Celebrating holidays and traditions like Easter in a state of lockdown may be a norm we have no choice but to adapt to, but we are surely clinging on to those food traditions.
Cape certified sommelier Heinrich Bothman says Easter triggers powerful memories from his childhood, of his mother Nellie, who would bring even feuding family together with her recipe for pickled fish.
“My kitchen adventure began with something as simple as a white sauce. My mom always used to say, Hein please stir this and make sure that there are no lumps! I would always watch her cook but it was not something that I participated in.
“Cooking is a creative process for me now. When I started living on my own and getting introduced to wine, I realised I could make something that could compliment the beverage I serve,” he says.
This year Easter will promise to be a lot quieter and smaller in the home of Johannesburg food stylist and cookbook author Dianne Bibby. “You never really make plans anymore because you never know what’s coming tomorrow,” she says.
Bibby still recalls the day she was gifted her first cookbook at age 21, Cooking the South African Way by South African legend Magdaleen van Wyk.
She has since crafted her very own recipe for traditional pickled fish, merging the tricks from the book and her own mother’s kitchen lessons. “By adding garam masala, crushed fennel and coriander, the sauce is bolder and somewhat earthy,” she says.
We caught up with the culinary virtuosos to talk Easter and food heritage.
Noluthando Ngcakani: Dianne, what does a typical Easter look like in the home of a food stylist?
Dianne Bibby: Obviously, it will be a lot quieter, like with Christmas as well. We are just so used to doing big sharing tables with everybody. It is such a lovely day of eating and sharing.
From Friday to Monday, we are eating hot cross buns. Sometimes on Good Friday we will do a lunch and then on Easter Sunday we will have a brunch.
We do a lovely Easter brunch, starting off with a beautiful homemade granola and yogurt and fruit and everything, and then shakshuka, which is wonderful.
Sunday is more traditional with a roast. Lunch will have a lovely lamb, with lots of sides. I am more of a vegetable person, so I love lots of beautiful big platters of salads, and seasonal roast vegetables.
Lots of dessert, we are not shy with our helpings of chocolate. Easter is the best time to celebrate the sweet tooth!
We love bread so we will make chocolate babka, layered with hazelnuts, fruit like candied apples and cranberries. And obviously some mosbolletjies.
It has been a year since the world spent their first Easter in lockdown. What will feel different about Easter this year?
It’s just very difficult with our parents. I do not think people are planning in advance anymore. We obviously like to still have those traditions, you cannot throw everything out the window, I think you just must be really careful and be wise about how you honour your traditions.
We have adapted and come to terms with the way we do things.
Speaking of traditions, what is the secret ingredient to the perfect pickled fish?
Now you are opening a can of worms! Although I love all traditional South African food I really love playing around with different flavours for my pickled fish.
Preserved lemon is not traditional, but it is absolutely wonderful. I would say it is the best secret to the best pickled fish, for me. Everyone will say it has got to be more turmeric, or more onions. I think it is not the obvious one; that makes it special. Add your interpretation, that is what keeps food evolving. The classics keep coming along with us because every generation has a slightly different take on it.
Heinrich, what will be significant about the holiday this year?
Heinrich Bothman: Easter is one of the most important dates of the Christian calendar. It could even be more important than Christmas. It is about suffering, overcoming and finally bringing in the harvest that you sowed, which speaks a lot to current challenges experienced over the year by the wine industry.
This year Easter is closest to when harvesting will be over, you might just be in time for the right mosbolle.
For me, the holiday is about celebrating what you have suffered and overcome with the people you love.
It reminds me of my mom (Nellie), and how she used to unite the whole family.
Any advice on picking the perfect fish for pickled fish?
There will always be arguments about whose pickled fish is better around the dinner table. It’s all about preference. I love a yellow tail and snoek.
Moving away from pickled fish, one year I made some fruity basting, and made the type of fish you buy from a fish and chips shop, which came out nice.
So, for us who did not grow up eating mosbolletjies, what exactly are they?
It is like a brioche bread, light and fluffy with a little more sweetness. There is lots of aniseed in there, instead of using yeast as a rising agent you use partially fermented grape juice, which is called mos (must) in Afrikaans. In Germany they call it federweisser, which can be bought as a wine.
What kinds of wine can we pair with our pickled fish?
Pickled fish is normally spicy and sweet so you need to get something that is quite delicate that will cut through oiliness. A wine that works very well with that is an aromatic variety like Riesling.
Riesling has a bit of residual sugar and acidity.