She was my bosom buddy and confidante, we rode our bicycles in the streets and flushed garden moles from their borrows with a hose. Our mothers were best friends, and so were our younger siblings. Her older brother had a gift for restoring a frustratingly mixed-up Rubix cube to its former glory, and so earned the reverence that becomes your best friend's older brother. We were both in love with the most good-looking boy at school, dark-haired, blue-eyed and very charming, and were quite happy to share him, even if it was only in our daydreams. Oh the innocence of childhood!
She moved away when we were primary school girls with plaits, and for many years we exchanged stacks of hand-written letters before I got to visit her on the other side of the country. I remember well the wholesome home-made muesli at breakfast, the juicy, sun-ripe export grapes their Boland farm produced, and her dad cooking snoek over the coals, basting the delicate fish in the traditional butter, garlic and apricot jam sauce. We lost touch during our high school years, and somehow this did not change much after school when we both studied in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch. I suppose life just took us in different directions, or maybe we were just didn't think it would be the same, we were after all, almost different people by then.
But now, years later, with us living in a country where our mother tongue is not understood, and our customs and experiences of living in Africa unknown and often strange, it is natural to yearn toward the known and the familiar and regard it with even more sentiment than you did while living there. I have always been an old sentimental, a softie for good memories past, an incurable nostalgic. So it is no wonder that, when I opened the parcel during the week and found this long-awaited, most beautiful Afrikaans book with a luscious pomegranate on the cover, tied with a pretty red woven ribbon, I felt like drawing out the anticipation a bit more and leave opening it's pages for the weekend. And on this quiet, Australian Sunday afternoon, I did.
The wonders of a book never cease to amaze me, and yet again, as with any good book, so many feelings contested for attention while I journeyed through it's pages. It is a book that the contains family favourites from all around our culturally diverse country, childhood memories captured in favourite recipes for happy home-cooked meals. There are dishes that I grew up with on the hot and humid North Coast of Natal, and dishes I got to know only later when the magnificent Western Cape was my home. Many of them contain tastes that I long for here where all fresh imports are strictly controlled. No snoek or nastergal jam any more, and so when I do go back to visit, there is a culinary list of favourites that I make time to enjoy, and appreciate all the more.
The pages have pictures and recipes and stories that triggered a flood of of my own memories and transported me back to well-loved places, faces and food experiences- as a child, the familiarity of my mom and gran's kitchens, and of many other beloved friends and family, of cooking and baking and fresh morning coffee, the comfort of pannekoek with cinnamon sugar on a rainy night, the yeasty smell of a warm beer bread when we are camping far from a commercial bread supply, the black syrup of mulberry jam soaked into my school sandwiches, the smell of potjiekos at the church basaar, the sunny aroma of freshly ground yellow maize in a rural Transkei general store, later eaten, hot and creamy, with farm butter and treacly raw sugar. Oh yes, and chewing the warm juice from a fibrous piece of sugar cane, the syrup running down our hands and chins...
Later some Cape images burned deeply into my soul- the toothless grin of a fish vendor on the Gordon's Bay harbour when the boats came in with the night's catch, the ceaseless wit of a rural youngster selling dawn fresh waterblommetjies at the Klapmuts intersection , the exotic smells of Cape-Malay cooking coming from old, crumbly family businesses in Woodstock when you go looking for the best roti in town, the spicy aroma of boegoe when we go hiking in the mountains, the fog horn on the West Coast in the muted coolness of a mist-blanketed day, a day when we would pick our quota of large black mussels and cook up a fresh seafood feast over an open fire...the list just keeps getting longer.
This book about food nostalgia is such a lovely connection between my precious past in South-Africa and my current life in Australia. Here we are now discovering the local traditions and produce, cherries, truffles, snapper and flathead, kangaroo, bush tomato and a profusion of wild mushrooms, but will always retain and treasure our connection with our past, with our people and our food. My children ask for pannekoek when it is rainy, vetkoek with curry mince is still a treat, and melktertWe will never abandon our deep African roots. is always an indulgence when dessert is in order.
It was an honour to find a personal message from my friend in the front cover, in her tidy, well-known but now mature handwriting. This book reminded me why we were such good friends after all, and although many things change, others, like friendship and good memories, always remain.
This book is a marvelous gift for South-Africans living abroad, for international visitors, or anyone that loves good, wholesome home cooking and the rich variety of South-Africa's fresh produce. It is easy to see why it was a winner of an international cookbook award in Paris.
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