12 February 2013 by Julienne du Toit

Karoo Kitchen: Heritage recipes and true stories

Sydda Essop’s brainchild, a cookbook called Karoo Kitchen, showcases not only South Africa’s root cuisine, but the fresh forms it is taking thanks to new people settling in the country’s dry heartland.

Karoo Kitchen by Sydda Essop

When Sydda Essop was a baby, Nelson Mandela dandled her on his lap. She grew up among activists and people battling apartheid’s injustices. Her father, Solly, was a struggle hero right up till his death in 1984.

Here you will find intriguing family histories alongside methods of cooking the traditional produce of the Karoo – lamb, venison, pomegranates, quinces, prickly pears and figs.

It was while travelling with him, campaigning for farmworkers’ rights around the countryside, that Sydda became fascinated with food. What did people buy, hunt or grow? How did they prepare it?

This fascination became something of a glorious obsession. Eventually she sold her house and business in Cape Town and went on the road to find out.

For five years Sydda based herself at her family home in Beaufort West and took trips into the towns, farms and tiny settlements of the Karoo. She met farmers’ wives, farmworkers, Somali shopkeepers, foodies and wildlife trackers. They shared their stories and recipes with her.


										Sydda Essop at her family home in Beaufort West. Picture Chris Marais

The result is Karoo Kitchen (published by Quivertree), as much a splendid cookbook as it is a social document. Here you will find intriguing family histories alongside methods of cooking the traditional produce of the Karoo – lamb, venison, pomegranates, quinces, prickly pears and figs. Some recipes speak of windfall and abundance, and others of make-do and poverty.

But rich or poor, the Karoo has always been a place where you make do with what you have.

The book has recipes for favourite South African foods like rusks, mutton rib, sosaties, roosterkoek (griddle-baked bread), milk tarts and lamb pies, as well as for dishes unfamiliar to outsiders. These feature offal, lamb’s tails, sheep’s heads, mutton crackling (kaiings), sheep’s livers and even porcupine.

Karoo food, writes Sydda is 'simple, traditional food, nostalgically referred to as boerekos. The more old-fashioned dishes don't contain gourmet ingredients – mostly because people often lived in isolation on farms far from the nearest town. Women learnt to adapt recipes and make do with what they had. There's a saying in the Karoo: nood leer bid. Necessity makes one improvise.'

Despite the differences in background and culture of the people she spoke to, Sydda  saw that food really brings people together. 

'We are all alike. We all have the same concerns and responsibilities – at the end of the day we all need to put food on the table for our families.'

Category: Food & Wine

comments powered by Disqus