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C. Louis Leipoldt and the Role of the “Cape Malay” in South African Cookery



The famous Afrikaans poet C. Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) has long been misread as a nationalist writer. During the first half of the 20th century Leipoldt's poetry seemed to be in sympathy with Afrikaner nationalism, and since his death he has mostly been remembered for this element of his work. Recent scholarship reveals a different Leipoldt, one fiercely anti-nationalist in his unpublished English fiction and more openly aggressive in his non-fiction prose. Leipoldt regularly wrote about food and culinary traditions in South Africa and used his knowledge of local cuisine to argue against notions of “authentic Afrikaner dishes”, instead insisting that the earliest authorities behind original South African dishes camefrom the “Cape Malay” population of theWestern Cape. This article aims to explore Leipoldt's cosmopolitan argument against political, sectional possessiveness in the cultural development of South Africa between the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, with a sustained focus on the importance of food as a cultural marker.
JLS/TLW 28(1), March/Maart 2012
ISSN 0256-4718/Online 1753-5387
DOI: 10.1080/02564718.2011.xxxxxxx
C. Louis Leipoldt and the Role of the “Cape
Malay” in South African Cookery
Riaan Oppelt
The famous Afrikaans poet C. Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) has long been misread as
a nationalist writer. During the first half of the 20th century Leipoldt’s poetry seemed
to be in sympathy with Afrikaner nationalism, and since his death he has mostly
been remembered for this element of his work. Recent scholarship reveals a
different Leipoldt, one fiercely anti-nationalist in his unpublished English fiction and
more openly aggressive in his non-fiction prose. Leipoldt regularly wrote about food
and culinary traditions in South Africa and used his knowledge of local cuisine to
argue against notions of “authentic Afrikaner dishes, instead insisting that the
earliest authorities behind original South African dishes came from the “Cape Malay
population of the Western Cape. This article aims to explore Leipoldt’s cosmopolitan
argument against political, sectional possessiveness in the cultural development of
South Africa between the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, with a sustained focus
on the importance of food as a cultural marker.
Die bekende Afrikaanse skrywer C. Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) is vir ’n lang tyd
verkeerdelik bestempel as ’n nasionalistiese skrywer. Gedurende die eerste helfte
van die 20ste eeu is sy poësie beskou as simpatiek teenoor Afrikanernasionalisme,
en sedert sy dood word hy grootliks hiervoor onthou. Onlangse studies beweer egter
dat Leipoldt inderdaad anti-nasionalisties was in sy ongepubliseerde Engelse fiksie
en selfs openlik aggressief in sy niefiksie. Leipoldt het ook heelwat geskryf oor kos
en die kookkunstradisie in Suid-Afrika en het sy kennis van die plaaslike kookkuns
gebruik om te argumenteer dat daar nie iets soos “outentieke Afrikanerdisse” be-
staan nie, maar dat die vroegste bewyse vir Suid-Afrikaanse resepte eerder gevind
kan word in die kookkuns van die “Kaaps-Maleise” bevolking in die Wes-Kaap.
Hierdie artikel ondersoek Leipoldt se kosmopolitiese argument teen die politieke,
seksionele besitname van die kulturele ontwikkeling in Suid-Afrika tussen die mid-
19de en vroeg-20ste eeu, met die fokus op kos as ’n kulturele merker.
My friend asked me to serve him something
truly indigenous. I replied that there was no
such thing as an authentically Afrikaans dish
(Leipoldt 2004: 208)
C. Louis Leipoldt was born on 28 December 1880 to a missionary family in
the Cape Colony and, under private tutelage, became an accomplished
reader and writer, able to speak, read or write in eight languages. He held
numerous vocations, working firstly as a journalist for wartime publica-
tions during the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902, then qualifying as a physi-
cian abroad, establishing a practice in South Africa in 1914. He also became
a health inspector of schools and secretary of the first South African Medical
Journal in 1929, as well as a part-time lecturer in paediatrics at the Uni-
versity of Cape Town. He also resumed journalism, writing for numerous
Afrikaans publications throughout the 1920s.
As a writer, his palette was broad: in Afrikaans, he published collections
of poetry; short and long fictional writing; plays; historical works; cook-
books; and wine guides. In English, he published personal memoirs; a retro-
spective on the cultural history of food and wine in the Western Cape; a
collection of poetry; and an entry on South African cultural development for
the Cambridge History of the British Empire series. He also tried, unsuc-
cessfully, to publish a trilogy of novels he had written in English. His legacy
after his death on 12 April 1947 was initially seen to be his Afrikaans poetry
and his medical work. Established perception saw him as an Afrikaner
nationalist, an opinion largely based on the tone and sentiments of many of
his poems. However, recent studies and the belated publication of his trilogy
of English novels in 2001 to a large extent contradict this reputation, and in
recent scholarship there is the emergence of a “different” Leipoldt, who can
now be seen as an English-speaking anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan figure
with visionary ideas about future democratic cultural developments in and
for South Africa. This article intends to explore Leipoldt‟s anti-nationalist
stance through his writing about food.
Leipoldt‟s early life was spent in the Western Cape, South Africa, then
under British Colonial rule. Born in Worcester, inland from Cape Town, he
was raised in the Hantam region, in the valley town of Clanwilliam. His
father was a German-speaking Moravian missionary who had previously
been stationed in Sumatra, Indonesia, with his South African wife, Chris-
tina, born Ana Meta Christina Esselin (Leipoldt‟s mother). This association
with the East fascinated Leipoldt, as is evident both in his literary output
and his culinary pursuits.
As a teenager he had an interest in botany, and the distinguished Cape bo-
tanist Sir Harry Bolus took the young Leipoldt in as a ward and a friend,
becoming a significant figure in Leipoldt‟s life. The natural scenery of the
Hantam region left lasting impressions on this author, as did his interactions
with the Valley communities. These communities included Afrikaner farm-
ing families, English and European settlers and “non-white”, or coloured,
worker families. From an early age he had ideas of eliminating racial boun-
daries between white and non-white South Africans, and in 1896, aged 16,
he wrote a letter (using a pseudonym) about The Coloured Questionto the
Cape Argus, calling for the recognition of non-whites as equals. There were
heated responses from the newspaper‟s readership. Upon leaving Clanwil-
liam to seek employment in Cape Town in 1898, Leipoldt for a time stayed
with a Cape Muslim family.
Leipoldt, in his capacity as a popular writer who appealed to an Afrikaner
readership, wrote a regular column for Die Huisgenoot, which was among
the most pre-eminent Afrikaner publications from the 1920s to the 1990s.
Originally contributing under his own name (he was a qualified paedia-
trician) articles concerned with health and medicinal practices and acting as
a familiar, as well as a literary house doctor, Leipoldt, under the pseudo-
nym KAR Bonade, also delighted in providing discourses on culinary
matters to Die Huisgenoot‟s readers. Between 1942 and 1947 (the year of
his death), Leipoldt wrote more than fifty pieces devoted to cooking.
His recipes were never metrically precise, as his most notable biographer,
J.C. Kannemeyer (1999: 566), finds, but instead they were discourses, in
fine Afrikaans prose, on the art of cooking, which Kannemeyer (p. 567)
describes as pieces for the connoisseur rather than the layman cook. While
studying medicine abroad, Leipoldt came into contact with the famed
French master chef Auguste Escoffier, who took a liking to Leipoldt and
partially introduced him to fine culinary practices. The sense of sophisti-
cation inspired by Escoffier, as well as Leipoldt‟s own cosmopolitan back-
ground, can be found, among other things, in his discourses on food.
At a time in the 1920s to 1940s when Afrikaner lobbying by the National
Party was at its zenith, so much so that claim was staked to what constituted
authentic Afrikaner dishes, Leipoldt emerged as an antidote, a known writer
with a great knowledge of the history of national culinary practices, who
could (and did) dispute this sense of aggressive possessiveness and instead
argued, as he did in his literary output, for cultural inclusivity. In short, if he
disseminated a South African culture in harmony in his fictional works and
critical pieces, he did the same when he talked about food. Leipoldt‟s famed
hospitality, hinged on regular get-togethers and dinner parties at his Kenil-
worth home in the 1920s to1940s, often centred around meals and the din-
ner table, immaculately prepared with optimistically exotic, at times bizarre,
dishes and a gentrified seating arrangement. In this way, this particular
element of his life story reads as a narrative of old-fashioned patrician
values being played out in a quasi-modernist context: it was at the dinner
parties he hosted that Leipoldt would tender his take on South Africa‟s ra-
cial concerns and cultural development before guests that sometimes inclu-
ded the foremost literary or political figures of his day (Kannemeyer 1999:
The National Party, through citing its own history as one associated with
mobility and struggle (The Great Trek and the Anglo Boer War) could
appeal to imaginations of their followers: like the Trekkers almost a century
before them, they could convince themselves as forever following a Biblical
narrative of being “Chosen People”. With the support of the Dutch Reform-
ed Church and the ability to manipulate the story of the Anglo Boer War as
a battle for independence that had to be continued, the National Party could
speak of a self-righteous identity out to right the wrongs of the past and
assert itself as independent and proud:
The Afrikaner‟s source of power was allegiance to South Africa as their only
fatherland. Hertzog called the Afrikaners pioneers of South Africa. With
ancestry in Dutch, French and German, the Afrikaner was never heard to
proclaim his faith in either. (Giliomee 2003: 350)
In his trilogy of English novels, Leipoldt contests the idea that the Afrikaner
has no cultural debt to Europe, and this debate is a running motif throughout
the trilogy. Leipoldt‟s regular criticism of Afrikaner sentiment appeared in
almost all facets of his writing, and this tone can be detected in his writing
about food.
If the Afrikaner nationalist project in the 1920s to1940s had as an aim the
establishment of an authentic white African identity, its cultural influence
could be researched in many facets of daily Afrikaner life at the time: maga-
zines like Die Huisgenoot were sounding boards for maxims of good house-
keeping, good reading, good patriotic practices and good health, mostly
along the lines of what was good for the Afrikaner family. Afrikaner extre-
mists were vigorous in their moves toward an English-free republic in
which non-whites were to play subordinate roles only. The Federation of
Afrikaner Cultural Associations (FAK) was established to legislate Afri-
kaans literature, language practice, drama, financial corporations and busi-
nesses as far as possible.
Like many other famous writers at the time, Leipoldt was employed by top
Afrikaner publications to write weekly columns with the aim of strength-
ening Afrikaner identity: while common readers would be drawn by access-
ible and familiar topics that served the greater purposes of cultural develop-
ment, the Afrikaans language itself was also gaining more exposure this
way, which was a key edict of the nationalists. Leipoldt often strayed from
his patriotic duties to Afrikaner readers by using his journalistic output
and astonishing world knowledge as a didactic platform on which he could
place his views of a liberal, racially inclusive South Africa. Even when it
came to discussing food, he saw a means to educate and promote harmony
but, sometimes, to dispel notions of authentic Afrikaans cuisine:
Our Afrikaans culinary art is about as feeble as our volkspele (folk dances),
and these too are imitations of what we have inherited from Europe.
(Leipoldt 2004: 227)
The quote is in keeping with Leipoldt‟s general attitude towards the
National Party in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In various newspaper
articles in the 1920s, he attacked nationalists for their insistence in promul-
gating Afrikaner culture that, to Leipoldt, was largely based on anti-English
sentiment. Impoverished white Afrikaners were, to Leipoldt, becoming
masters of the North in that in the Transvaal mining and railway industry
poor whites were being uplifted, at the expense of black workers, to play a
greater part in the mechanisation and modernisation of the country (Mer-
rington 2003: 35). Running alongside this evolution into the modern is a
moral devolution Leipoldt was concerned with in the form of moral exhaus-
tion, physical decay and the problem of “„poor whites‟ as a sign of social
degeneracy …” (Merringon 2003: 41). This degeneracy, in Leipoldt‟s
scheme, was destined to be incorporated, rather than tended to and impro-
ved, by the 1920s Afrikaner nationalists as part of their popular lobbying,
both for a divided white South Africa and a larger count of white Afrikaans-
speakers to the vote.
Acting as something of a cultural historian in many of his articles on food,
Leipoldt also wrote Cape Cookery (posthumously published in 1976), a
book that partially assimilated his recipes with his social commentary. In the
book he dismisses the first published Afrikaans cookbook, a compilation of
recipes by E.J. Dijkman. His grounds for disappointment include the poli-
tical connotations to “ordinary fruit cakes” named after famous Boer leaders
in the Anglo Boer War, the mere repetition and translation of recipes
already to be found in Dutch cookbooks, as well as its author‟s lack of
insight on fish dishes and her “frugal employment of wines and spices”
(Leipoldt 2004: 27), which is undesirable. In his criticism, he appears to
rebuke repetitive and overzealous appeals to culture: perhaps both out of his
respect for certain Boer War leaders (like Louis Botha) and his disdain for
others, Leipoldt lambastes that ordinary fruit cakes are merely made to
sound important through these connections. In other words, a revolutionary
event was being “used” to help nurture Afrikaner cultural growth (even to
the extent of naming cakes), and Leipoldt, a first-hand witness to certain
events in the Anglo Boer War, was scathing of such appeals to sentiment.
He would launch similar attacks on Afrikaans literature in the 1920s when
he sensed that saccharine novels glorifying the Anglo Boer War for Afri-
kaners were popular. The nationalists were gaining power through appeals
to sentiment, usually by holding the Anglo Boer War as the trump card that
inspired emotion when it was appealed to as the event that forever changed
Afrikaner history. Whether the politicians were urging their followers to
never forget the War or whether it became the subject matter of many
books, the danger of establishing culture on sentiment, to Leipoldt‟s mind,
was a great hindrance:
Instead of writing purely literary books, you are producing propaganda
literature, and you are using your schools, your universities, and your
cultural centres for the dissemination of propaganda, not culture.
(Leipoldt 2001: 557-559)
Leipoldt also opposed the removal of South Africa‟s Dutch cultural ties (in
particular the language and literature) in favour of Afrikaans, and repeat-
edly pointed out that Afrikaans culture still owed a great debt to the Dutch,
a debt that he felt nationalist Afrikaners were quick to forget. To Leipoldt,
the Dutch influence was still visible and, as in Dijkman‟s book, it often
appeared in the form of Afrikaans repetition, or was copied over into Afri-
kaans. Giliomee mentions that Leipoldt considered the replacing of Dutch
by Afrikaans as a “monstrosity” (2003: 391).
However, similar to Leipoldt‟s English trilogy of novels and its anti-
sectarian stance, Leipoldt‟s food writing also revealed that, in his view, if
any culture were to be seen as having some authorative stamp on South
African cuisine, it would not be from any of the white sections but from the
Cape Malay population.
The term “Cape Malay refers to Cape-based Muslim people that make up
the “largest group of practising Muslims in South Africa” (Mandivenga
2000: 1), with the arrival of Islam to South Africa researched as originating
in the 1660s when Malay Muslims, mainly from the Indonesian Archipelago
were brought to the country, either in bondage, servitude or exile (2000: 1).
The term “Cape Malay is sometimes synonymous with the term Cape
Coloured, almost a direct reference to coloured people in the Cape devoted
to Islam, but also problematic in that Cape Coloured could as easily be a
reference to most Christian coloured people based in the Cape. The very
racial classification of “coloured” is one that has historically been con-
The category Coloured has no doubt been the most nettlesome . This
group was constituted historically out of descendants of various unions
between African persons and European persons. It also included persons
brought from the East Indies centuries ago, who came to be known as Cape
Malays. The Coloureds were mostly persons who in other parts of the
world would have been called “mulattos. (Wallerstein 1987: 374)
In his biographical writings, Leipoldt fixates on his father‟s missionary
experience in Sumatra, as well as his reverence for Cape Malay cooking.
His idea of the Cape Malay can roughly be attributed to an amalgamation of
the Cape Coloured and/or Muslim population he encountered both at Clan-
william and in Cape Town. Leipoldt often mentions the Ayah (an affec-
tionate if somewhat inapt term for a coloured domestic servant in a white
South African household at the time) he grew up with, a domestic servant in
his family home from whom he gleaned many of his first impressions of
cooking. This woman, Ayah Hannah, may also have been the likely inspi-
ration for the character Ayah Minah in his contentious novel, The Mask
(2001, completed 1932), based on his own Afrikaans play Afgode (1929).
Gabeba Baderoon‟s article, A Never-Ending Series of Pictures: Repre-
sentations of Muslim Food in Cape Town (2004) deals, among other
things, with the historical depiction of the Cape Malay figure, as well as
the propinquity between the Cape Malay and food in national (and per-
haps international) discourse. The article also differentiates between the
terms “Islamic” and “Muslim” in addressing common misperceptions of
both, which Baderoon argues “leads to an erasure of difference between and
within Muslim communities” (2004: 18). The history of slavery in the Cape
Colony plays a large, if at times subliminal, part in early writing about food
in the Cape, and Baderoon refers to local cook Cass Abrahams‟s thoughts in
a 2002 interview when saying that the “contents, methods and rituals of
„Cape Malay‟ food demonstrate its development under slavery ... Cape
Malayfood was among the earliest „fusion‟ food in South Africa”. In the
interview, Abrahams tells Baderoon:
[T]the spices and fusions of Khoi-san and Dutch food gave rise to what is
known as Cape Malay cuisine today. So you can think of the meat loaf
coming from Holland and the spices added to that to make a bobotie. So
there you have a fusion, it‟s a very good example, and is incidentally the
national dish of South Africa as well ….”
(Abrahams in Baderoon 2004: page?)
One of Baderoon‟s stated interests in her article “is how representations of
Muslim food … can also encode other, resistant meanings” (2004: 28),
referring to how slaves and servants working in Cape kitchens during the
19th century were sometimes able to “use the objects of consumption in
ways that exceed and escape the desires of the dominant classes” (2004:
15). She goes on to explore the idea of resistant meaning through recent
debates regarding calls for rereadings of South African slave history that
eschew various tropes. The most consistent example Baderoon cites (and
disagrees with, partially) is Sarah Nuttal and Cheryl-Anne Michaels‟s
Senses of Culture (2000), which argues against reading South African
slavery through exceptionalism and invocations of segregation. Nuttal and
Michaels also call for recognition of intimacies (of culture) between slaves
and slave owners, moments of cultural continuity. Critics of this approach
counter-argue that such a study is limited, as it does not take into account a
pre-apartheid history of segregation even as it calls for separating these
intimate transactions from the spectre of apartheid. While she focuses for
a while on the debate between Senses of Culture‟s writers and their critics,
what is more interesting about Baderoon‟s idea of resistant meaning is her
observations on the cultural exchanges between slaves and slave owners in
the Cape not so much for the unequal intimacies she mentions (and
traces in books like Rayda Jacobs‟s The Slave Book) but for cosmopolitan
findings, the fusions that Abrahams mentioned to her in their interview.
On the topic of cosmopolitanism, I hope to find a space for Leipoldt‟s voice.
Leipoldt‟s writings on the Cape Malay cooks make no aspiration towards
offering his thoughts on 19th-century slavery so that they could give a fo-
cused and sustained take on the Cape Malay cooks who were bought as
slaves. Neither does he say much about Muslim people in the Cape, al-
though he does perpetually return to his fascination with the inhabitants,
many of whom came to the Cape as slaves, from foreign territories that are
Islamic, as well as Eastern mysticism. While he does include this history in
his writing on Cape food, he has other aims when he does so, which I will
discuss later. Leipoldt‟s thoughts on slavery include a broader trajectory of
looking at coloured people in the Cape Colony, called half-castes and
natives in the 19th century. He explores the role of Cape coloured people in
the cultural development of South Africa largely in his fiction: in his Afri-
kaans writings they make small but significant appearances but in his trilogy
of English novels they form a greater part of his anti-nationalist argument,
so much so that the key character in the trilogy‟s concluding novel is a
coloured domestic servant who is a cipher of the unequal relations evident
in the domestic environment. While Leipoldt‟s writing on Cape food does
not pursue any grand ambition to give voice to coloured slaves and servants,
he does humanise them and reveres their culinary skill; when he calls them
artists he does not abstract them but emphasises his own take on the com-
plex blend of personal and social factors he considers inherent in all artistry
and in part of his major works in fiction, poetry and journalism.
Baderoon cites Jacobs‟s The Slave Book and the more recent work of
conceptual artist Berni Searle as crucial to understanding the forged links
between women slaves and the sexual gaze of the slave owner, and how
especially Searle‟s work explores returning the gaze”. Leipoldt‟s writings
on Cape food acknowledge the familiar idiom linking “Cape Malay women
to the kitchen, although he does not offer any more than the acknowl-
edgement when he includes quotes from 19th-century advertisements:
The Malay community at the Cape always had a reputation for its good
cookery and even now the best women cooks are to be found among the
Coloured people who have been trained to appreciate all that is best in both
eastern and western culinary fashions. In the old days a Malay cook was
regarded as indispensable for the household that wished to entertain; slaves
who had knowledge of this kind of cookery commanded a far higher price
than other domestic chattels. Thus a local advertisement stated that Malani,
a good cook, exceptionally skilled and not wasteful in the kitchen, was one
of five slaves to be sold on behalf of the estate of a deceased owner; while an
account of a slave auction related that there was spirited competition for
Emerentia, who is an acknowledged artist of the pot. At the hospitable
house where the young officer, later on to be Lord Wellington, the conqueror
of Napolean, but at that time rusticating on his way to India, was frequently
entertained by the richest man in Cape Town, the cook was a Coloured
woman, skilled in the preparation of oriental dishes . (Leipoldt 2004: 22)
What is perhaps most striking about this quote is the lack of commentary
Leipoldt offers about slavery, given his strong humanitarian stance in
especially The Valley trilogy. The emphasis is instead on the slave Emeren-
tia who is regarded as an “artist” of the pot, as well as the cook who served
dishes of a high enough quality to impress Lord Wellington. It is challen-
ging to decide whether Leipoldt mentally connected the artistry of coloured
women cooks to their bondage, or whether he merely neglected it altogether
in his writing. In the opening novel to the The Valley trilogy, Gallows
Gecko, the question persists. Time and again the novel goes on to address
the history of slavery in the Colony, but this usually happens in a dis-
interested manner or as a minor contextual point in conversations. These
brief asides do enough to ensure that there is not the abject denial of the role
of slavery but do not venture any further, apart from emphasising the link
between former slave women cooks and artistry.
For instance, in the novel the servant Regina, a former slave, is mentioned
as “a wrinkled and podgy woman skilled at kitchen work and a mistress in
the art of baking bread and griddle cakes” (Leipoldt 2001: 18). Regina and
her husband Sylvester are described as former slaves that “had that respect
for authority and that conception of loyalty which were innate in those who
had been brought up under a system of paternal slavery” (p. 18). When we
look closely at the novel, few traces of slave or servant resistance can be
found; Leipoldt merely gives routine descriptions of servants that used to be
Yet, in The Mask, the final novel in the trilogy, Leipoldt‟s most intriguing
character is Ayah Mina, a domestic servant to a villainous mayoral figure,
who had secretly fathered a child with her from an apparently savage en-
counter, a secret that they both keep from his fragile wife although Ayah
Mina‟s reason for keeping the secret is to shelter the wife, Maria, from her
husband‟s treachery, whereas his reason is merely selfish. When Ayah Mina
and Maria interact, it is usually in the kitchen and the dramatic tension is
effective when, in spite of the Ayah‟s history with the husband, there are
hints of a rivalry for the running of the household (put into perspective at
the novel‟s twist ending) between the quiet, saintly wife and the domestic
servant, So, while Leipoldt could merely acknowledge the tendency to asso-
ciate Cape Malay women with the kitchen in his writing about food, he
did pursue writing a sustained fictional project that included as a theme the
sexual gaze of the white master figure, and the miscegenation that occurs
between the white master and the “Cape Malay domestic servant as a result
of avarice and moral corruption on the former‟s part.
In his Afrikaans cooking contributions, Leipoldt also has this to say about
Cape Malay women cooks:
The old Ayah who gave me my first cooking lessons, in my early youth
and I must admit that, in all honesty, the old soul taught me more than
Maitre Escoffier, for whom I had the honour of washing dishes and filling a
sucking lamb with chestnuts always said: “My Basie, raisin rice and
pienangvleis now that is something that Basie will never learn to make as
it should be made. Only we Blacks can make it properly, not Dutchmen!
In those days I have said it was in my tender youth I still had the cheek
to suggest to the old soul that a woman could never really be a first-class
cook . Now that I am older I feel I must apologize to Ayah Hannah. I
know that I cannot make curried meat as it should be made. The “yellow
raisin rice that is no miracle . But curried meat the real, unadult-
erated, traditional, unequalled thing that requires far too much patience for
my liking. I therefore appreciate it all the more when I happen to get some to
eat. Even when made by a woman! I know a few who can prepare it
excellently, even though not in Ayah Hannah‟s more or less ritual way.
(Leipoldt 2004: 241)
Familiar interests of Leipoldt‟s can be spotted here: his fixation with the
past, which is a generational yearning for Old World sensibilities (he inserts
this yearning to greater effect in his English trilogy of novels), his appre-
ciation of tradition and his description of food as works of art, categorised
and classified. His familiarity with Ayah Hannah even eclipses his esteem
for Escoffier, a testament to Leipoldt‟s pride in his upbringing. Ayah
Hannah (and later, Ayah Toontjies) is routinely mentioned in Leipoldt‟s
food articles, and few of his recipes count for much unless some mention of
her is made. The inclusion of “even when made by a woman” may either be
Leipoldt‟s attempt at humility or a reflection on his youthful prejudices: the
woman is as significant to Leipoldt as Escoffier, a male master of the
kitchen domain in other words, in the local context, Ayah Hannah is a
kind of authority similar to Escoffier, lacking his credentials and reputation
but living strongly (and equally alongside Escoffier) in Leipoldt‟s memory
and his appropriation of oral tradition.
Furthermore, Leipoldt‟s obsession with the term art occurs regularly in
most of his general writing: in articles in the 1920s he uses titles like The
Art of Reading and The Ghost Story: The Art of Fear in Literature, and in
the middle novel of his Valley trilogy, Stormwrack, the protagonist, whose
primary activity in life is tending to his magnificent garden, is introduced
with the description, “without knowing it, [he was] an artist” (Leipoldt
2001: 222). Often didactic, the “teacher in Leipoldt was evident in his
ambition to share his great worldly knowledge with his readers, and his
obviously patrician but also deep-felt appropriation of the term art when
he was discussing anything from winemaking to medical matters. In his
writing about food, he seems to hold a special association between women
cooks and artistry: “I have once eaten, at the old White House in Strand
Street [then the recognised Mecca of all who wished to taste good Malay
cookery] where the coloured cook my most proficient instructress in the
art of making pancakes used fish and eel flesh for the dish …” (2004: 81)
[Leipoldt mentions this in a chapter devoted to fish and seafood, and he
regularly emphasises the Eastern influence on Cape seafood dishes: “One of
the best-known fish dishes at the Cape is also one of the oldest and is un-
doubtedly of Eastern origin. It is known as ingelegde vis, which is common-
ly Englished into curried fish, although it should properly be called a
pickled fish curry” (2004: 68). (As far as I could find, having grown up in a
Western Cape coloured family, ingelegde vis is traditionally prepared by
women although, despite its Eastern origin, it is in this context served as a
traditional Christian meal at Easter.)
In an early chapter in his Cape Cookery, Leipoldt sets out his hypothesis:
Properly speaking, the art of cookery is the art of preparing food for eating
by cooking it, that is to say, by rendering it more palatable through the
application of heat. In practice, however, the art of cookery includes much
more than that, for it embraces all methods of preparing food for the table,
even those in which no attempt is made to vary the character of the crude
ingredients except by the addition of flavouring or the subtraction of what
interferes with the palatability. (Leipoldt 2004: 31)
Recollecting asking Ayah Hannah a question, as a child, about the prepa-
ration of mortar to include in a curried meat dish, Leipoldt (still writing as
KAR Bonade) remembers:
Politely and humbly, as it behoved a descendant of slaves to address the
child of a Bonade, she said: “My Basie, it is to get the soul out of it and into
the meat. (Leipoldt 2004: 242)
When discussing bredies (stews), sauces and stewed fruit, Leipoldt claims:
A bredie tests the cook‟s skill not only in blending, but also regarding that
subtle aptitude that experience alone can make perfect to decide when the
margin between perfection and over-cooking has been reached. (p. 96)
The Malay cooks were adept at making the exceedingly pungent, sharp,
well-spiced sauces that are so much favoured in the East . A well-made
atjar is an enthralling relish, for you never know, when you are fishing in a
jar, what you may come across . (pp. 113-114)
In preparing fruit for the table, the old Malay cooks drew on their experience
with tropical fruit. They hardly ever boiled fruit in water; they recognised
that most fruits contain enough water to allow gentle steaming if one wanted
to cook them . (p. 166)
Readers familiar with Leipoldt‟s critical writings and fiction will know that
the didactic tone evident here was always reserved for subjects he felt
passionate about, things he had to share, and an awareness of artistic com-
plexities he had to pass on. He casts the Cape Malays in a certain light
when he writes about food: they are present as the artists who shaped Cape
cooking in history, through the tribulations of slavery and emerging Afri-
kaner nationalist rhetoric, yet he also makes little mention of the idea that
slavery may have had a strong influence on this “kitchen art”. Rather than
attempt to define any fixed idea of what an Afrikaans dish could be, Lei-
poldt‟s aim seems to show the historical importance of “Cape Malay
cooking as among the earliest examples of recognised national cuisine,
much as he tries, in his English-language trilogy of novels, to show that
Cape Afrikaners through the mid-19th and early-20th centuries were of
greater importance than the Afrikaners who trekked out of the Colony,
established their republics in the Transvaal and Orange Free State and
created the modern Afrikaner. Leipoldt‟s contestation of history is both
determined and flawed: his tracing of the history of the “Cape Malay
influence is meticulous and could hardly be challenged, but he bases his
entire cosmopolitan argument on the Cape alone. Even Leipoldt‟s writing
on Afrikaans cooking (for Die Huisgenoot, 7 August 1942) is imbued with a
yearning for the old Cape and its ties with Europe:
In the good old days, when Cape Town still showed signs of being a real
mother city, nurturing western civilization, it was possible in an old-
fashioned way to learn something of real Afrikaans cookery . The
question remains whether we have a culinary art that can validly be de-
scribed as genuinely and indigenously Afrikaans there is hardly any so-
called “Afrikaans dish the preparation and contents of which were not
known to our forefathers in Europe . What we call traditional Afrikaans
cooking can be compared to that found in the area south of the Ardour River
in France . Our contemporary schools for domestic science have thus far
not managed to produce excellent cooks. If we were to take our cooking
more seriously, we would utilize our indigenous treasures . But without
experimentation, there will be no progress. (Leipoldt 2004: 227)
Discussing Leipoldt‟s trilogy of English-language novels, Peter Merrington
finds a general tendency in his fiction and documentary prose:
By contrasting northern meanness of political spirit with Cape generosity,
[Leipoldt] locates his authorial position within an outdated Cape patrician set
of discourses . His protagonists lament the loss of inherited tradition,
brought about by the South African War, and by the new sectarian inter-
ventionist social policies of the Afrikaner nationalist party, which is regard-
ed with suspicion as composed of people without tradition and their
narrow race-based interests. What becomes evident in the trajectory of
Leipoldt‟s three novels is a nostalgia for a rooted or organic past, com-
bined with an argument that this rooted past owned a greater sense of
humane values than does his contemporary modernizing world.
(2003: 43-44)
Leipoldt‟s Cape patrician discourse creates a problem for itself when he
discusses the figure of the “Cape Malay: he means to include this figure as
an artist, a historical gatekeeper of food culture, but in lamenting the loss of
the Cape Colony and its English-centred cultural development, Leipoldt is
also yearning for the reinstatement of the more privileged citizens of the old
Colony and their class-based interests in other words, he yearns for the
return of a world where “Cape Malays feature as slaves, or servants. While
Leipoldt, in one of his English novels, does emphasise the influence of the
English settlers in the abolishment of slavery in the 1820s and 1830s in the
Cape, his argument for many of the slaves choosing to stay with their
masters is a thin veneer for a possibly naïve outlook that under exclusive
English rule, things were simply better for everyone than under 20th-
century Afrikaner rule. What he neglects to discuss (even though he does
acknowledge it) is that the artistry of the coloured cooks he studies de-
veloped both under and possibly as a response to slavery and servitude in a
world where Cape Afrikaners and English settlers were the masters. The
cosmopolitanism is surely located there, and so too its influence in Cape
dishes, but the social consequences to and of this cosmopolitanism are
unequal to the non-white participants.
Baderoon, discussing Leipoldt‟s mention of the free, almost heroicuse
of spices by Cape Malay cooks, makes the point that, among other things,
his use of the term “heroic lends itself to the notion that the cooks, as either
slaves or servants, were the masters of the kitchen; they used their skill at
“combining flavours as a significant claim of control mastery and freedom
over a domain which fell beneath the surveillance of slave-owners” (2004:
15). She goes on to cite Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life
(1984), in which he theorises on subversions that play on “the notions of
invisibility” (2004: 15), stating that in unequal power relations, there can
exist an ambiguous space in which objects can be destabilised by the
powerless to disguise their resistance to the dominant figures in a society
(2004: 15). This kind of resistance is not transparent, it is
devious, it is dispersed, but it insinuates itself everywhere, silently and
almost invisibly, because it does not manifest itself through its own
products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by
dominant economic order. (de Certeau in Baderoon 2004: page?)
Inasmuch as Leipoldt‟s Cape Malays are given voice through the quotes
of Ayah Hannah and other servants Leipoldt was familiar with in his youth,
they are still chained to the kitchen in his depictions of them, with Ayah
Minah in The Mask as the only crucial exception. This somewhat deflates
his arguments for racial and cultural inclusivity in the national sense even as
it does supplement his research into the country‟s food history. In his
reveries for “Cape Malay cooks, Leipoldt does not make a case for them as
being agents of resistance, and of course it must be considered that Leipoldt
himself, because of his position, may actually never have witnessed any
signs, concealed or otherwise, of such resistance. Yet, considering his argu-
ment for Ayah Minah in The Mask (set in the “Afrikaner” 20th century), it
begs the question why Leipoldt never broke with the image of the docile,
familial servant in his critical writing, why he never considered that in the
moral universe of his idyllic 19th-century Cape, not yet tainted by the return
of Republican Afrikaners (who had left the Colony as Voortrekkers), there
could have been earlier models for Ayah Minah. It may appear that in his
writing, the “free, heroic use of spices could only carry deeper connota-
tions of resistance when squared against the 20th-century Afrikaner ethic.
Stephen Gray (1984: 1) notes that Leipoldt is an urbane storyteller, highly
respectful of oral tradition, and Kannemeyer applies the term “causerie(in
Leipoldt 1990) to Leipoldt‟s critical writings, referring to his ability to be
conversational with his imagined readers and thereby giving an accessible,
familiar spin to otherwise complex topics. His causerie writings in the
1920s often attempted to bring folk anecdotes and tales to inform the
newspaper columns he was writing columns that, as stated above, were
often established for political gain by Leipoldt‟s employers. In Leipoldt‟s
recipes, he often eschewed providing too much knowledge, instead trying to
inspire feeling in his readers. What Kannemeyer points to as Leipoldt‟s
artistic sensibility in the kitchen refers to his refusal to be too precise and
detailed when sharing recipes, his writing on food was meant to inform his
readers more on the history of South African food, and his recipes were
intended for those who already appreciated the finer points of preparing
food. In this, he showed a respectful (if not overt) affinity to the Cape Malay
cooks he often wrote about: these cooks had secrets outsiders could not
easily learn from, and their recipes were often passed through oral tradition
(Baderoon 2004: 25). Leipoldt draws on this when he writes about Cape
Malay cooks, and seems to try and emulate them. Gray considers that, in
Leipoldt‟s work,
oral transmission is the best material for making history, thus making
tradition the valuable possession instead of recorded history … Leipoldt then
commenced on the Valley project acting as a scribe to Clanwilliam and its
oral tradition, but as an artist and not a historian. Yet, hearsay or oral
tradition does make it historical Leipoldt was not interested in using
history to illustrate how we come to be at one particular moment, with the
implication that the moment is a summation and climax of all pre-existing
events; he was far more interested in showing that history itself was, and is,
in dynamic flux, a continuing process of transformations ….”
(Gray1984: 2-9)
Although Gray is describing Leipoldt‟s Valley trilogy, his assessment may
be shifted to general patterns in his writing. If we reapply the focus to
Leipoldt‟s thoughts on food, his resistance to the idea of a national,
Afrikaner cuisine has roots in his disagreement with the idea that a national
history follows a certain structure that only emphasises the importance of a
group of peoples, and that this history has written documentation for its
various cultural tenets. It is, in fact, the practice of oral tradition that is more
important to nation-building in Leipoldt‟s scheme. As characters in the
Valley trilogy would have it, “national feeling presupposes a nation, and
what [you] take for it is sectional feeling” (Leipoldt 2001: 147) coupled
with “you cannot create tradition by act of parliament” (p. 576) are indi-
cators of Leipoldt‟s scepticism regarding Afrikaner cultural supremacy.
Introducing Cape Cookery, Leipoldt immediately shares childhood memo-
ries of watching his family‟s Ayah preparing meals in the kitchen, in the late
19th century:
I assisted, in a very minor and suppressed capacity, at the culinary operations
of a very expert Coloured woman cook who bore the reputation of being one
of the best in the Cape Colony . She presided over a kitchen whose
cleanliness could have served as a model for an operating theatre of a
modern hospital, largely because she insisted that punctilious, painstaking
ablution was an indispensable preliminary in the preparation of food ….
The Ayah‟s art was the result of many years of instruction and experience
in the traditional methods of Malay cookery, whose outstanding charac-
teristics are the free, almost heroic, use of spices and aromatic flavourings,
the prolonged steady, but slow, application of moist heat to all meat dishes,
and the skilful blending of many diverse constituents into a combination that
still holds the essential goodness of each. Her dishes, that were eaten by
Governors, Prime Ministers and Very Important Persons, were made from
old recipes that were firmly enshrined in her memory, for she never referred
to written or printed directives …. (Leipoldt 2004: 5)
We may note a worthy distinction here: Leipoldt emphasises the Ayah‟s
ability to cook from memory without the support of written instruction. In
contrast, Leipoldt was often critical of so-called Afrikaner recipes, question-
ing their authenticity and often quietly lambasted his readers who were in
need of written recipes. An authentic national cookery, he seems to suggest,
should be based on personal feeling and memory, not a handbook of instruc-
tions. Even with his mention of the free, heroic use of spices we may
observe that, in his Afrikaans recipes for Die Huisgenoot‟s column, he
subtly mentions the Afrikaner‟s lack of freedom when cooking, as if lam-
basting his readers for needing his column. A deeper point here is that
Leipoldt‟s emphasis on memory is, of course, an observation he makes of
the slaves and domestic servants he writes about, the authority figures (to
his mind) behind Cape food. They are superior in the kitchen, he seems to
say, because they memorise their recipes, meaning that the transference of
these recipes occurs through word of mouth. An authentic food culture in
South Africa, then, owes more to the oral tradition of the Cape Malay cooks
than it does to written recipes.
Much of Leipoldt‟s discourse in the early chapters of Cape Cookery seems
intent on giving due recognition to the role of the Malay influence on Cape
food, as well as showing how the literature on Cape cooking available at the
time owed much to this. Discussing the earliest known cookbooks (or
writing) on the Cape, Leipoldt emphasises the debt:
Undoubtedly the most potent influence on Cape cookery has been the
methods, tastes and culinary customs of the Malay cooks brought directly
from Java in the early part of the eighteenth century. Mr Spencer St John, in
his entertaining book Life in the Forests of the Far East, published in the
latter part of the last century, has paid a well-deserved compliment to his
Malay cook:
Malay cookery is sometimes very tasty; I remember spending a fortnight in
the Sultan‟s palace, and we were fed daily from his kitchen; sometimes the
stewed fowls were admirable and there was a particular kind of rice-cake,
sent in very hot, which was delicious. But the triumph of Malay cookery is
to send in the sambals in perfection, particularly the one called blachang .
I have mentioned the admirable curry which the Ahtan put before me . it
appears a very different thing from what I have tasted in England under the
name of curry. A fowl is cut up into small pieces, and four dried and two
green onions, five chillies, half a tumeric, one teaspoonful of coriander seed,
one of white cumin, and one of sweet cumin, are provided. You must well
pound the seeds, tumeric and chillies, and slice the onions fine; then take the
saucepan and, after buttering it, slightly brown the onions, then add the
pounded ingredients with just sufficient water to reduce them to a paste, and
throw in the fowl and well mix them up, till the meat has a yellow tint, and
lastly, add the cocoa-nut milk, and boil till the curry be thoroughly cooked
.… The cocoa-nut milk is made by scraping the meat of half an old nut very
fine, then soaking it in warm water, and after squeezing out the milk, throw
the fibre away.
These directions are identical with those of some of our earliest manuscript
recipes, and show how closely East Indian methods were followed at the
Cape, even though the blachang referred to is obviously a mistake for the
much more pungent trassi condiment that never became naturalized any-
where outside the Malay archipelago . It was customary for Cape
housewives to commission captains of ships going to Batavia to buy and
bring back modest quantities of spices and delicacies . Oriental
influence was predominant in Cape cookery, and its importance can easily
be judged by the value attached to eastern spices and condiments in the old-
fashioned recipes. (Leipoldt 2004: 21-22)
As Leipoldt, in his English-language fiction, contested the Afrikaner
nationalist project, there are traces of this trajectory when he discusses the
history of the Malay influence in Cape cooking. If he at times challenged
notions of authentic Afrikaner cookery, he seemed to do so by pointing to
traditional South African meals that include the “non-white” influence and
significantly, the earliest published cookbooks relevant to South Africa that
are not in Afrikaans or Dutch but in English. When he discusses A.G.
Hewitt‟s Cape Cookery, published in 1889, and states that it is the “first
accurate account of local recipes” (Leipoldt 2004: 23), the book‟s chapters
on fish, especially, point to Cape Malay cooking: smoored kreef
(smothered or stewed crayfish), ingelegde vis (curried pickled fish) and
smoored snoek(smothered or stewed fish) while later chapters in Hewitt‟s
book describe the recipes for bobotie, Cape curry and Cape chutney even
the absence of recipes that could include wine, which Leipoldt criticises the
book for, emphasise a local, Eastern tendency. [Another book, A.R.
Barnes‟s Colonial Household Guide, published shortly after Hewitt‟s book,
Leipoldt criticises for a lack of imagination and only counts its recipes for
cabbage bredie, sosaties and barbel fish as among the few that could be
said to have local origin again, these recipes (with the exception of
bredies) are more decidedly Cape Malay.] The book is also, to Leipoldt,
not entirely satisfactory, as it “could not claim that it was an exhaustive
collection of Cape recipes, nor that it gave the reader the best to be found in
the old family manuscript cookbooks” (Leipoldt 2004: 23). The manuscripts
he mentions are recipes that were written down and passed on in families, a
historical marker of the development of food writing in South Africa
following from informal oral transference of culinary knowledge.
Leipoldt‟s anti-nationalism was complex. On the one hand, he was con-
sistent in his calls for a South Africa free of sectionalism, yet his mostly
focusing his debates from an anti-Afrikaner stance did not begin to address
more pertinent questions of how he imagined a nationalism equal to all
races. Similarly, his food writing indicates that he was as passionate about
ridding the available local literature on South African food of Afrikaner
stamps of authority, yet he seemed disinterested in pursuing any great
representation of the non-Afrikaners he acknowledges as the artists behind
authentic South African food. What he left behind were arresting visions of
cosmopolitanism and cultural linkages through food, with highly respectful
nods to the secrets transferred through oral tradition that have kept certain
recipes intact. Both Leipoldt‟s respectful distance from these secrets, as
well as his arguably well-intentioned ways of drawing attention to the
keepers of these secrets (as being the guardians of food culture in South
Africa), possibly emerges as his contribution to the recognition of the Cape
Malay culinary influence in South Africa.
Baderoon, G.
2004 Oblique Figures: Representations of Islam in South African Media
and Culture. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cape Town.
du Plessis, I.D.
1966 Hilda’s Where Is It of Recipes: Containing amongst Other Practical
and Tried Recipes, Many Old Cape, Indian and Malay Dishes and
Preserves .... Cape Town: Balkema.
Giliomee, H.
2003 The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. Cape Town: Tafelberg.
Gray, S.
1984 Leipoldt’s Valley Community: The Novelist as Archivist. Johannes-
burg: University of the Witwatersrand, History Workshop.
Kannemeyer, J.C.
1999 Leipoldt: ’n Lewensverhaal. Cape Town: Tafelberg.
Leipoldt, C.L.
1990 Literêre Causerie, edited by J.C. Kannemeyer. Cape Town: Juta.
2001 The Valley: A Trilogy, edited by Murray & Emslie, Cape Town:
2003 Leipoldt’s Food & Wine. Cape Town: Stonewall.
Mandivenga, E.C.
2000 The Cape Muslims and the Indian Muslims of South Africa: A
Comparative Analysis. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 20(2): 1-3.
Merrington, P.J.
2003 C. Louis Leipoldt‟s Valley Trilogy and Contested South African
Nationalisms in the Early Twentieth Century. Current Writing ??
Omer-Cooper, J.D.
1994 History of Southern Africa. Cape Town: David Philip.
Wallerstein, I.
1987 The Construction of Peoplehood: Racism, Nationalism. Ethnicity in
Sociological Forum 2(2): 1-2.
Riaan Oppelt
Stellenbosch University
Full-text available
Word processed copy. Thesis (Ph.D. (English Language and Literature))--University of Cape Town, 2004. Includes bibliographical references.
This paper presents one example of the process whereby a writer like C. Louis Leipoldt absorbed living oral Afrikaans history and converted it into written Afrikaans documentation. This example serves to illustrate a larger process which he applied to the construction and composition of a sequence of four historical novels dealing with analogous material in English. The purpose is to record some of the problems and implications of a Leipoldt editing project, which is still in progress, and to formulate some of the related aspects of interpreting historical fiction as historical source material. The paper proposes that one of the traumatic events of South African literature is the shift from oracy to literacy, and that many South African writers have displayed a special guardianship of this shift in terms of literary procedures which follow different norms than those of the cultural historian.
C Louis Leipoldt has long been received as a major figure within the Afrikaans literary canon. The recent posthumous publication of his English‐language Valley Trilogy (written in the 1920s, when the white Union of South Africa experienced contestation between Anglophone and Dutch or Afrikaans political lobbies) now reveals him as a dedicated liberal, squarely set against the isolationist policies of his Afrikaner peers. Leipoldt is a complex figure who fits partially into both these camps. His background in Moravian mission culture was more continental than Cape Dutch; his experiences as a journalist and medical student gave him broad perspectives of Britain, Europe and the Far East. He worked with nationalists such as Gustav Preller, yet his sympathies lay in the liberal Cape. The essay reads these dynastic novels as novels of ideas in which from 1840 to 1920 the characters enact in microcosm the formation of South African civil society, and engage with the unfolding tragedy of racial rivalry.
Cape Town: Juta. 2001 The Valley: A Trilogy Cape Town: Stormberg. 2003 Leipoldt's Food & Wine
  • C L Leipoldt
Leipoldt, C.L. 1990 Literêre Causerie, edited by J.C. Kannemeyer. Cape Town: Juta. 2001 The Valley: A Trilogy, edited by Murray & Emslie, Cape Town: Stormberg. 2003 Leipoldt's Food & Wine. Cape Town: Stonewall.
Oblique Figures: Representations of Islam in South African Media and Culture. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cape Town. du Plessis, I.D. 1966 Hilda's Where Is It of Recipes: Containing amongst Other Practical and Tried Recipes, Many Old Cape, Indian and Malay Dishes and Preserves
  • G Baderoon
Baderoon, G. 2004 Oblique Figures: Representations of Islam in South African Media and Culture. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cape Town. du Plessis, I.D. 1966 Hilda's Where Is It of Recipes: Containing amongst Other Practical and Tried Recipes, Many Old Cape, Indian and Malay Dishes and Preserves.... Cape Town: Balkema.
Where Is It of Recipes: Containing amongst Other Practical and Tried Recipes, Many Old Cape, Indian and Malay Dishes and Preserves
  • Hilda
Hilda's Where Is It of Recipes: Containing amongst Other Practical and Tried Recipes, Many Old Cape, Indian and Malay Dishes and Preserves.... Cape Town: Balkema.
  • Leipoldt's Valley
  • Community
Leipoldt's Valley Community: The Novelist as Archivist. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, History Workshop. Kannemeyer, J.C. 1999 Leipoldt: 'n Lewensverhaal. Cape Town: Tafelberg. Leipoldt, C.L. 1990