|Elsa Olivier's Rolled Shoulder of Venison. Photograph by © Craig Fraser, courtesy of Quivertree Publications.|
I have never met Sydda Essop, but I'm very much looking forward to shaking her vigorously by the hand; possibly flinging myself into her arms with cries of joy and appreciation. This is a remarkable book, and in my opinion one of the best to come out of South Africa for decades. I've no doubt it will become one of the classics of South African cookery writing, not least because it so skilfully records the complexities of this country's culinary heritage.
This is so much more than a cookbook: it's a piece of social history; a rich and nuanced weaving that has as its weft the resonant stories of South African families, and its warp the workaday recipes - several of them previously unrecorded in print, to my knowledge - passed down through many generations.
|Image courtesy of Quivertree Publications.|
Their tales of derring-do and heartbreak are fascinating, sure, but it's the way the lives of ordinary people are expressed in recipes that really made me love this book.
You will find neither a speck of sumac nor a flurry of foam in this book. There is no big deal made about sourcing organic produce or foraging from the veld, because this is the way people have sustained themselves for generations. The recipes are utterly without pretension, and feel no shame in including those store-cupboard packets and powders that have to be relied upon when you live hundreds of kilometres from the nearest supermarket.
The venison recipe below, for example, by Elsa Olivier of Victoria West, unapologetically features a beef stock cube, a packet of oxtail soup powder and a seasoning of Aromat - ingredients much loved by South African cooks, although you'd be hard-pressed to find a food writer who'd admit ever to eating such packetstuff.
From Francina Nolsapho Blow of Beaufort West, we have a recipe for dombeling (dumplings) cooked, like ujeqe (steam bread), in a plastic supermarket bag submerged in water. Horiya Mohamed arrived in the same town in 1997 as a young bride fleeing the civil war in Somalia; she's contributed four recipes, including anjera (traditional pancakes) and shaah, a spiced Somalian tea.
A pellucid bowl of Chicken Soup with Kneidlach is a recipe from the collection of Dr Debbie Anstey of Courlandskloof, the granddaughter of Lithuanian and Polish Jews. Her father-in-law Isaac Antezorsky and his brother arrived in Biesiespoort in 1920 to set up as traders, eventually owning 100 000 hectares of farmland. We have slow-roasted Greek lamb from Elpida Iakovidis, and Baked Porcupine Backbone from Lena Oktober, both of Beautfort West, while Anna Vermeurlen of Victoria West contributes a heavenly dish of baked orange pudding, and another for pomegranate syrup.
I don't want to spoil the book for you by listing each one of its recipes (did I mention the venison pie, quince atjar and Prize-Winning Springbok Tongues?) and I hope you derive as much pleasure as I did from discovering these treasures yourself.
The book has been beautifully photographed by Quivertree's Craig Fraser, and I particularly appreciate the honesty and simplicity of the food styling. Each of the dishes is lovingly laid out on a selection of old china and embroidered linen and old lace, with no scatterings of microherbs or ghastly skidmarks of sauce. There are many compelling historical photographs drawn from family archives, and at the back of the book a few pages of home remedies - one for chilblains, another for earache, plus Bettie Jaftha's treatments for a Baby Born with a Caul and Mothers Whose Afterbirth Will Not Come Out.
As I said, no ordinary cookbook.
Elsa Olivier's Rolled Shoulder of Venison
1 shoulder of venison, deboned
½ packet (125g) bacon
1 container (500ml) buttermilk
2 tbsp butter
2 onions, chopped
1 beef stock cube, dissolved in 1 cup water
For the sauce:
½ packet oxtail soup powder
2 tbsp dry white wine
salt and/or Aromat seasoning to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1 packet (250g) fruit-cake mix
Arrange the bacon strips to cover the inside of the shoulder,roll and secure with kitchen string. Marinate overnight in buttermilk and pat dry with a paper towel the next day.
Heat the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the onions until golden brown. Remove, add more butter to the saucepan, if necessary, and brown the meat.
Add the beef stock and fried onions and simmer slowly for 2 hours until the meat is tender. Allow to cool slightly before carving the meat into slices.
To make the sauce, dissolve the oxtail soup powder in 2 cups of water and add the wine, salt and/or Aromat, pepper and fruit-cake mix. Simmer slowly until the sauce is thick and creamy. Layer the sliced meat and sauce, and bake at 180°C until golden brown. Serve hot.