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