HOMEGROWN by Bertus Basson, published by Russel Wasserfall Food, Jacana Media, 2016.
It would be difficult to find a more fitting title for this collection of recipes, memories and snatches of Basson’s life. He is one of South Africa’s most down-to-earth chefs, describing himself as “an Afrikaner kid who didn’t eat his vegetables” and that the “flavours, smells and memories of growing up in South Africa make me the cook I am.”
Bertus gained immediate fame as the judge on the television show The Ultimate Braai Master, but before that had built a fine gastronomic reputation as head of the renowned Overture restaurant in Stellenbosch - along with a couple of others and a catering company. In his foreword he offers a great tribute to his wife Mareli who is as keen on cooking as he is, as curious about good food everywhere, and who he describes as his “perfect parner for this journey...”
Given the tough time that sugar is having in current health-wise diets and articles, cookbooks and television shows, Homegrown offers a nice contrast by opening with a favourite dessert in Childhood, the first chapter. It stars sugar, cream, caramel, confectionery, you name it... It’s followed by his Kos Kos salad, canned pilchards in tomato sauce teamed with lettuce, cucumber, avo, tomato and soft- boiled eggs, mayonnaise-dressed with capers adding a little sophistication. Messy and delicious, it’s another childhood staple that Basson describes as poor man’s Nicoise. This nostalgic section also offers braaied snoek, pumpkin pie, sweet mustard tongue, frikkadels, and melktert with variations.
Friends and family from his ‘hood who cook and bake star next, with Bertus featuring both the characters and their specialities. These range from bread and scones to Gatsby and peri-peri chicken, from shisanyama of mielies and braaied brisket to boerewors rolls, pies, and pannekoek. To finish, commonplace guavas get a lift with classic muscadel-spiked egg custard.
In the chapter dubbed Ingredients, things go upmarket somewhat – soft-cured biltong is served with greens, Parmesan shavings, anchovies and black olives. Whole roast lamb’s liver is paired with sorrel or parsnips and green beans, and Basson’s favourite, black mussels come with beer, bacon and seaweed. Octopus shares a plate with gnocchi and nasturtium paste.
There’s much more before the final meal, a long family Sunday lunch where slow- roasted leg of lamb and veggies are followed by his wife Mareli’s popular dessert cake, topped with figs, pecans and cream.
The text is interspersed with a great selection of relevant photographs – at the sea, in the garden, on the farm, in the kitchen. Guest cooks are photographed in action or showing off their culinary creations, and the food pictures are appetising as well.
This collection offers an enjoyable range of mostly traditional South African fare with a few twists and turns and little ceremony. The text finishes with a glossary and index. The editing could have been a little tighter here and there – ingredients missing in either the list or the method were noted, although I did not go through every recipe – but one feels that neither Bertus nor most readers will let these typos upset them