Throwback Thursdays: Hitch a ride with us to the times of your life

Throwback Thursdays: Hitch a ride with us to the times of your life

This week we introduce Throwback Thursdays to the TGIFood recipe mix. Expect all sorts of dishes from days gone by, in this age when the things of old are sought-after once more as the lockdown experience has us rethinking our values.

Find our first Throwback Thursday recipe here

Food triggers memories and takes us back to a moment in time long forgotten. Suddenly, when you bite into something you haven’t eaten for years, there you are, in your school uniform, buying a pack of smoked snoek at the Pick n Pay at the Adelphi Centre in Sea Point. As if it were yesterday. I’d eat every last morsel of it, even while still walking home along the suburb’s Main Road, pulling the smoky flesh away from the long, firm bones; to me, smoked snoek is the quintessential taste of Cape Town, much more so than a Gatsby with all its chips and the whole world inside it.

Meals or particular dishes have the same effect. A spoonful of cream of tomato soup and I’m in the dining room of the Bay Beach Hotel in Three Anchor Bay. It’s December 1968 and I’m blithely unaware that within six months a flat nearby will be my new home; that fate is about to rescue us from the Diamond Dorp and fling me into my new life in Cape Town, which would last for decades until…

Duck l’Orange always takes me to Hildebrand restaurant, not at the Waterfront but at its earlier location in Cape Town’s Strand Street, restaurant manager Tony Yates always quickly following the setting of your plate before by his proffering of creamed spinach, ever perfectly cooked.

A whole lobster on a plate takes me to two places. And what an old-fashioned notion that is, the idea of a single crayfish so big that the plate beneath it groans. The first is a dinner at La Perla in Sea Point at a table which included Louis Burke and Aviva Pelham, the soprano, and a young me standing up to go to the bathroom and upending my plate of lobster while doing so. The second is lunch at the old President Hotel in Sea Point to interview Chuck Norris, before he became the massive icon he is today. He was just an actor then, circa early 1980s, and remains among my favourite “stars” of any I’ve interviewed. He looked at the menu, smiled crookedly when I chose a modest dish from it, and said, “You enjoy lobster, right?” And ordered us one each.

Never Lobster Mornay for me, though. I love a cheesy bechamel sauce, in fact I make it often, but I find it masks the fresh flavour of the lobster meat and spoils the dish; having said that, just those two words, “Lobster Mornay”, and I’m right back in any number of hotel dining rooms of the Sixties.

And these are the sort of recipes we’ll be featuring every week as our Throwback Thursday recipe. But they won’t only take us back to the Sixties and Seventies, which is often the period people go back to when reminiscing about the way we were, as seen from our current time. We might slip back to the Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties, and there’s nothing to stop us looking back to our grandparents’ and even great grandparents’ days. Some of the dishes we still know today have very deep roots.

A Melton Mowbray pie, for one thing, is on my list. And they have their origins in the 1700s, though in my case I associate them with my father, who used to make them when I was a kid. I just need to perfect that lardy pastry first, feel that I have mastered it, and then move on to that pork filling with its very important gelatine. My dad got it right, and I need to get it right, and no, I don’t have his recipe. If only I’d thought to ask, or had paid more attention. But keep an eye on me on the subject, because I fully intend to give it a go, sooner than later.

In winter I’m likely to tackle a cassoulet. We might make a Boeuf Bourguignon together (it’s a winter staple in our house anyway), and that old South African classic, the tomato bredie.

I’ll dip into Hildagonda Duckitt and C Louis Leipoldt too. Ever since I made my first melktert last week (okay, it’s only been a week), I’ve wanted to make one of the recipes by the early Cape documenters of such things. Leipoldt’s recipe called for a solitary peach pip, and almonds, including “one bitter almond” (where do I get that, anyone?). So, expect my attempt at that old-time take on the melktert one of these days as a Throwback Thursday recipe.

But we’ll travel the world too. I might make a good old basic French or Spanish tapenade, olives, anchovy fillets, capers and all, which brings us to this week’s first recipe, for a classic French Cafe de Paris butter… right? Erm, wrong. We might all think that Cafe de Paris butter is a French thing, in fact quite obviously a Parisian dish, given its name. But it’s not. It’s Swiss. And the French culinary bible, Larousse Gastronomique, does not even deign to list it, let alone describe its origins or how it is made. And that’s the thing: food has stories, and I love to find them. So, read what I wrote about that this week here and have a go at making it yourself. 

We might flip to Italy in our collective imagination, for Vitello al Limone or Vitello al Marsala. Or make Risotto alla Parmigiana, which Marcella Hazan calls the “purest and perhaps the finest of all risotto”.

A dish I have been aching to make for years is a proper royal biryani, or Moghul Biryani, which was prepared for India’s maharajas and maharanis. It can be made with either fish, chicken, lamb or vegetables, but I would go the lamb or mutton route and I intend to go the whole hog, to use an entirely inappropriate metaphor, with apologies. By which I mean cooking it in many layers in a cast iron pot and sealing the top with pastry to trap the fragrant spices, including saffron, inside. As Ramola Parbhoo wrote in her classic Indian Cookery for South Africa, first published in 1985, “Biryani is served with spiced dahl, a cold buttermilk drink which is poured over as a gravy or served in small glasses as a drink. Biryani is best served on a large platter or silver tray. I decorate it with halved hard-boiled eggs and strips of the pure silver edible paper used in India for festive dishes.

“For an exotic touch,” (and I had to giggle at that, as if it needed more), “surround the biryani with fresh hibiscus or frangipani flowers.” Now that’s style.

Who remembers roast suckling pig? If you do, you’re undoubtedly in what is now the older generation. It was a speciality on hotel dining room menus at Christmas time, and would be served centre-table, head and all, with, as I recall, an apple stuck in its mouth. Today’s younger generations are already running screaming for the hills at the very idea of it, but hardier palates might like us to explore that one of these days. If, that is, one can even get hold of a suitable piglet in this age.

In Marco Pierre White’s version, however, in his Canteen Cuisine, he calls for “one 6.3 kg suckling pig, without the head”, and urges you to “have the butcher bone the pig out, and roll it so that it looks like a whole loin, with skin and crackling all round”. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a pork crackling lover’s dream, I don’t know what does. Let’s tackle it one of these days and find out. DM/TGIFood


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  • Wanda Hennig says:

    Great idea. You already having me reliving food memories. A Chinese version of sucking pig in the Napa Valley. At the table with Chuck Norris in Durban: frustrated I couldn’t enjoy the lunch (which I don’t remember) because I was “working” (doing the interview). Thanks for reviving these and others.

  • Peter Bemelmans says:

    Great concept. Can’t wait till Thursday. Those classic dishes are timeless.

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