18 September 2011 by Robyn Campbell

A date with Leipoldt at Lelieblom

Christian Frederick Louis Leipoldt was a journalist, botanist, doctor, chef, author, and playwright. Best-known as an accomplished poet and a gourmand, Leipoldt wrote seminal cookbooks and essays on the subject of food and wine in South Africa.

One of my all-time food heroes, Leipoldt was a kos kenner, someone who knows their food. According to his biography, he was also a chauvinist. It seems only Maria, his childhood cook, who taught him the subtle art of blending spices and bredie-making, earns a kind word.

Despite his dim view of the fairer sex, Leipoldt remains one of the historical figures I’d most like to invite to dinner (assuming he could stand my frivolous female company), and the place I’d take him is Lelieblom, a farm restaurant in Darling run by husband and wife, Michael and Karen Basson.

Leipoldt was an adventurous eater who valued good ingredients, and skill in using them; he (Leipoldt) trained after all, under the renowned French chef Escoffier. So sorry, Mr. Bourdain, but Leipoldt was wielding a whisk and eating his way across the South African veldt long before you were poncing about markets in China, preening your coif, and eating still-beating snake hearts.

Leipoldt, you see, was no reality TV shock-chef. He ate with a wide and varied appetite because he was genuinely enamoured with the alchemy that happens when a talented chef takes the bounty that nature provides and transforms it into a deliciously edible work of art.

Karen Basson is such a cook. Not only is her whole house a dining room (it is, literally), but whether you are two, or a group of twenty, you eat as though you are one of the family. The décor, a delightfully eclectic collection of quasi-antique household items, has a joyful exuberance about it, as though each mismatched plate and lone dining room chair has finally found a home.

Karen cooks traditional Cape Dutch cuisine with a deft hand, an open mind, and a generous heart, doing she says, ‘What feels right and tastes good.’

Being in the Swartland, the breadbasket of the Western Cape, you can expect seasonal soups, mutton bredies, slow-roasted lamb shanks, roast leg of Boer goat, and in season, waterblommetjies picked fresh out the farm dam.

You’ll want to eat the whole loaf of her homemade bread with farm butter, and second helpings are always on the menu.

Leipoldt was also wine aficionado; his work Three Hundred Years of Cape Wine remains a seminal reference text. Lelieblom isn’t licensed, so remember to BYO. Should you arrive with a nasty bottle of plonk, Karen, unlike Leipoldt, will spare you a public denouncement of your viniferous ignorance, and will graciously open your bottle; but she’ll probably fill your glass with some of Darling’s superb wine instead.

Lastly, I must mention that Leipold took the sons of a dear friend and raised them as his own. Likewise, Lelieblom is child-friendly to the max, with oodles of space to run, play, and farm animals to visit.

Therefore, if Lelieblom is good enough for my discerning, if imaginary, dinner date, Leipoldt; I guarantee it will be good enough for you.

Karen Basson
+27 (0)825737736
Email: karen@lelieblom.co.za

Lelieblom also hosts a variety of cooking courses and themed lunches during the year. Visit Karen’s blogs to see the latest events:
www.lelieblom.blogspot.com and www.lelieblom.wordpress.com

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