curry thanks to working at game lodge with a chef from  Mumbai. Along with mutton, lamb and many chicken curries, there is a fine selection of meat-free recipes, where veggies, fruit,  pulses, soya, nuts and paneer star, along with  some interesting seafood curries. The recipes conclude with a selection of side dishes to complement curries, including roti, samp, sambals,pickles and atchars.-

This compilation is  set to become a South African classic, and one which even novice cooks can buy knowing that the recipes were all re-tested by Ishay’s husband to make sure they would be in safe hands when trying out a new dish. Now there’s dedication worth acknowledging!

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A BITE OF LATIN AMERICA by Susie Chatz-Anderson. Published by Human& Rousseau, Cape Town, 2017.

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A collection delectable in every aspect, and one that fills a gap in culinary literature as well. There has been little in the way of comprehensive cookbooks covering Latin America on our bookshop shelves for years, and none, as far as I know, written by a local..

Now we have Susie’s delightful gastronimic diary , a very readable account of the year she and husband  Mike spent travelling through Mexico and South America, in a quest for the best taste trips. Or rather that’s what she wanted, while he  spent the time hunting down the best kite-surfing sites.

They resigned their office jobs, stored their possessions and bought two air tickets, waving goodbye to Susie’s mother who, we are told, feared for her daughter’s life every day!

In choosing Latin America, they embraced cuisines where Maya, Aztec, Inca, Spanish and Portuguese contributions mix and meld, followed by more recent influence from Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Europe.

Mexico was the first destination, and a good choice seeing that their fare is rated as one of the finest peasant cuisines in the world. They found more meat in the north, seafood at the coast, spicy vegetable and chicken in the south.  Favourite Mexican meals were breakfasts, which included rice, beans and avocado with their morning eggs. Her chorizo omelette is a dish that’s perfect for a winter brunch, and tortilla-wrapped fish with salsas is  an appetising informal lunch suggestion. Gorditas – corn pockets with saucy fillings – make a great alternative to pitas,  add some Margaritas and you have an easy way to feed guests.

They headed south to, Guatemala,  a country whose cuisine is not well-pubicised. Plantains, rice and beans and salads are featured, while Nicaraguan more pork chops -  well laced with rum and finished with cream and green peppercorns  - are starred along with a saucy chicken pie that looks worth a try. I also like the Atolillo, described as a chilled rum custard, and it reminds me of melktert filling garnished with boozy sultanas.

More rice with beans, this time cooked in coconut milk, from Costa Rica and a similar version, without the beans, sweetened  and spiked, for dessert. From Columbia, chilli salsas,  Spanish-style omelettes and green apple and mint lemonade. On to Ecuador, where our adventurous couple savoured prawns ceviche and a potato and peanut stew with tofu and discovered countless varieties of Andean potatoes.

The author’s description of places and people in Peru are fascinating, the cuisine – indigenous dishes of Inca origin touched by Spanish influence, equally so. Her version of Causa  Limena illustrates this well – Peruvian potato, avocado, tomato and tuna layered stack – and makes a summery lunch.  For wintry days, their vegetable and quinoa soup  makes a colourful and nutritious meal. Husband  Mike’s favourite dish was Peru’s signature beef stir-fry, Lomo Saltado.

By way of contrast, the sophistication and diversity of Brazil’s fare was absorbed and relished  with delight. Recipes include cheese bites,prawn pie,upside-down banana cake (a breakfast special)  and Caipirinha, the  country’s signature cocktail.

From their final destination, Argentina,  Susie brought home recipes for Empanadas (beef and onion pies), a leek, sage and bacon bake, layered vegetable  tart,  the famous Chimichurri salsa and the Argentinian version of Dulce de Leche, caramel which is used in cakes, puds and cookies such as Alfajores, recipe given. The recipes finish with some good coffees, followed by a detailed index. Susie’s great travel photos add much interest, while the food shots are sumptuous, and beautifully styled.

What’s really appealing is the way the author suggests substitutes for exotic ingredients and alternatives and additions to the original dishes. Just the sort of helpful advice that every cook, beginner and experienced, appreciates. That and a down-to-earth modesty, an attractive trait that is by no means guaranteed in current cookbook-cum-diaries.

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THE GREAT SOUTH AFRICAN COOKBOOK, published by Quivertree Publications, Cape Town, 2016.

 

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Less than a fortnight to Mandela Day 2017, when South Africans, both individuals and teams from institutions, companies and a myriad organisations, will give up 67 minutes, or a  day, a week or more to do good in their communities and help alleviate poverty in some way.

 

 This handsome hardback was published last year, elicitng great  reviews for all those involved in its production. On  the final  page, number 372, an announcement in small print states that the Nelson Mandela Foundation  “will receive all royalties from sales... to develop and support community food and agricultural projects to aid in the upliftment of the impoverished through food sustainability and empowerment.”

 

Now, as July approaches, it’s a good time to remind potential purchasers about this generous gesture – anyone looking for a comprehensive cookbook that presents a treasury of recipes for fare found in the kitchens of our diverse communities could hardly do better than snap up  this culinary compendium. Add to that the feel- good, do -good  aspect of your purchase, and you may want to buy an extra copy for someone special in your life.

 

First, a little about the book production: As one expects from Quivertree, this is a great book to hold and admire, from its innovative and trendy  cover to Toby Murphy’s delightful photographs on the endpapers.  Plenty more wonderful images  of food and cooks throughout the book, taken in food gardens, fishing boats,on farms, in kitchens, restaurants and homes. And, almost without exception, every personality looks as cheerful as can be, which is pretty inspiring! There’s a glossary of terms used, a detailed index which precedes a second one, arranged by categories like baking , dressings, gluten- free and main courses, and a list of contributors. Several sponsors are also thanked.

 

The contributors of recipes  are, to quote the cover “...our finest cooks, chefs, bakers, farmers, foragers and local food heroes.” They also represent an intriguing mix of entrepreneurs from every corner of the land, each with their own  story and culinary specialities. Many hail from the Western Cape and Gauteng is also prominently in the picture, but after that the locations thin out to a few from KwaZulu-Natal, just two from the Free State and a few from the Eastern Cape. A lone cook from the Northern Cape shares this status with one from Limpopo province, while the North-West and Mpumalanga are not ignored. Down south the Garden Route features, but the Overberg is practically bypassed , which, given the gastronomic talent in the Elgin and Stanford areas, is surprising.

 

 The recipes cover the basic fare and classics of the major South African cultural groups, and there is a strong emphasis on greens and fresh produce, raw ingredients, and foraging, which is both trendy and health-giving.

An unexpected shortage of soups – just three – when you consider how many of us regard sustaining vegetable and meat soups, thickened with pulses, as essential survival fare. At the other end of the menu,  just one ice-cream makes the grade: admittedly a delicious recipe from brilliant chef Franck Dangereux, but again, South Africans regard ice-cream , preferably homemade, as a given during the hot months, whether inland or along our coasts.

Turning to main courses, it seems a pity that no ostrich dish is included, a meat so important to the Little Karoo farmers and townsfolk. The inspiring local and seasonal fare from the plains of Camdeboo in the Great Karoo should have a place in this book – but then, perhaps they were approached, one doesn’t know. Or maybe it was simply a case of space running out - the line had to be drawn somewhere!

 

 But with 360 pages of appetising, colourful, diverse gastronomical temptations, there is more than enough to digest and try out to keep keen cooks and bakers busy for years. This is by far the most comprehensive South African culinary title ever published, and for this reason alone, is a cookbook everybody who has an interest in food, should possess.

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