Some luxuries just can’t be lived without. Perfume, flowers, a good book and chocolate elephants. – Adair Victoria Cross
I’d include the luxury of lazy Sundays in my friend Adair’s astute quote; I’ve come to love Sundays in my building. The residents are such a diverse mix of cultures and, as they all start their cooking for Sunday lunch, the smells that mingle in the stairwell are a delight to the senses. Today I can smell ras el hanout from the flat of the Ethiopian pastor on my left and thyme in the stuffing of a roasting chicken from the little Jewish lady across the way. My own kitchen is fuggy with the smell of tomatoes simmering with harissa; I’m making a huge pot of sauce to freeze in batches for the week ahead and have made a batch of sausage rolls for the next few days’ lunches.
I’m also preparing to cook a mutton doughboy from a recipe from a book which has made my senses dance a merry jig from the first page, Niel Stemmet’s ‘Salt+Pepper heritage food journey’ (Lapa Uitgewers, R358.00 from Exclusive Books). Niel is a Facebook friend of mine, whom I first discovered via his blog.
Niel’s one of those iconic figures who makes everything he touches turn to gold. The seventh-generation descendant of a Dutch glassblower, Niel is a writer, photographer, restaurateur and guest-house owner and décor guru par excellence.
The book was first published in Afrikaans and the translator has been gentle with the author, allowing the unique Afrikaner voice to remain. The recipes are testimony to the history of South African cooking – before the 1970s brought the advent of quick-fix additives. Interspersed with the recipes are delightful anecdotes and reminiscences of the women who formed Niel’s love of cooking, and thought-provoking quotes from South African writers, poets and musicians – even some from the bible.
Niel did all his own photographs and they alone are a good reason for relishing the pages of this book, which celebrates a return to the honest-cuisine of old times, when the only pantry ingredients necessary were salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, bay leaves – or rather, shared recipes “told in our vernacular and passed on by grandmother to mother, daughter and son”.
And so, with a squirt of bergamot on my wrists added to the fragrance of the flowers on my sideboard, I finish clearing up after my kitchen session and carry a cup of coffee and a slab of those chocolate elephants to my sofa. Perhaps I’ll nap or – perhaps – I’ll devour more of the book until it’s a respectable hour to get under the covers and have an early night.
Just for today I’ve banished loneliness; just for today I’ve created my own bliss …