A Spoonful Belonging

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Ouma Rusks. NikNaks. ProNutro. A dented can of CremeSoda past the expiry date. Vacuum packed biltong from some or other tragic bovine. When homesickness strikes, you can wander through a bountiful land and still be in search of food.

It baffles the mind why one would yearn for mass produced biscuits when you have Italian biscotti on your doorstep. Why choose to be assaulted by the artificial concoction of a strawberry flavoured Fizzer when you can buy a fresh, organic strawberry from a picturesque medieval food market? What is so magical about Mrs Balls Chutney flavoured Simba chips, when you can order a Peshwari naan with any intriguing filling you could wish for? Wouldn’t you rather trade the calories of a gelate lump of Peppermint Crisp tart for a smooth, delicate texture of a German cheese cake?

When we succumb to nostalgia, the food from our childhood becomes a safe haven, an embassy in a recipe. The logo of a Lucky Star Pilchards can is a vintage token of our heritage. The wrapping of a Wilson’s toffee is a postage stamp on a love letter for our country. We trace our fingerprints on our identity documents with rooibos tea.

Food is memory and belonging. When we cook heritage food, it’s a way of saying: We were here, we shared food and we were loved.

Bobotie is for the openhearted. A braai is for the pioneers. Rusks refuse to be intimidated by the state of the atmosphere and will be your trustworthy companion on a bullet train or “ossewa”.

Europe is showing some promising signs of summer. Any day now, it will be worth the walk down a cobbled street to buy a refreshing strawberry gelato. Yet, I will yearn for a homemade frozen lolly made from Oros guava flavoured juice concentrate. As I labouriously suck on the frozen sugary block through a hole I chewed through the plastic bag, my mind will wander back to a day in 1996 where I ran barefoot on a gravel road for my first schools athletics.

Maize pap is a stopgap for hungry teenagers returning from surfing at Cape Point. It’s a moment of bliss in the Valley of a Thousand Hills when an ugogo sold me a freshly picked mielie and took both my hands in hers as she passed it to me.

Pannekoek is a delightful midweek supper after a Lowveld thunderstorm. It’s community at the church basaar where the batter is whisked with a (clean) garden spade in a (cleaned) steel drum. When I smell cinnamon, I can hear the joyful cries of hadedas and of children running on a rugby field.

When my clients and their families submit eulogies for a {Herklink} audio memorial, they recount beautiful memories of their loved ones. They reminiscence about their loved one’s hobbies, their family relationships, their wisdom. Many of these memories are intertwined with food. 

There’s the story of the lady who loved to have friends over for coffee, so much so that she drank eight cups of coffee a day. A memory is recalled of the Spoornet engineer who set the table with a tablecloth and silverware each day to enjoy the lunch his wife packed for him. Cousins remember their favourite uncle teaching them how to play cricket and how the man of the match was rewarded with an extra topping of kaiings on freshly baked bread. There’s the famous milk tart baked by the matriarch every Sunday for tea, and when someone else attempted the recipe the “damn thing didn’t even rise an inch”.

Sometimes we need to be confronted with death to realise how important our daily bread is. Death reminds us how important the people are with whom we break bread with. The IPC’s 2021 Report states that over 13 million South Africans suffer from food insecurity due to the pandemic’s impact on food prices and unemployment. Our fellow citizens deserve better: better food, better lives. And better eulogies.

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