I have written about Neil Stemmet, who is a restaurant curator, pop-up restaurant designer, and ‘sout + peper’ food blogger, but I have never seen his own written word.  I love the passion that he has put into his first just-published book ‘sout + peper erfeniskos’, of which the first run of 3000 has just been sold out, and how his personality comes through in his book.  It is a wonderful history of South African cooking, food culture, and food brands, and is more of a ‘storieboek’ than it is a recipe book.

Stemmet writes in his introduction that it is food writer Renate Coetzee’s book ‘Spys en Drank’ that inspired him when he first started cooking in his ‘kontrei-restaurant’ Le Must in Upington.  His book is a compilation of South African family recipes handed down to him by ‘tantes, my ouma, my ma’, and include those he discovered though his own research.  Stemmet defines ‘erfeniskos’ (heritage food) as food dating between the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 and the ‘Seventies, an era pre-MSG, pre-TV dinners, and a time before ‘boerekos’ having become over-complicated. ‘Erfeniskos’ is also food that needs the minimum of spices, and all Neil has in his pantry is salt, white pepper, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, aniseed, coriander, lemon juice, bay leaves, and sugar, which share the shelves with his basic ‘spens’ items of eggs, honey, Marmite, flour, and Worcester Sauce.  Stemmet also calls it ‘kuierkos en seënkos’, always shared with others and always blessed before eaten.

His ouma’s cooking inspired him, with its smells and kitchen sounds, like a concert hall, he writes.  Stemmet grew up in Robertson, and waxes lyrical about ouma’s home-made bread, farm butter, peach jam, and ‘moerkoffie’. He writes how it was ‘grênd’ to eat KOO (from the factory in Ashton close by) peas, and fruit with custard and cream on Sundays.

The photographs of brands and packs of days gone by evoke many happy memories: Robertson’s white pepper in a box, Carmién organic Rooibos tea, Royal baking powder, Tastic rice, Cartwrights curry powder, Mrs Ball’s chutney, Colman’s traditional hot English mustard powder in a tin, KOO fruit cocktail in syrup, SASKO cake flour, and Khoisan hand-harvested sea salt.

Recipes for traditional Afrikaans foods such as skilpadjies, rusks, Hertzoggies, and Smutskoekies, as well as staples such as chicken pie, bobotie in different styles, curry, oxtail, cakes and tarts, preserved fruit, lamb stew, marmalade, fruit punches, roast lamb, and many more are contained in the 300 page book.

Neil Stemmet, ‘sout + peper : erfeniskos‘. LAPA Uitgewers.  The book is to be translated into English for the next print run.  Tel 082 373 3837.  www.soutenpeper.com Twitter: @NeilStemmet

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage