The Year of Lockdown Recipes

The Year of Lockdown Recipes
Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Microwave chocolate cake. Brinjal Curry with Aloo Jeera. Rosemary hasselbacks. Even tartare sauce. They all have something in common…


The recipes above were among the most popular of the nearly 200 Lockdown Recipes of the Day we have published on the TGIFood platform in Daily Maverick since late March.

When we began, we thought that in a few weeks we’d be discontinuing them. Back when we thought it was to be a 21-day lockdown. I’ve just combed through the calendar and I see that by the end of December we will have reached 40 weeks of lockdown. (We passed 21 weeks in August, never mind days.)

In a year of unpredictability – a year in which, as December 2019 turned into January 2020, the word “lockdown” had never occurred to any of us – the most unpredictable element at TGIFood, which we launched two years ago this December, has been trying to guess which of the hundreds of Lockdown Recipes of the Day would resonate the most with our readers.

We have published close to 200 since late March. And, viewed from my personal perspective, that is a vast amount of chopping, stirring, whisking and simmering. I have had contributions along the way, from friends such as Gordon Wright and Michael Olivier, a handful of readers’ recipes, and the occasional recipe from a cookbook such as the magnificent Dorah Sitole: 40 Years of Iconic Food and Errieda du Toit’s whimsical Share. But a good 80% have been my own, and that has meant coming up with a new recipe (we don’t repeat) four or five times a week. There have been times when this has driven The Foodie’s Wife to drink. When there has been the refrain, For goodness sake, can we just have an ordinary supper for once. Or perhaps slightly less polite words to that effect.

You might think it would be red velvet cake or a sourdough recipe which would top the pops. But homemade tartare sauce? Sweet potato and turnip bake? Microwave chocolate cake? A “smashing savoury potato bake” in which the topping was, yes, made of Smash, the powdered mashed potato product? (It was early lockdown, packets of instant anything made sense if you weren’t sure where the next actual potato was coming from).

There were times when I would run out of ideas and have to cast around for help. One day, in such a predicament, I turned to The Foodie’s Wife (that’s her over there, sharing this page) and asked timidly yet with some trepidation, “I don’t suppose you have an idea of what I could use for our lockdown recipe tomorrow?”).

This requires some back story. The Foodie’s Wife doesn’t much like to be bothered with this sort of thing. And she just loves to make what she calls “my microwave chocolate cake”, which is a recipe she picked up when we lived in Sutherland 15 years ago and which, though it is indeed a delicious cake, is concocted out of nothing in a microwave, a defrosting and warming up device of which The Foodie has been known to be contemptuous.

So, as I approached her, I was thinking, “Please don’t let her say her microwave chocolate cake. Please. I’ll be good, I promise.”

And it came to pass that The Foodie’s Wife turned to The Foodie and spake thus: “Okay, how about I make my microwave chocolate cake for you?”

Whereupon The Foodie blanched and wished the earth would quake and swallow him up whole. But The Foodie heard himself say, “Perfect! That would be lovely!”. And slunk from the room while The Foodie’s Wife chortled behind her hand.

In the fullness of time (later that afternoon) there emerged from the microwave a steaming dark brown cake full of luscious chocolatey moistness, despite there being no 70% imported luxury brand dark chocolate in it (she uses cocoa) and despite it not having been cooked properly in a proper oven, as a good chocolate cake should be. Or so The Foodie thought.

And (lo!) the recipe was duly published and soon outstripped all other Lockdown Recipes of the Day, and at any one point there were 30,000 TGIFood readers or more mixing cocoa powder into a batter in a bowl and pouring it into a plastic container to cook in a microwave for seven minutes. (Seven! It takes longer to defrost a chicken.)

There were some of my own recipes which hit the mark with readers, so I somehow managed to retain some dignity in the midst of my wife’s adulation. Bakes, especially. If I concocted a bake recipe, whether a variation on a potato bake, my oddball Umami Moussaka or a phyllo pie such as baklava or kreatopita, a Greek meat mince pie, it would climb the lockdown recipe charts quickly. 

In the late winter I started doing potjie dishes as the weather began to warm, or at least started to become less cold. My potjie-roasted chicken cooked in lemon and rosemary butter was top of the charts for many weeks, as were my curried oxtail potjie, “Braaiguignon” (a potjie derivation of Beef Bourguignon), and pretty much any lamb dish I came up with. And there’ll be more, much more.

And, now that my wife, who in fact is not a mere Foodie’s Wife but a veteran, brilliant journalist who has been in the trade longer than I have, is retiring from newspapers after close to 52 years in the profession, I know I can rely on her to find a quick solution when, some time in the new year, I ask her, with some trepidation, if she has any ideas for a Lockdown Recipe of the Day.

At least I know it won’t be her Microwave Chocolate Cake. We don’t repeat. Mind you, you may not have tried her favourite bake yet. She calls it “my Asparagus Crisp”. The asparagus comes out of a tin. And it has crumbled Simba crisps on top. It’s a family favourite. Soon, I suspect, it will be your family favourite too. DM/TGIFood


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