Food, memories, sharing and culture. These were the words most used at the launch of the District Six Huis Kombuis Food and Memory cookbook at the Homecoming Centre in Buitenkant Street on Thursday November 17.
The event also marked the 50th year since District Six was declared a whites-only area, under the Group Areas Act in 1966.
Not only was the cookbook a culmination of years of work, memories, recipes and cooking by the men and women who grew up in District Six, but it was also a legacy left behind by their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who taught them to cook and bake with what they had.
The book includes a range of traditional recipes of foods made in District Six, ranging from bredies to pens en pootjies, koolkos and waterblommetjie bredie, to soups, samoosas, koeksisters, fruit and custard and puddings, to name a few.
The curator of the District Six museum, Tina Smith, said: “The title of the cookbook, Huis Kombuis, which directly translates to ‘home kitchen’ in Afrikaans, was inspired by descriptions of kitchens in participants’ homes as being the heart of the home – its central social space.
“Here traditional recipes were brought to life in the rituals of cooking, eating and the sensory exchange at the kitchen table.
“Culinary rituals and home craft practices maintained and reinforced deep significances and connections with District Six as a place of home, family and community.”
She said food was the gateway of District Six.
“Food is the connecting factor. We are not just presenting a book, it’s our culture. Everything in this cookbook is part of our past. This is not gourmet cuisine, it’s ‘afval’, it’s what people had to make from what they had and it became a celebration.
“We are celebrating our past, and this book reminds us of our past,” she said.
Ruth Jeptha, who grew up in District Six, but now lives in Grassy Park, said: “District Six is all about food. Never did anyone go hungry. People shared their food irrespective of religion.”
She said when the project started about 10 years ago, it felt like a cooking course. But later, they discussed memories they had of District Six, and the centrepoint was always food.
Victoreen Gilbert (nee Gomez), who now lives in Newlands, said in the past, all the households made similar food.
“When we were invited to eat at a neighbour’s house, we all would be nodding because the chances are that our mothers made the same food.”
She said the most-loved recipes made were bredies, crayfish curry, skaapkop (sheephead), and soups.
Sylvia Gangert said one of the treats made in District Six was stewed fruit: “The vrugtewaentjie (fruit wagon) used to come around. They used to give us the bruised fruits and our moms would stew them and serve it with custard.
“And we had no fridges for jelly. We had to buy blocks of ice and the young men would carry it up the stairs at Bloemhof Flats. Or we used a kitchen cupboard with the mesh door – a ‘spens’ is what they called it.”
Mogammat Benjamin proudly pointed at a picture of himself as a child in the cookbook. “That is a picture of my friends and I.”
Mr Benjamin said he has been involved with the District Six Museum since it started. “This book is a legacy for our children. Our story must be told, the story of our good eating habits back then.
“We also used to share. We ate from everyone – Christian or Muslim. The Christians used to respect the Muslims enough to cook food out of pots and pans which were not tainted.”
He said he was very passionate about food, and the food his parents and grandparents made. “This book is about our life stories as well. This is my past and my present. Today I am so full of joy.”
He shared a story about the late Aunty Connie Stemmet, who taught him how to cook. “She and my grandparents taught me the principles of sharing and culture – and taught me a lot. “I will never forget her.”
Marion Abrahams Welsch, who grew up in Shepherd Street, said the book has a piece of all their souls in it. “We recorded all the recipes, the foods we ate and the smells we smelt.
“This food is so special because it goes back generations.
“It’s what kept us healthy as children. We never had sicknesses such as cholesterol and diabetes and cancer.
“The food was healthy and fresh. There was no processed food, and we didn’t live off take-aways like this generation, instead of carrying on the tradition.
“I cook the same way I was taught to cook after all these years.”
The project participants – women and men from District Six – presented tasters of the dishes featured in the book, accompanied by a variety of atchars, samoosas, bredies, frikkedels, cakes, bread, fruit and other foods.
District Six Huis Kombuis Food and Memory cookbook is available from District Six Museum at R385.