I had been racking my brain to remember the word my mom used for her wonderful creations from leftovers, as I had been musing about in my previous blog. And then last Friday night, my brothers and I and our families met for a pre-Christmas dinner at a beautiful restaurant: long tables under African olive trees, fairy lights strung in some of them, chunky baroque-ish chandeliers dripping with candles, the murmur of voices in the evening air mingling with live music (sometimes there is jazz, that night a blue-grassy trio). A lovely setting for intimate romantic dinners for two, and special birthday celebrations, and family get-togethers, and possibly weddings: hmm, I must find out.
After the usual pleasantries and catching up, we started talking about our parents, both who are now gone from this earth, and I asked then: “What did mom used to call the dishes she made from leftovers?”, and in unison, both my brothers said, without hesitation:”Konkoksie!”: Concoction in English. And then I remembered, ah, yes, that is the word!
Concoction: hearing the word again conjured up for me a whole range of leftover dishes, mostly in taste memories, not really actual recipes. No risotto balls deep fried with leftover rice, nor panzanella with old stale bread, no bread soup like the French panades, but stews with sliced up leftover topside beef and tomatoes and onion, fishcakes from mashed potato and tinned sardines, savoury rice with sausage and peppers…
I had never really thought about my mother as a brilliant cook: she did not really ever experiment much with different styles of cooking and unusual ingredients, which now upon reflection, was probably more a product of being married to a very conservative eater (my dad) and also not having an unlimited food budget to feed a family of six on. But she did love cooking and food enough to after we had left home, get involved in catering for Matric dances and Rapportryer (that will give away my early environment!) dinners together with a group of women in the small town I grew up in. The “Damesvereniging”. And I remember the accolades from successful such occasions, and how she loved it when guests had clearly enjoyed the food.
How she fed us all on my father’s teacher’s salary I do not know: she worked in my high school years as a school secretary, which certainly helped money wise. I grew up with Sunday lunches where there always was a roast: beef, or chicken, or pork; and three vegetables and a salad AND pudding! And weeknights there would be a variety of meals: her version of spaghetti bolognaise (savoury more than tomato-y mince), macaroni/cheese, frikkadels and vegetables, fat sausages bursting with flavour and mashed potato and salad, fishcakes, lamb stews: I cannot remember any dearth of food or variety at the table of my childhood.
How she did all of this from once a month grocery shopping I also don’t quite know. Of course meat and veggies were bought fresh from our local butcher and greengrocer. The meat wrapped in brown paper and tied with string would make a solid slapping sound when she put it down on the kitchen counter, I remember. But once a month there was a veritable trek to the supermarket: actually our town only got a supermarket when I was in early high school, but my mom preferred going to a brand new Pick n Pay just opened in our adjacent town, where she would sometimes get flustered at the variety and busyness, and would come home having forgotten to get some staple or another. This epic shop would usually take place on a Saturday morning, and sometimes me and my sister were allowed to go with. But I loved it when our family car drove slowly back into the driveway, and she got out and started bringing the ubiquitous supermarket packets (not much changed) out of the boot into the house. Last carried out was always a paper packet of freshest, soft white hot dog rolls, and she would keep one of the packets of red skinned Vienna sausages out (the others went into the freezer) and after everything was packed away and after a cup of tea, she would make a heap of hot dogs dripping with tomato ketchup and bright yellow mustard from a squeezy bottle: our Saturday lunch treat on the day of the grocery shop.
Even though I do weekly trips to my local shops, and have an incredible variety of produce to choose from, and my recipe repertoire is vast compared to hers (bar for leftovers!!), I’m sure my mom felt equally satisfied and maybe even a bit triumphant when she did, like I do now, carry packets laden with food into my house to cook for loved ones: