Bread is plentiful in South Africa, and some of it is downright cheap. It’s not unusual for working folks to eat a loaf of bread or several rolls for lunch. When we moved in, the owner advised me to always have brown bread and peanut butter for Evelina, the domestic worker, and Collins, the gardener, to eat while they had their sweet, milky rooibos tea or coffee.

In the bigger cities, there are bakeries specializing in bread. Here in Witbank, there are some artisanal breads in most of the grocery stores: rustic looking round loaves with a crack down the middle; long thin loaves; short fat loaves; flat breads covered in sun-dried tomatoes and onions. They cost between R15 and R32 ($1.50-$3.20) Oftentimes those breads are just sitting out in the air with pre-priced brown bags beside them. Occasionally they’ll have netting over top to deter the bugs.

There’s also shelves with rows and rows of square loaves in plastic: white bread, brown bread, best of both white & brown, low gi with nuts and seeds, oatmeal, and even low kilojoule/low calorie (They can’t get it down quite as low as in the US, though. I think they don’t slice it thin enough!) These loaves cost between R9 and R13 (90 cents and $1.30) You learn quickly to check the plastic sleeves for holes – your bread only has to be hard as a rock once as your lesson. You also learn to hang on to the little tabs they close the plastic bags with, because schoolkids save them to turn in to a charity that somehow allows them to purchase wheelchairs for invalids when they get 3,978,652 of them. That’s a rough estimate, obviously. They can also be turned in at the DisChem Pharmacy at the Highveld Mall.

Over by the bakery in the grocery stores are  shelves of unsliced white and brown bread loaves. Brown bread that hasn’t been sliced is the cheapest, about R7.5. If they have unsliced bread, they also have a machine that you can use to slice it. People get tickled when they see my delight at the process, which I think is pretty awesome.

This is Blue Ribbon brand, but there's also Albany and Sasko brands.
Bread cutting machine
This is the unbelieving bakery lady at PicknPay Grocery Store at the Highveld Mall in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga allowing me to video her using the bread cutting machine

Uncut white bread, 85 cents; Uncut brown bread (in back) 75 cents
One day I was walking past the fish & chips store, and there were four men sitting at an outside table with a loaf of bread and a big square of paper covered with chips (fries), which in turn were covered with tomato sauce (ketchup). Not too unusual, I guess, until I noticed that they were taking a slice of bread, folding it in half, tucking the fries into it, then eating it like a sandwich! What? I stopped short of taking a photo of them, but they were very confused when I asked, incredulously, if they were eating chip sandwiches. Their attitude was “duuuuhhh,” but they simply nodded in the affirmative. Then I noticed that on the menu board you could buy a chip roll for ninety cents.

A week or two later Steven and I were at a church picnic, eating his delicious chicken salad with lettuce on tasty little rolls when I looked over at some friends and asked what they were having on their sandwich. Crisps! Potato chip sandwiches! This time I couldn’t resist the call of the camera and asked our friend Nielen Toerien to let me take pictures of the process. He says he and his boys enjoy chip sandwiches whenever his wife allows it or doesn't know. His wife, Alet, watched apologetically as she ate healthy food and her men ate chip sandwiches.

Apparently this is a nationwide phenomenon; as we were driving up to Lesotho for our mission trip, a few of the men brought the ingredients and shared chip sandwiches.

Eish! (That’s South African for “For crying out loud!”)

Many thanks to Nielen for demonstrating the recipe that apparently every man in South  Africa knows! (Hovering over the photos brings up the captions)
Although I’ve been buying magazines for seasonal recipes, I don’t usually spend money on cookbooks. But I found an old cookbook at a church garage sale, and I couldn’t resist. The day I bought it, I sat down on the couch with Steven after supper and opened my new treasure. The pages have separated from the binding; a good sign of a well-used resource, I believe.  60 years of cigarette smoke, grease, and flour flew up in my face as I turned the pages.

So many delightful surprises! This cookbook was published by Royal Baking Powder (PTY.) Ltd; third edition, 1955. I noticed that the flag on the front is not South Africa’s current flag, but the Royal Baking Powder can looks the same.

The last paragraph of the dedication page reads ”And so this book is dedicated to all the young newly-weds in South Africa, many of whom will be coming to grips with a stove for the first time! Every recipe is explained as simply as possible, all measurements and temperatures are accurate, and none of the ingredients are unobtainable or unduly expensive.”

The first paragraph of the Introduction reads “The enjoyment of fine food has been one of the principal delights of men since the beginning of time, and for the woman who would aspire to the power that good cooking offers, there are a few golden rules that cannot be ignored.” The rules follow: make simple meals that can be prepared with ease and don’t experiment indiscriminately. What bride doesn’t need this book?

The section on shopping and food storage talks about using lock-up pantries, and buying good supplies of non-perishable goods. There’s a paragraph dedicated to storage of soap! Don’t store it with your food, keep it in the linen closet and buy a large quantity because it needs to dry out – apparently, the harder the soap, the longer it lasts. Who knew?

I got a clearer understanding of my friend Anthea’s cutlery set, which she graciously loaned for the purpose of our Friendship Group’s Christmas dinner. She has this great wooden box full of silverware that I had no idea how to place on the table, or even what it was all for. Now I know! I also learned that each piece of cutlery should be straight, and placed about one inch from the edge of the table (which should be covered in a damask tablecloth).

Another good section explained how to serve “Maidless Meals.” Truly!

Well worn cover with old South African flag
With all that cutlery, there's barely room for food!
For all of us who need help on the maid's day off...
Interesting reading as that was, I wanted to chew on the meat of the matter, if you know what I mean.

I began perusing Garnishes & Snacks (they were making radish roses before I was born!); Sandwiches (I’m going to pass on the Marmite butter and hardboiled egg recipe); Seasonings (I didn’t know wine was a seasoning); Soups (What is sago?); Fish (I‘ve actually seen many of the types described in Meat & Fish); Meats (I was flabbergasted -- or should I say flubbergasted -- to see a section on whalemeat!); Poultry & Game (includes information on plucking and cleaning); Sauces, Gravies, Stuffings (What in the world is forcemeat?); Vegetables & Cereals (Including recipes for mealies, marrow, green paw-paws, and pumpkin); Salads & Dressings (Beetroot Cup Salad – Cook as many beets as you have people, form them into a bowl, fill with a mixture of cooked vegetables & top with mayo.); Light Meals (Stuffed Vegetable Marrow sounds similar to our favorite Weight Watcher recipe Beef Stuffed Zucchini Boats); Leftovers & Canned Comfort (Jellied Fish & Capers, anyone?)…

Ooooohhh, now we’re getting to the good stuff! Desserts (Lots of puddings & custards); Pastry Making (I’m always looking for a piecrust recipe that turns out); Bread Making (Excellent explanation of all the types of yeast I’ve seen on the grocer’s shelves); Baking-Mix Recipes (sounds like Bisquick & I’m going to try it); Cakes & Biscuits (Remember, biscuits are cookies); Icings & Fillings (Who knew you could use monkey nuts as an almond paste substitute); and Home-made Sweets (Sweets or sweeties are candy).

Next to the recipes everyone should know: Home Canning & Preserves (A word of caution: when using caustic soda for peeling fruits, keep vinegar & water or lemon juice & water nearby in case of burns); Beverages (If I can find a new-laid egg, I might try some Chocolate Egg-Nog); Invalid Cooking (Try Tomato & Liver Soup for anaemia or Albumen Water for Diarrhoea & Dysentery); Household Budget (blah, blah, blah); Menu Planning (School lunch boxes should include a meaty sandwich, fresh fruit or pudding, whole tomato or grated carrot, and a glass of milk or a cup of hot cocoa); and finally….

SOUTH AFRICAN RECIPES! Naturally, they have names I can’t pronounce or understand: Fish Kedgeree; Penang; Perlemoen; Gesmoorde Hoender; Bredie; and Frikkadel (that one makes me smile). I do recognize a few: Sosaties (Dutch Kabobs); Bobotie (a casserole); Boerwors (sausage); Biltong (kind of like jerky); Melktart (custard pie); Koeksisters (doughnuts soaked in syrup – beyond delicious when they’re fresh); and a variety of chutneys (it seems South Africans prefer not to spice their food as they cook; they just add a chutney at the table.)

As I was reading the recipes, I realized the ingredients were measured in cups, not millimeters or grams! And the temperatures were noted in Fahrenheit, not Celsius! Then I remembered Sandra (the lady who owns our home) telling me how troublesome it was to make the switch to metrics when she was a child. She even left me a conversion chart next to the oven.

Apparently it’s true that everything old is new again!
You didn't think I'd lie to you, did you?
They sell koeksisters at the coffee shop at church for 50 cents each. mmmmmmmmm.......