Another piece I wrote for Food&Home Entertaining magazine: here it is in full, the magazine version is slightly shortened.
“At the far end of one of my bookshelves I found it, my mother’s recipe book. I had been craving oats crunchies the way my mother used to make them, and wondered where her recipe book was. At first I could not find it as I scanned the shelves dense with books. But there it was, where it had been since we moved into this house 4 years ago, patiently waiting for me to take it down from where it was sitting gathering dust.
I almost cried as I opened the black hardcover A4 lined notebook, with a blue fabric spine. I took it from her kitchen when I went to pack up her belongings in the farmhouse where she and my father had been living before she died 15 years ago. He is dead now too, so holding my mother’s recipe book in my hands brought up a wave of memories together with the inevitable sadness of being reminded of the passing of time and eventual endings.
I paged through it slowly, the pages in places a little brittle already. The front of the book is filled with clippings from magazines with interesting-looking recipes: for the venison she processed when my father came back from his regular hunting trips, for salad dressing, for pasta sauces, even for making your own feta cheese. I find a loose, un-pasted in page torn from a Farmer’s Weekly, dated December 2000, with a recipe for Cherry Chocolate slices. She did not live long enough to paste it in or bake it.
A little further on, some handwritten recipes begin to appear. Next to each recipe my mom faithfully recorded the source: her mother’s, her sister’s, the names of neighbours and woman friends: Jacky(salad dressing), Susan(buttermilk rusks), and many more names I don’t know. Page after page of neat, handwritten recipes, bringing vivid taste memories: another buttermilk rusk recipe from the widowed neighbour across the street from my maternal gran who used to get a tin of rusks when “Tannie Visagie” had made a batch, the chocolate coffee cake using the recipe from Auntie Ethel, our neighbour when I was in primary school. Women connecting through sharing generously their trusted recipes with one another across generations.
There’s a recipe simply headed “Netta’s Cookies”. I recognise my grandmother, my mom’s mother-in-law’s handwriting on a piece of lined writing paper pasted into the cookies section. Reading through the recipe, I recall exactly what they tasted like: buttery and crisp with the cornflakes they are rolled in. And in the savoury section, her recipe for mustard sauce made with one egg, sugar, vinegar and Colman’s Hot English mustard, always served in a dainty crystal condiment pot, with the tiniest silver spoon, with a Sunday roast.
Elsewhere I find shorthand scribblings, which I can’t make heads or tails of: my mother was a whizz at Pittmans shorthand, and I guess that these are recipes she recorded while listening to a radio program, such as the one with Esmé Euverard and Jan Cronjé every weekday afternoon on Springbok radio.
At the back of the book I find clippings on how to make soap and even environmentally friendly pesticide. These non-food items allow me a deeper glimpse into my mother’s psyche as she lived out her life on the farm; trying to acquire skills and knowledge to possibly live in a completely self-sustainable way, like my father had aspired to.
I paged back until I find it again, her recipe for Oats crunchies. It is written in red ballpoint, in Afrikaans, my mother language, her very feminine, loopy handwriting so familiar still. It’s very correctly headed “Hawermoutkoekies”, and in brackets, “Mammie”, signifying that this a recipe from her mother, my other grandmother. On the facing page, another one of my gran’s recipes is written out: for her date loaf which won many church bazaar awards.
The crunchie recipe page has butter stains on it. As I read the recipe, I remember the green Lyall’s syrup tin, and the carton of Tiger Oats. I remember how the butter and syrup swirled in the saucepan as it melted, how it foamed slightly as my mom added the bicarb dissolved in milk. I remember the smell of toasting coconut and sugar, filling our small kitchen as I waited for the trays to come out of the oven.
And I know that when I take a first bite of a just cooled off square of this aptly named oats crunchie using this very old recipe preserved and passed from generation to generation, I will be connected to my mother, and all those women whose recipes she had so faithfully collected and so poignantly recorded in the pages of this, now tattered, book.
I’ve added this recipe to my recipe collection: handwritten into a hard cover book an erstwhile husband, who was a bookbinder, had made for me years ago. How wonderful to think that years from now, a granddaughter may be able to decipher my handwriting and will be making her great great grandmothers’ recipe for her kids.”