IN the days when Human & Rousseau still published Huisgenoot Wenresepte, we were often approached by ACVV (Afrikaans Christian Women's Association) branches in the countryside to publish their recipe collections. This was an almost logical consequence — the sisters in all corners of the country probably contributed lavishly themselves to the treasure trove of reader recipes that Annette Human and Carmen Niehaus tested and published in the magazine.
It wasn't just ACVV branches that compiled such collections. Numerous agricultural shows produced them. You can imagine what wonderful potjiekos ideas were devised in the Free State, north of the Vaal River and even in Worcester.
B Dylan Hollis, one of the first generation of TikTok contributors to become a celeb, has collected such recipes from an early age. South Africa is not the only country where the sisters aspired to a wider reading circle than their congregation or agricultural region. Now he has bundled a selection from his American collection in the book Baking Yesteryear.
He stretched his net wider than worn-out parish publications on stapled A4 paper — he also checked out general publications. He describes it this way: “Distinctive personal creations born of church lady committees, parent teacher associations, bridge clubs and knitting circles, from a time long since forgotten."
I don't think I'm a food snob, but I can say without hesitation that Baking Yesteryear is the bible of common. Food common. Hollis grouped his favourites in periods of decades, from the 1900s to the 1980s.
His first bake for TikTok was the so-called Pork Cake, made with pork mince. It comes from the 1910s, when there seemed to be a scarcity of butter. According to Hollis, the pork is a subtle presence in what he says tastes like a quirky fruitcake. I'll take his word for it. I refuse to eat it.
The twenties produced many recipes focused on dates, seemingly aimed at people with constipation. In the thirties, there was a species of ice cream that made the Americans put on weight — the marlow. It is made from marshmallows, milk, crushed bananas, vanilla extract, thick cream and maraschino cherries.
In the fifties, there were cakes with mayonnaise as the central ingredient. The nightmare intensified in the sixties and seventies, and by the eighties it seems to me that you could do anything as long as you didn't add mud.
Hollis ends up listing the worst of the worst recipes, including a simple cheesecake with finely chopped sour gherkins. He also gets full marks for his description of the Roughage Loaf: “This quickbread is perfect should you ever want to experience the joys of childbirth on a whim."
Reading this book is pure enjoyment. Just keep it away from your kitchen.
Baking Yesteryear by B Dylan Hollis was published by DK and costs R528 at Exclusive Books.
Anyone who has ever borne children and loved them until puberty turned then into grim strangers will know what is going on in Grace Adams' head. Anyone who has experienced the female transitional years, either herself or as her husband, will know that Grace is in no mood to be wrung out any longer between her daughter Lotte's delusions and the flashes. And then everything goes awry for Grace. Fran Littlewood must be a wonderful person herself. She sinks into her quagmire of guilt and confusion with Grace. The idea of sending her with a cake to win back Lotte, now totally alienated from Grace, is as much Fran's as Grace's. It's a delightful book, even when the police finally put an end to Grace's downward spiral. So nice to read a story set in London for once, with healthy British humour and mannerisms.
Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood was published by Penguin and costs R309 at Exclusive Books.
You need to read carefully. Slowly. This soon becomes clear in Catherine Ryan Howard's new novel. She scatters clues, and she knows this kind of story entices you to read ever faster to the conclusion. Making you miss things. The novel is based on the so-called Vanishing Triangle in Dublin, where a bunch of women disappeared without explanation.
One gradually notices how cunning Howard is as a writer, how well she masks turns, how she blinds you to the obvious. In The Trap, it's about women who go missing, against their will, and women who go missing because they want to get lost. Just remember this.
The Trap by Catherine Ryan Howard was published by Bantam and costs R382 at Loot.
I've never read a book by Kelly Link because, in principle, I avoid authors who let zombies roam between human beings as characters. But this collection of seven longish short stories was recommended by someone who shares my love for ancient children's tales (the Brothers Grimm etc). I read the first story, The White Cat's Divorce, in April. After that, I read another every few weeks whenever I wanted to spoil myself. I've now finished the volume and am addicted to Link's flights of imagination. The last story, Gossip's Veil is a reimagining of Snow White and is out of this world. The Lady and the Fox reworks the Scottish Tam Lin legend on another level. Here's one sentence: “There are two men languorously kissing in the kitchen." Nothing is impossible for Kelly Link. Treat yourself!
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link was published by Head of Zeus and costs R442 at Exclusive Books.
♦ VWB ♦
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