Prickly pears & pomegranates: Local, organic and seasonal food from the plains of Camdeboo is a beautifully written book by Bernadette le Roux and Marianne Palmer, with mouth-watering photographs by the talented Craig Fraser. It is a unique book about the age-old recipes handed down over six generations, shaped by the women of a Karoo farm called Cranemere.
The recipes are rustic and wonderful, and each chapter, a tribute to certain ingredients like Jerusalum artichokes, lemons, persimmons and lamb. It has a lovely romantic feel to it, and I kept it next to my bed for a few weeks, each night reading a new story before feasting my eyes on the recipes that followed.
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We spoke to Bernadette le Roux.
Q: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
A: Spending creative time on Cranemere and ‘eating the props’. We shot five to eight dishes a day and there were only four of us to enjoy the food.
Q: What is your earliest memory of Cranemere?
A: Being strapped on my nanny’s back while she kneaded the bread dough in the kitchen. I literally grew up in front of that wonderful old blue Aga.
Q: What is your favourite memory of Cranamere?
A: The smells – Karoo bushes, rain after a drought, Karoo lamb slow-baking in the Aga, warm bread, the smell of my mother (she’s worn Opium perfume for as long as I can remember).
Q: What is your favourite dish to eat in the book?
A: The Blueberry Meringue Cloud – it’s like a warm, gooey bread & butter pudding, but sweeter and topped with soft, golden meringue.
Q: What do you love most about food?
A: The journey – from the earth to the plate. I love to know where my food comes from, whose hands planted it, how it got into my pantry and the best part – putting it all together and making people happy by seeing them enjoy something I’ve made.
Q: What is in your words, your style of cooking?
A: Real food – I don’t do garnishes and tend to revert back to the basics time and again. Slow, comfort cooking.
Q: What is the one piece of equipment you can’t do without in the kitchen?
A: My Kenwood mixer, which is almost 100 years old – my ‘oupa’ gave it to my mother who passed it on to me. It almost went missing when I flew up to Cape Town from the farm with it. It was checked in and when all the bags were gone, I was still waiting! It was devastating – luckily it turned up eventually.
Q: What ingredient do you feel is the most underrated? Why?
A: White pepper. When it became fashionable to use freshly ground black pepper, white pepper was just about forgotten, but it has a completely different flavour, which can’t be substituted in many dishes.
Q: What would be the perfect foodie destination holiday for you and why?
A: Italy – great coffee, cheese, bread, pasta, gelato, meat, fish. I’ve always wanted to rent a house in Tuscany and trawl lazily about the local markets. It’s on my wish list.
Q: What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with/tasted?
A: Although not exotic to me, as I grew up with them, Jerusalem artichokes. They are rich, earthy and extremely tasty.
Q: If you could have anyone in the world cook for you, who would it be?
A: Skye Gyngell. She is an incredible chef who is from Australia but lives in London. She has a restaurant at the Petersham Nursery. Her food values are the same as mine – fresh, seasonal, home-grown. I had the honour of meeting her at the Good Food Show in Cape Town this year – and she bought my book! (Click here for the Food24 interview with Skye)
Q: If you could sit down to a meal with 5 people, who would they be (anyone in the world)?
A: Nelson Mandela (what South African wouldn’t want to?), Gordon Ramsay, Daniel Carter (he would have to sit opposite me so I could look at him all evening), Mahatma Ghandi, Angelina Jolie.
Q: Who is your foodie hero?
A: My mother.
Q: What is your favourite restaurant to eat at in SA?
A: La Colombe under Luke Dale Roberts – it’s always such a treat and I love the Asian influence he’s brought in.
Q: What was your best meal of 2009 so far?
A: Wagyu beef and new-style sashimi at Nobu (I know that sounds pretentious, but there’s a reason for all the hype!) Though I did find the sushi fairly average.
Q: How important is the pairing of food and wines to you, and why?
A: Strangely, not massively important. It’s not something I plan my meals around. A good glass of wine can hold it’s own, as can an excellent plate of food.