As far as inspirational women go, Faldela Williams is up there with the best of them. Hers is a name recognised in many households in the Cape, across South Africa and even in many parts of the world. Faldela was the author of the popular Cape Malay Cooking, published in the 1980s and the follow-up cook book, More Cape Malay Cooking.
On Sunday, she passed away leaving behind her family, including her husband, children and grandchildren. Those nearest to her will have the best of her memories but she also leaves a fantastic legacy to all food lovers, aspiring cooks and food writers. Her recipes, her life's work really, will leave an everlasting taste on the lips of future generations.
Most of my family members own copies of these books. It's something commonly found in not only Cape Malay households like mine, but also households where Cape Malay cooking is enjoyed. A friend from a Catholic background recently told me that she and her mom learned to make flaky rotis from her book. Another friend, who wasn’t born and raised in Cape Town, told me her favourite Faldela recipe is her denningvleis, which she had eaten at Faldela’s restaurant in Claremont.
The books are still in circulation today and used in the kitchens of people across the globe. I recall sending one to my cousin in Australia as a wedding gift with a reminder to always remember and cook the food of her people. Where better to learn the basics of the food we grew up eating than from these books?
Filled with recipes that are popular in many Cape Malay households, her books were and still are a go-to for many first-time cooks. Even my experienced-in-the-kitchen mother sometimes uses her book as a reference when cooking something that’s not a regular dish on our supper table.
I remember flipping through it as a child and looking at all the pretty food pictures thinking "one day, I'll cook like this". These thoughts later turned to "one day, I'll have my own cookbook" when I discovered just how much I loved cooking.
One of my favourite recipes from her second book has to be the apple cake. I mention this because on Sunday afternoon I was looking for my apple cake recipe. I had lots of fresh pears that needed to be used and was searching for an apple cake recipe to adapt into a pear cake. The plan was to replace the apples with pears. I knew there was a recipe in Faldela Williams's cookbook. Unfortunately, my copy of her book got lost during renovations at our home. Luckily, my aunt had a signed copy, which I borrowed so I could happily bake my pear cake.
Shortly before baking, I learned that Faldela had passed away so it was surreal to bake something from her recipe book knowing that she was gone from this world. Surreal but fitting. What better way to honour a legendary cook and cookbook author than by baking from her recipe book?
It's beautiful to see someone prosper doing something they love. I can only hope to follow in my neighbour's footsteps by feeding the people I love and sharing my own recipes with the world. Yes, she was my neighbour and she and my late dad were friends when they were young. We weren't close but I'll remember her fondly. When her face flashes through my mind, it's a smile I see. So keep smiling, Faldela, because your legacy will fill bellies and hearts for years to come.
- Aneeqah is an aspiring cook and occasional writer who blogs, mostly about food, here.