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Memories of my mother's food

Last year I asked my older sister to finally, after two years since mom’s passing, write the blog

for Mother’s Day. She is a writer extraordinaire, and it made sense (only in my head) to finally

go there where the memories of her were still so fragile... It is certainly easier, to turn to one’s

older braver sister, to take charge and lead the remembrance of a hungry heart. Always

appeared to be so easy, I thought, for Shani to put words to stories where I had none. Turns out,

last year was too soon... and that all us sisters needed another full year to pass, before we

finally pulled out mom’s old dilapidated recipe book.


The little book of feint pastel pages, and a now mottled cover with faded embossed gold writing,

has somewhat been guarded by her daughters... As if it contained sacred pages, filled with

hand-written secrets, codes and instructions, on how to feed the living... We have finally, it

seems, given our hearts’ permission to reminisce and take comfort in the memories of our

childhood kitchen, and the importance of A Mother and her stove..




Memories of my mother’s food - Shani Cronje

For everyone who have lost their mothers

There are a lot of things nobody tells you about losing your mother: a huge chunk of unconditional love in your life falls away, the last time you saw her will be etched in your mind forever and that it’s too daunting to recall her laugh because you’re scared you won’t be able to remember it anymore. That every time you cook the kitchen fills with remembrances of her instructions, way of stirring sauces (two quick inner stirs, one slow stir around the pot’s circumference) and knack to fix the things that inevitably go wrong.


Nobody tells you that the way moms made their recipes and the way their food tasted dies with them. And nobody tells you that it will take a long time before you are able to sit down and browse through memories and photos, and her recipe book, without sobbing so much that it is easier to pack everything away and order take-aways instead.


It is some three years later, and it’s only really now that I am ready to reminisce about my mom’s cooking

as a way to remember and honour her with Mother’s Day fast approaching.

1) The dinner parties

During the 1980s my parents entertained at home, and many of our teenage weekends were spent helping my mother in the kitchen. A menu would be drawn up. A timetable of what needs to be done when and by which one of us would appear on the fridge. The dining room table would be extended with a small table or ∗two, the piano stool added as an extra chair and the embroidered white tablecloth and napkins ceremoniously appeared together with the silverware inherited from my grandmother. Fresh garden roses in small glass vases and dinky little silver salt-and-pepper pots would follow. The teenage daughter with the least experimental handwriting at that point in time would be in charge of writing little name tags. Last to go onto the table were a few ashtrays - yes in the 1980s a good hostess permitted her guests to smoke at the table.


But to come back to the menu. The starter was often a soup, and usually a cream-of-something-soup. The main meal was usually roasted fillet of beef. Easy to prepare for many, liked by everyone, with a little

French flair – the dinner party mantra of my mom. Dessert was typically a huge crème brûlée or meringue pavlova. If there were only 8 guests, my mom would make individual chocolate mousses in her antique dessert glasses. The chocolate mousse recipe was definitely French – containing eggs, cream, sugar, melted dark chocolate and more cream (my mom was deeply biased against gelatine-based mousses – liking these to dishes more suitable for church bazaars).


2) Feeding hungry teenagers

It must be hard to feed four hungry teenagers and one grumpy husband night after night. Whilst the general dinner rule was that we had to eat what my mom made, it does not mean that we did so graciously and without the odd grimace and resentful glare (me over the compulsory cauliflower and broccoli). In our defense, we were probably a bit ‘hangry’ - even an early dinner felt late after an afternoon on the hockey field or squash court (sometimes both) followed by piano lessons (like the cauliflower also compulsory – regardless of one’s musicality). No, children did not have choices in the 1980s, and teenagers definitely not.

If you would like gracious and kind teenagers at the dinner table, make this mustard chicken casserole, our favourite of all time. We would even volunteer to set the table on nights that we could smell it cooking........!

There are four of us, four daughters born within four years and nine months: ∗ Shani (me), Michelle (Afro-Boer owner), Yvette and Melissa.

Teenagers love snack food. My mom did not believe in snack food. Any food that did not form part of a

sit-down meal pre-empted by a prayer was deemed superfluous. But somewhere these little fritters snuck through the house rules one Sunday braai. The recipe is likely out of one of the first Huisgenoot

Wenresepte cookbooks, and even my skinny size-32-jeans-mom could not stop eating these ‘poffertjies’.

And nobody could believe that they were made from slappap.....!


3) Wednesday morning tea with friends

I am not sure who misses my mother the most. My dad. The four of us . Her grandchildren. ∗Her sister Ingrid. Or her friends.

It’s through my mom that I learnt the value of long standing friendships that carry us through the joys and sorrows of life. Every Wednesday since the early 1970s my mother had tea with Tannies Miranda, Liebie, Yvette and Ingrid (yes, her sister was also one of her closest friends); and by late 1980s she added

Thursday morning bible study with all her friends living in Lynnwood Park, the tiny suburb where we grew up. God help you if something happened to you on a Wednesday or Thursday morning; you simply would have to ask the school to take you to hospital or in your adult years a friend or drive yourself.

My mom was not available on these mornings – she was with her friends; the boundaries were non-negotiable and her phone would remain unanswered.

When it was my mom’s turn to host the weekly Wednesday tea, there would be a treat for us after school.

Whilst we each had our favourite baked delight, an Appeliefietert (Cape Gooseberry tart) is fixed in my

memory. It was grandly presented on a white porcelain and glass cake stand, with a bright orange jelly

layer featuring cape gooseberries contrasted against the the cream of the filling. A true show-stopper long before the concept would feature in the British bake-off television series. Whilst I am more in the chocolate corner of cakes and tarts, on looks alone this tart is unforgettable.


4) The meals I miss most

As long work hours and the loneliness of singledom took its toll in my thirties, my mom would invite me

over, make up the guest bedroom and cook my favourite dinner: pork chops with onions and apple juice. Served with her sautéed potatoes and onions, or a steamed mielie and side of iceberg lettuce salad (I was too tired to roll my eyes at its kitschness, it was before iceberg wedges made a retro comeback), my mom’s supper made me feel human and loved again.


My mother loved parmigiana di melanzane (aubergine baked with tomatoes and cheese). She would often order it in Italian restaurants, her favourite cuisine when dining out. It was one of the last meals I cooked for her, when she came to prune the roses in our garden as the first serious wave of Covid started to ebb in Gauteng.


Regardless of the nature or complexity of your relationship with your mom, spoil her this Mother’s Day by cooking her favourite meal for her, and serve it alongside a pink rose or tulip or stargazer lily.

Our mothers brought us into this world, and there will always be something sacred about that bond.


Recipes To Follow:

Oven Roasted Beef Fillet, Mustard Chicken, Slappap Poffertjies, Appeliefietert, Snoektert, Pork Chops, Parmigiana di Melanzane



Here is my mom’s go-to-recipe for dinner party beef fillet – very likely a Sannie Smit recipe.

It comes with two options.

Oven roasted beef fillet (Oond geroosterde beeshaas)

Serves 8-10 people


Whilst we all started to pan sear beef fillets in the late 1990s/2000s as Jamie Oliver tried to turn us

into home chefs, this recipe simply works without that extra step. Through the years I made it for

friends on several occasions, and even the closet food critics clear their plates every single time.


Ingredients:

1.8kg beef fillet

1⁄2 cup of cream

1-2 table spoons of flour

Curly fresh parsley to garnish

White wine basting (witwyn bedruipsel) Red wine basting (rooiwyn bedruipsel)

100ml olive oil

100ml white wine

100ml lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed

fresh thyme – about 1 tablespoon of leaves

fresh rosemary – about 2 tablespoons of leaves

150ml red wine

100ml olive oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed


1. Take the fillet out of the fridge and bring to room temperature.

2. Mix the basting sauce.

3. My mom used an oven roasting pan/tin with a rack for the fillet – letting the juices drip into the

pan. A roasting tin without a rack also works.

4. About 40 minutes before roasting the fillet, baste the fillet with a 1/4 of the basting, and let it

stand.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

6. Place the fillet in the oven, after 15 minutes, baste again with another 1/4 of the basting, and

reduce the oven to 200°C.

7. After 10 mins, baste again; and finish off the basting with another ten minutes.

8. Take the fillet out of the oven and place it on a warm (but not hot) plate to rest for ten minutes.

9. Get a cup of boiling water ready.

10. If used, take the rack out of the tin; and put the tin on the stove over a low temperature.

11. Deglaze the roasting pan with the boiling water over a strong simmer – you need about a cup of

pan liquid in total.

12. Mix a bit of the simmering pan liquid with 1 tablespoon of floor and add to the pan liquid – stir

using a whisk to avoid lumps.

13. Add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.

14. Slice the fillet in 1.5cm slices, and serve with a few spoonfuls of the sauce and some fresh

parsley.


My mom’s beef fillet would be accompanied by boiled baby potatoes with a bit of melted butter and

freshly chopped chives and some sweet carrots or even butternut.



Mustard chicken (from Riaan Cruywagen’s wife)

Serves 4-6


It’s the type of recipe that does not make sense on paper. Australian MasterChef judges would

definitely loudly proclaim that ‘people don’t eat like this anymore’. Keep pre-conceived ideas in

check, take a deep breath and just do it. And keep the recipe for the day when you need to make a

dish for a family facing tough times. It will make everyone feel just a bit better about life.

Ingredients:

12 chicken pieces

125ml sugar

5ml mustard powder

50ml flour

2ml salt

50ml vegetable oil

125ml white wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar could also work)

250ml mayonnaise (my mom used the reduced fat version)

250ml boiling water

125ml grated cheddar

1. Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius.

2. Place chicken pieces in a single layer in a casserole or baking dish.

3. Mix the sugar, mustard, salt and flour with the vegetable oil. Add the vinegar and mix well. Add

the mayonnaise and boiling water, stir through and then pour the sauce over the chicken.

4. Sprinkle the cheese over the chicken pieces.

5. Bake for approximately 90 minutes.

Serve with pearl barley, brown rice or basmati rice, and any green vegetable or a light salad. There

won’t be leftovers.


Try this recipe if you need to get a couple of teenagers on your side.

Slappap poffertjies (‘Pap’ croquettes / fritters)

Ingredients:

100ml mieliemeal

500ml water

1 egg

250ml self raising flour

2ml mustard powder

2ml salt

125ml grated cheddar

Oil for deep frying


1. Mix the water and mieliemeal and cook for 15-20 minutes for pap. Let it cool down.

2. Mix the egg into the pap.

3. Sift the dry ingredients into the pap mixture.

4. Stir in the cheese.

5. Heat oil in a medium sized pot – hot enough to deep fry each ‘poffertjie’ or fritter.

6. Drain on kitchen paper.

7. Cool slightly and enjoy whilst still hot.



I have no idea which recipe my mother used. The one below is in her personal, handwritten little book of

recipes. It tastes delicious, you may need to improvise for the bright orange layer though - my sister I

suspect would be able to fill in this missing link

Appeliefietert / Cape gooseberry tart (from Ingrid)


Ingredients

1 x 425gr tin of gooseberries

45ml sugar

250ml condensed milk

60ml custard powder

250ml cream

30ml castor sugar

a biscuit crumb base (my mom used 1 packet tennis biscuits and 45ml melted butter as a crumb

base)


1. Drain gooseberries, retain the syrup and top up with water to 500ml.

2. Mix the syrup, custard powder and sugar well and bring to boil. Cook for one minute.

3. Remove from the stove. Add the butter, and let the custard filling cool down.

4. Add condensed milk and gooseberries to the custard filling and spoon into crust base (I vaguely

recall my mom using a glass tart / pie dish for this recipe).

5. Missing step? Presume it should be chilled in the fridge for a while.

6. Whip the cream and castor sugar and decorate the tart.



A balanced morning tea should have something sweet and something savoury (I wonder if this rule counted for the conversation too?!).

This snoek tart is easy to make, and great for latter-day friends who are gluten sensitive or “low carb”.

Snoektert / Snoek tart (from Sylvia, a dear friend who moved to the United States around

1992)


Ingredients

250gr cooked, flaked snoek (I am sure smoked snoek would do)

500ml finely grated cheese

4 eggs

500ml milk

50ml flour

5ml mustard powder

salt and pepper

5ml dried tarragon

25ml white wine vinegar


1. Preheat the oven to 375°Fahrenheit or 190°Celsius.

2. Whisk the eggs well.

3. Add the flour.

4. Add the milk, vinegar, tarragon and mustard. Give it another whisk or two.

5. Add the snoek and grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper

6. Bake for 25-30 mins.

7. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, garnished with chopped curly parsley.


I have made these pork chops only once after my mom died. Whilst my dad and I ate it hungrily enough, it did not taste quite the same as my mom’s. But I guess nothing would have filled the emptiness we both felt that evening. It’s the ideal winter comfort meal though and I always bought my mom and I some good old fashioned chardonnay to sip on the side.

Pork chops with apple juice and onion juice

Use a heavy bottomed pan with a lid, or an electric “braaipan” if your mom still has hers.


Ingredients

4 large pork chops, with a good measure of fat (the neighbourhood butcher would have)

2 medium onions, sliced

250ml apple juice

a few sprigs of thyme

salt and pepper

olive oil


1. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper on both sides.

2. Heat the oil in the pan to a medium-high heat.

3. Sear the pork chops on one side.

4. Turn the chops over, and as you sear the chops on the other sides, add the onions and thyme

sprigs to the pan and briefly sauté these around the chops.

5. Add the apple juice, reduce the heat and cover with lid.

6. Simmer for about 40 mins, until the apple juice has cooked away and the onions are brown and

sticky.

7. Eat and enjoy and take a deep breath. Everything will be ok.


Parmigiana di melanzane / Aubergine baked with tomatoes and cheeses

Adapted from The Italian Cooking Encyclopedia, published in 1997 by Annes Publishing Limited

Serves 4-6


Ingredients

1kg aubergines (also called eggplant or brinjal)

olive oil

1⁄2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

400gr mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce:

4-6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 x 450gr canned tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley or basil

salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Wash the aubergines. Cut into rounds about 3⁄4 cm wide. Sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for

about 45mins.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

3. Make the tomato sauce: Heat the oil in a medium sized pot over medium-low heat. Add the

onion and cook for 5-8 minutes until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic, cook for a minute

and then add the tomotoes. Season with salt and peper. Add the parsley or basil and simmer on

low for 30 minutes. Purée in a food processor or blender.

4. Back to the aubergine: rinse and pat the slices dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.

Brush with olive oil on both sides, pack in a single layer in an oven tray and bake for 15 minutes

on each side.

5. Grease a wide shallow baking dish.

6. Spread a little tomato sauce in the bottom. Cover with a layer of aubergine. Sprinkle with a few

teaspoons of parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Cover with a layer of mozzarella slices.

Spoon on some tomato sauce. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up – ending with a

covering of tomato sauce and extra parmesan.

7. Sprinkle with a bit of olive oil, and bake for about 45 minutes (same 180°C oven).

8. Serve with a simple rocket leaf salad, crusty ciabatta and some extra grated parmesan cheese

for a meal on its own; or small portions as a starter.

9. Drink a toast to your mom and all the cooking she did for you.




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