Food brings back memories and these are the latest cookbooks from local shores to add to that national cuisine heritage. Diane de Beer reviews:
Onthou Kos by Heleen Meyer (Lapa Uitgewers, R160)
Sadly, this one is available only in Afrikaans, but it's no surprise that it has won a Gourmand prize for a first book.
It's a great idea in a country that is still battling with a food identity or, perhaps more importantly, not putting enough value on its own. We make these dishes in our own kitchens, yet there are few restaurants that go the nostalgic route without opting for the obvious.
Onthou Kos points to nostalgia. In fact, the author speaks in her foreword about nostalgic childhood meals made by grandmothers.
If you had to ask your mom to make something, what would it be? This is a question asked by contributors. Two of the favourites were tomato stew and pampoen koekies (pumpkin fritters, kind of).
But still, we could make a start in the vocabulary and develop a local cross-cultural food language. That would go a long way towards forging a national cuisine.
Focusing on Afrikaans-speakers and going to different areas of the country to find recipes, different area foods emerged.
Many of the recipes were used exactly as they have been through the centuries and others were given a modern twist. Think bokkoms in tomato sauce with mieliepap, or mussel and fish soup, sardine casserole, silt, pork neck with sage and apricots, sausage and beans with basil, pancakes, pea soup with smoked pork, Cape Malay koeksisters the list goes on.
It's as much a book about the people as their food. Atta Jantjies of Piketberg, who lives on the farm Kleinkloof, talks about her love of meat because she comes from Calvinia. Lizzie Jules of Calitzdorp has her own special way of making bread. Lena Vergotine of Swellendam is the head chef at the Jan Harmsgat kitchen and her favourite is broccoli and cauliflower with a cheese sauce.
These are only some of the stories, but the thing that the book captures so well is the way food makes memories.
Reuben Cooks - Food is Time Travel by Reuben Riffel (Quivertree Publications, R330)
Those who know about chefs will be familiar with the name Reuben Riffel, regarded as one of the best chefs in the country.
This 34-year-old SA culinary sensation grew up in a small dorpie, yet his award-winning restaurant, Reuben's, in Franschhoek, is fast becoming one of the best-known food and wine destinations in the country. (Margot Janse van Rensburg's Le Quartier has just been named the top restaurant in Africa.)
Reuben describes himself as an instinctive chef who uses the freshest produce to create dishes that combine the flavours of his childhood with the latest cooking techniques learnt on his travels around the globe's culinary capitals.
He notes that you have to cook with your own palate and everyone's memories are different.
"Things can come together and create a time warp," is how he expresses his food phenomenon. In his restaurant, the menu is compiled daily and it depends on the produce he finds on the day.
Being a cook means being open to the opportunities presented by fresh, unexpected produce and knowing what to do with it, he believes. His advice is to buy what's in season and then decide what to prepare.
The book returns to his roots as he explains where his food flair comes from. This is how he pays tribute to his family and the way they paved his path to fame and fortune.
Only when he has told his story do you get to the food and it then starts making sense.
The food is sophisticated but not unachievable and for those who like being adventurous about their menus, this is a fantastic option.
Tortoises and Tumbleweeds - Journey through an African Kitchen by Lannice Snyman (Lannice Snyman Publishers, R325.50)
If you don't know the name Lannice Snyman, you're not familiar with the local food world. Here she puts it all into the melting potjie, flavours as well as a personal stamp, as she travels the country to introduce a broad spectrum of cooks and bridge a culinary divide. It has already picked up a travel award from Gourmand, but is up for more.
She wanted to share the history, cuisine and culture of this country with recipes that are true to their origins. Some reflect a fusion of flavours and many are from way back when. All of them are personal favourites of the author that have been tweaked for the modern kitchen.
If you look at the books on this page, there's a nostalgia that captures where the country comes from. For far too long, authors seem to say, we've neglected our past. There are many ways of looking back, not all of them in anger. And in this way we can create some warm and lingering memories of our past.
This book, which was a winner at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, does the full spectrum. Whether you know South African cuisine or not, you will learn something and pick up some amazing kitchen craft on the way.
The look is clean, the pictures plentiful and attractive, but more than anything, what you have here is some serious substance travelling through all the regions of our blessed country.
She pretty much covers it all.
Prickly Pears and Pomegranates - Local, Organic and Seasonal Food from the Plains of the Camdeboo by Bernadette le Roux and Marianne Palmer (Quivertree, R345)
The book notes that this is a way of life and when you read the line about organic and seasonal food and its place of origin, it conjures up images of days gone by. One thinks of gentle days with food that comes from the earth, bowls spilling over with produce from the land and dishes that are all about flavour.
But it is also about family, and in this instance the Palmer women who have lived in this region of the Great Karoo for more than a century. The recipes have been garnered from six generations of the family and each of them has brought unique elements and influences to the Karoo flavours we know today.
You cannot say it better than the writers themselves: this is a book about food that is seasonal, simplified and full of flavour.
Bernadette le Roux is a food stylist and writer as well as part owner of Café Roux in Noordhoek in Cape Town. She is a fifth-generation Palmer, the daughter of Alex and Marianne Palmer, and spent her childhood in Cranemere in the Great Karoo. She is currently food editor of Condé Nast House and Garden. Marianne Palmer, her mother, is a self-taught cook with a wide-ranging culinary repertoire who has presented lectures, workshops and seminars on food. But more importantly, a meal with Marianne is described as something extraordinary. And this is exactly what the food in this book represents - something extraordinary.
More Cape Malay Cooking by Faldela Williams (Don Nelson, R115)
Following the success of the first two books, this is a totally revised edition of this particular title.
Williams has also recently opened a restaurant with her son, Saadiq, where she will be sharing her cooking talents. Based in Claremont, the Faldela Williams Restaurant has become popular as a Cape Malay authority.
The recipes capture the cuisine and the pictures of the community. From easy lemon atjar to crumbed chicken breasts, a honey and coconut biscuit to pumpkin bolas to apple, quince and pineapple sambal, the range is inviting and if you haven't tried this particular cuisine, here's an easy way in.
The recipes are simple and clear, the pictures show the way and the food is familiar, yet has the tantalising and tempting allure of spices not used in every kitchen.
Café Food at Home by Gael Oberholzer (Struik Lifestyle, R149.95)
By definition, states the book, café food is relaxed and laidback. It conjures up images of lazy weekends, of tasty food imaginatively served and of cooking times kept to a minimum. Just what every home chef can dream of, little time in the kitchen yet meals that will win them over.
It's a second print which indicates that it worked the first time round. From gourmet hamburgers to teriyaki chicken salad, Cape salmon fishcakes to chillied butternut and blue cheese lasagne, the options are rare, promise not to take too much of your time and are devised by someone who made café food for a living. There's no better testimonial than that.