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THE SAFFRON PEAR TREE (article first published : 2005-07-21)

The first thing that attracts the eye to The Saffron Pear Tree and other Kitchen Memories is the cover. It’s so reminiscent of the sort of old-fashioned cookery book you would find amongst your mother's collection of recipe books. But if you think this is just another cookbook, upon investigation you will find this is more of a memoire, with the generations of tried and tested recipes added almost as an afterthought.

Zuretha Roos, the acclaimed author of several best selling Afrikaans works of fiction, was born and raised in the Hex River Valley in the Cape's Boland. The descriptions of the kitchens and the foods of her youth provoke the readers into remembrances of their own early days and how the production and consumption of meals is so intrinsic to the memories of family members, now long gone.

Although relatively few in number, the line drawings by acclaimed artist John Hall capture the early days at the turn of the last century through to the present. His portrayal of Ouma's cool farmhouse kitchen with the table laden with fresh produce from the land makes one sad to think of all those vegetables being boiled to the colour of olives, which seemed to be the rule in those days! The drawings of the overloaded lorry transporting the provisions for the family holiday to Kleinmond and the sheep terrorising the neighbourhood children capture the fun and amusement of the relevant stories.

The kitchens of Zuretha's youth were places which nurtured and soothed. The members of her family and the characters of the people she knew are finely described. Ouma's advice to her granddaughter on the difference between a woman's and a man's love is worth buying the book for - I burst out laughing, but it is a bit too risqué to include in a cookbook review! There are many incidents in this book which will have you rolling with laughter or weeping tears at the tragedies that beset us all from time to time.

The chapters of The Saffron Pear Tree are introduced by various poems invoking the stories told in each. Recipes are relatively simple and are redolent of good South African standbys:

Buttermilk rusks, Bobotie and Ouma's Snoek Tart rub shoulders with Quiche Lorraine and Easy Lasagne. There are lots of desserts, meat and seafood dishes - in fact, the full spectrum of meals is included.

The Saffron Pear Tree is a nostalgic book and is ideal for anybody who enjoys reading their cookery books like a novel and preparing “comfort” food, for their families and friends. It is the sort of book you would pass on to the next generation or it will inspire you to compose your own collection of recipes that have been handed on to you. Indeed "Food and kitchens and the cycle of life: in the lives of most ordinary women these three concepts are almost inseparable. Invisible threads connect womankind to kitchens: their mother's, their own, those of their friends."

The Saffron Pear Tree and other Kitchen Memories is published by Struik in softcover – ISBN 177007 038 9 - and retails at R129.95. - Cherry MacIldowie




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