C Louis Leipoldt is associated with Afrikaans poetry. One thinks of classics such as "Oktobermaand", or "In die konsentrasiekamp". This polymath, cum universal cum Renaissance man was a fine chef. While studying medicine at Guy’s in Chelsea in London, as if he had not had enough of dissecting bodies at medical school, he went across to The Strand to wash dishes in the kitchen of the greatest of all chefs, Auguste Escoffier, at the Savoy. Quite remarkably, it was not long before he sat for his exams in cookery under the maestro and returned successful, with an international qualification in cuisine.
Where did this interest come from?
After spending his formative years in Worcester, where his father worked as a minister in the Rhenish church, the family decided to move to Clanwilliam. The Reverend Johan Leipoldt, C Louis’s father, became the Dutch Reformed minister there in 1884, and served the community until his death in 1911.
|The Dutch Reformed Church in Clanwilliam|
Leipoldt’s severe mother forbade her children to mingle with the town folk, thus the young Louis (actually he was called Christie then), found himself confined to the precincts of the home. He found solace in Maria, the person working in the kitchen, and he soon learnt from her the art of cooking tasty, slow-cooked food. Added to this was an intense interest in pharmacopoeias. By these he enjoyed finding out about the effects of plants as medicines, which he learnt from Outa Klaas. Experimenting with herbs in food became an avid interest.
|A typical cedar wood table found in the dining rooms of farmhouses in the Cederberg area|
Thus grew an intense love relationship with food and cooking, for the rest of his life, which resulted in several books written by the gourmet Leipoldt. A classic, and now a piece of Africana, is Leipoldt’s Food & Wine, which also contains essays on food, such as Jakkalskossoufflé.
My friend had asked me to serve him something truly indigenous. I replied that there was no such thing as an authentically Afrikaans dish, and that all we have are some traditional methods of preparing food.
"But give me a little while," I told him. "I’ll let you know as soon as I have something good I can guarantee you’ve never tasted before!"
This was a promise I simply had to fulfil. What on earth could I offer him that was so Afrikaans he would be unable to find anywhere in Larousse, that wonderfully exhaustive encyclopaedia of food?
Should I give him wateruintjie? Alas, it was not the right time of the year. Or klipkous? But that could be had in Australia or Vera Cruz, that Cape Town-like city in the Gulf of Mexico. Or smoked ostrich egg in a parcel of puff pastry? That was a possibility, and he would definitely not find it under Oeufs in Larousse. But wait, there was something he would not find anywhere else on earth – jakkalskos.
Leipoldt’s Food & Wine
Clanwilliam of colonial times was an interesting place to grow up, as it is still today. The mesmerising effect that the Cederberg Mountains have on the residents of the town cannot be denied. The changing hues are described by Leipoldt in The Valley trilogy: “the beauty of those stately sky-splitting peaks, garbed in crimson at the sunset and majestically blue at midday”.
Strolling through Clanwilliam presents many reminders of Leipoldt. In the gaol there is a little museum in his honour, how his sitting room must have looked, for instance. He used to sit and read and smoke his pipe in between writing. His visits back to Clanwilliam were to see his lifelong friend Dr Nortier, but unfortunately Mrs Nortier and CLL were not the best of friends.
|Leipoldt’s sitting room (reconstructed)|
The story goes that on the occasion of a visit back to his home town, CLL strolled along the main street to the residence of Dr Nortier, went into the kitchen, looked to see what was cooking, proceeded to add a few spices to Mrs Nortier’s dishes on the stove and walked out. Talk about a connoisseur!
The gaol, site of Leipoldt’s reconstructed sitting room (museum). The gaol was once a place of execution of Boers who were Cape rebels in the South African War.
The town has many attractions, including tea rooms and places to eat. The focal point of the town is its gaol, where Boers were executed for being rebels.
People in those days planted two palms: one for peace, the other for prosperity.
Old-fashioned Leipoldt dishes, slow-cooked, can be found at Reinholds opposite the hotel.
Tea and scones on the patio, with fresh water flowing in the canal right beside you, can be enjoyed at Nancy’s Tea Room.
It is one of the old residences in the Main Street of Clanwilliam that a most extraordinary dinner was held, described by Leipoldt in "The Valley" (chapter 5 of the third book, The Mask). Here follows an extract of the meal, reproduced at Achterlony, the then Newlands home of Ian and Karin Woods, prepared by Jessica Setterberg and enjoyed at the cedar wood table that used to belong to Leipoldt at Arbury where he lived before.
The Valley by C Louis Leipoldt
The "big house" had dined early, true to its custom on lodge evenings. It had been a family dinner and Santa had enjoyed the intimacy of it, as she had enjoyed similar dinners since her return from Europe. Mother had sat at the end of the big cedarwood dining table, facing father at the opposite end, and she had sat between them, a vast expanse of empty space on either side of her and a long length of table in front of her. Ayah Mina, an excellent cook, had served a meal worthy of her culinary skill, a simple, well-cooked dinner such as the old master delighted to eat because it not only pleased the palate but pandered to its nationalistic taste. Home baked bread, crisp edged and loose in the crumb, made from farm wheat ground between stone rollers by the home made machinery in some oak-shaped farm mill-house where the water splashed monotonously over the slits of the big wooden wheel and the big tarantula spiders twinkled their diamond eyes from between the cobwebs dusty with the powdered flour:
|“… ground between stone rollers …”|
White bean soup, richly creamed and served with snippets of black toasted bread; a savoury stew made from the half-opened buds of the scented aponogeton; the white, pink-tinged little water lily that grew in masses on the river ponds; deliciously steamed rice with every grain separate and distinct from its fellow, fully expanded and glistening in its miniver whiteness; sweet potatoes, amber coloured, in a thin syrup; a braized muscovy duck, meltingly tender, stuffed with onions and sage; a salad cooked of beetroot, decorated with hard boiled eggs; and for dessert a baked custard with stewed dried peaches, sun-dried, and flavoured with cinnamon and the peel of tangerine orange. With the coffee, strong, subtly aromatic, for the beans had been freshly roasted and ground that afternoon, there should have been a glass of van der Hum liqueur, or at least of that rich golden muscadel whose taste lingers on the palate.
|Scenes from a reconstructed Leipoldt meal, at Leipoldt’s cedar wood table.
L-R: The table set; the stuffing from the duck; the Muscovy duck.
|Before and after|
|The assistant – at the end of the day!|
The greatest proponent of slow food in South Africa, Leipoldt, growing up in Clanwilliam in his formative years as a boy, surrounded by the stimuli that Nature provides, is a real treasure to South African cookery, in so many ways … but especially in the richness and texture of the food that the genius himself wrote about. It can well be considered a national treasure.
|Statues of CLL; and the writer of the column with books co-edited on Leipoldt, at the gate leading to the graveside of CLL.|
|A group of students at the graveside of C Louis Leipoldt on the Pakhuis Pass, having attended a short lecture on Leipoldt, writer and chef.|
|The front cover positioned in front of the plaque commemorating CLL, the front cover is of the biography of Leipoldt by his distinguished biographer, Dr JC Kannemeyer.|