Friday July 6 2018
Two days ago, Renata Coetzee’s latest work – another striking social history dealing with early South African cuisine – was shown to the committee of the McGregor Heritage Society. Recently released, a local resident had given a copy to the Society, a gesture much appreciated. Unknown to us, the author had recently died, bringing an era of impressive and prolific research to a close.
According to the notice in today’s Cape Times, Renata was born in 1930, and certainly lived life to the full to the age of 88. Her research in to our early eating habits saw a number of titles published, and these were readable, enjoyable books, rather than dusty tomes. Her interests were not only acadaemic, but practical, as her weighty manual on creative catering proved.
But let’s backtrack for a minute, and have a quick look at her impressive career. Her initial degree in dietetics was awarded at Potchefstroom, but she received her Masters degree in home economics at Stellenbosch University. She studied food and nutrition at three universities in the US of A between 1959 and 1974 and lectured at the University of Pretoria for some years .
Her first title The South African Culnary Tradition was published in 1977, a delicious mix of social history and eating habits of the early Cape Dutch community from 1652 to 1800, with more than 100 authentic recipes. It’s a title that has always been at my side when writing about the historic aspect of our cuisine , whether for the Cape Argus, for magazines or for any of my own titles.
Her interest in the food of Southern African tribes saw intensive research being conducted over several years, at a time when this received scant coverage in English and Afrikaans cookery books. Renata’s second book, Funa, Roots of traditional African food culture was the result, and one on the customs and traditional fare of the Batswana followed.
As the new South Africa came into being, Renata was ready on the gastronomic front with a large manual containing the fruits of long labour. Cost-Consious Creative Catering was launched to provide mass-catering for every cultural taste in South Africa. In a hand-written note she told me that this ground-breaking achievement presented user-friendly recipes , with clear instructions, for caterers to provided “Africa’s Natural Nourishment” as she termed it, in portions ranging from 50 through 200 to 1000.
Here her experience as Anglo American’s Gold and Uranium division manager of dietetics and catering becomes clear, as does her decade as senior dietician for Stellenbosch university. As a commercial venture she packaged traditional ingredients like sorghum, marogo, isjingi into quick-cooking food packs for caterers and included dozens of dishes that used traditional fare, with western ingredients (pilchards, bread, cheese, salads) to produce healthy and varied menus for balanced meals.
Fast forward to 2010 when Coetzee and photographer Volker Miros launched Kukumakranka: a triumph of a title embracing Khoi-Khoin Culture, Customs and Creative Cooking. Acknowledging contributions from those who talk about Griqua and Nama diets, this precious item of Africana is dedicated to the Khoi-Khoin women, who showocase their art of cooking on these beautifully designed and illustrated pages.
Around this time Renata advised the owner and chef of Solms-Delta near Franschhoek on what to plant in their veld-food garden and what to put on the menu to reflect the fare enjoyed by the region’s early inhabitants. The results have seen travellers from across the globe sit down and try ingredients truly foreign to them, but well received in the farm’s restaurant.
I presumed that Renata was enjoying well earned retirement in Stellenbosch. What a thought! Her latest and final title is a culinary and historical swansong that will surely complete some forgotten aspects of our nutritional habits that she wrapped up quite recently. I have not yet got hold of a copy, but will do so very soon.
In the meantime, my admiration and heartfelt thanks to this amazing lady, whose unfailing enthusiam, talent and work lives on between the covers of her titles.