To go back in time and browse through some of the early local cookery books makes for a pleasant and an interesting time spent. The Leipoldt Cookery Collection at the National Library of South Africa (Cape Town Campus) has a collection of these books. Paging through volumes makes one aware not only of having caught a brief glimpse of a different age but also of having a fleeting look at how many women lived and occupied their days.
An early recipe book in this collection is in the Dutch language and, it seems, was owned by Maria Catherine Versfeld of Klaasenbosch, Constantia. It was presented in 1961 to the Library by Miss E Cloete of Plumstead. Mrs Versfeld was born in 1782 and the book was written somewhere between c1803 and c 1830. In 1905 A F Cleaver made a collection of recipes and household hints which, in time, was handed to the Library by Dr Leipoldt. C F Louis Leipoldt was a medical doctor, a poet, journalist, author and someone who enjoyed cooking. His library of cookery books were left to the above Library, after his death in 1947. Another volume entitled Cape Cookery, Simple and Distinctive by A G Hewitt was originally published in this country in 1890 although the copy viewed was a 1911 edition.
Hildagonda Duckitt, granddaughter of William Duckitt who had been sent to the Cape in 1800 to improve local agriculture, published in 1891 Hilda’s Diary of a Cape
Housekeeper and dedicated it to the then Princess of Wales. Included in this book are a number of pages on the Darling family home, Groote Post, how to make yeast, the feeding and housing of poultry, facts on gardening. She also informed readers that Autumn was the best time to catch and eat the fish known as Geelbek (yellow mouth, sometimes known as Cape Salmon). Details were also given for chestnut pudding – chestnuts were then grown, according to the authoress, in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Worcester.
In 1892 Miss Duckitt published another book of recipes Hilda’s Where is it? It gave strict instructions as to how cooks should handle the cloths they used. These should be soaked overnight in washing soda and thoroughly rinsed the next morning in warm water and soap. Glass had to be washed in cold water and blue mottled soap and when dry brightened with two different cloths. Further advice was given as to the cleaning of dishes and plates used for eating.
A feature of these two books by Hildagonda Duckitt is how reliant women were on each other for information, help and friendship. Often they lived a fair distance apart and when they gathered in a specific place, they swopped recipes, advice and instructions. From an historic point of view when mention is made of “Mrs Eksteen’s recipe or “my recipe” the reader gains an insight into the lives of women – wives, sisters, daughters of well known local farmers – who otherwise would remain unknown.