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Seasonal, ethical, irresistible collection of garden-to-table food

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Mariana’s Country Kitchen by Mariana Esterhuizen. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2015.

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It’s seasonal, down-to-earth and quite delicious. Everything you would expect from a country cook like Mariana, whose fame has had zero effect on one of South Africa’s most independent and honest cooks. It’s this honesty, unwavering culinary integrity, that has been transferred from cook to book – it permeates the attractive pages.

Mariana and Peter opened their renowned restaurant in Stanford nearly 16 years ago, and I hear you still have to wait up to three months for a table. Her heartfelt and amusing reminiscences about their first few months should be essential reading for any budding restaurateur.

Many ingredients are sourced from her extensive vegetable, fruit and herb garden, an aspect, now trendy, that is widely copied by cooks both in country and town. Local farms supply most of what she doesn’t grow herself. She sources her trout from the Kleinrivier valley, her free-range eggs from a nearby farm, fresh fish from Gansbaai harbour, free-range chickens and ducks from another farm, accepting them whenever they are available.

As vegetables and fruit ripen, so do her menus take shape, dishes that she has dreamed up, others based on those of favourite food writers like Elizabeth David and Louis Leipoldt. Many of Mariana’s creations are meat and poultry-free, without being listed as vegetarian. Most recipes are accompanied by a story, and - as autumn creeps in after a long and very hot summer –let’s take a quick peek at this section of her collection.

Pot-roasted quinces gleam from the page, followed by feathery pumpkin fritters. A Persian combination of baked brinjals and pomegranate seeds, dressed with tahini-spiked yoghurt intrigues. Chicken braised in apple cider is touched with tarragon, served on carrot mash.. Bakes consist of corn bread baked in a frying pan, bread sticks and biscotti – and don’t miss the story of how she obtained the recipe for this Italian classic. Among the autumnal preserves there is colourful atchar, inky tapenade, passionfruit curd, quince preserve and marinated sliced courgettes. Sweet treats include quince jam, plum compote and pears baked in fynbos honey and lemon juice, teamed with mascarpone or vanilla icecream.

Mariana sums up the essence of this compilation in characteristic style: “The garden prescribes and I have to keep in step to make it an enjoyable waltz on a plate. So here I share with you the way I experience life on a plate – by the season.”

Beautiful, mouthwatering food photographs by Stephen Inggs, complemented by others of locals harvesting, collecting honey, shaking olives into a basket and collecting garden produce add hugely to the book's appeal.

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