Things Our Forefathers Loved and Cherished

Posted on March 10, 2015 by Cape Rebel

From The Mask and Leipodlt's Cellar & Kitchen
by C Louis Leipoldt

In his historical novel, The Mask, the third book in the trilogy known as The Valley, Leipoldt cannot resist describing – in the manner that he does – an evening family meal at the home of the local village attorney. He does so at length and in words that reveal Leipoldt the connoisseur of old Cape cuisine, Leipoldt the expert cook, Leipoldt the poet. 

We know that the village in question is Clanwilliam, where Leipoldt grew up and where his father was the dominee from 1884 until 1910. Perhaps this is why Leipoldt gives free, uninhibited reign to his poetic and culinary imagination, not to mention his nostalgia.

Dinner in Clanwilliam

‘Ayah Mina, an excellent cook, had served a meal worthy of her culinary skill, a simple, well-cooked dinner such as the old master delighted to eat because it not only pleased the palate but pandered also to his nationalistic taste.

Home-baked bread, crisp-edged and loose in the crumb, made from farm wheat ground between stone rollers by the homemade machinery in some oak-shaded farm mill-house where the water splashed monotonously over the slits of the big wooden wheel and the big tarantula spiders twinkled their diamond eyes from between the cobwebs dusty with the powdered flour; white bean soup, richly-creamed and served with snippets of black-toasted bread; a savoury stew made from the half-opened buds of the scented aponogeton, the white, pink-tinged little water lily that grew in masses on the river ponds; deliciously steamed rice with every grain separate and distinct from its fellow, fully expanded and glistening in its miniver whiteness; sweet potatoes, amber coloured, in a thin syrup; a braised Muscovy duck, meltingly tender, stuffed with onions and sage; a salad of cooked beetroot, decorated with hard-boiled eggs; and for dessert a baked custard with stewed peaches, sun-dried and flavoured with cinnamon and the peel of tangerine orange. 

And with the coffee, strong and subtly aromatic, for the beans had been freshly toasted and ground that afternoon, a glass of Van der Hum liqueur or a glass of that rich golden muscadel whose taste lingers on the palate.’

Things Our Forefathers Loved and Cherished

‘The traditional atjar, as we Bonades used to know it, has disappeared completely. It has melted away like snow on the Cederberg mountains in August.

There are those who are able to speak without emotion about the dying off and disappearance of old habits, old friends, old fashions and old things, and who would not shed a tear about the loss of something our forefathers loved and cherished. They are, as the Latin poet said bluntly, “unfeeling stones that do not notice the slow erosion of wind and rain”. It is they who today satisfy themselves with So and So’s Pickled This and That, Tom Dick and Harry’s Sauce, Potdamn’s Pickle, Ouma’s little Wake Me Up, and heaven knows what else is scraped out of bottles and tins and served up with our best dishes.

We Bonades are different. We like the old stuff. We are loyal to what our forefathers cherished. And one of the tannies still makes the genuine, traditional atjar.’

[The Mask is set in the late 1920s and was written in English not long thereafter. The column on atjar was written in Afrikaans and published in Die Huisgenoot on 21 March 1947, three weeks before Leipoldt died; it is published in English in Leipoldt’s Cellar & Kitchen under the title ‘Atjar’.]

Posted in English