Hall, Lynn Bedford. Fig jam and Foxtrot: Tales of Life, Love, and Food in the Karoo. (2013) Kindle edition. $5.99
I was looking for geology and natural history books, and ended up buying a cookbook and collection of Aga-sagas*. Go figure.
The Karoo is part of South Africa, a semi-arid region of farms and ranches, with buttes, eroded mountains, and people who know good times and bad. This book is a somewhat light-hearted fictionalization of life in the small rural town of “Corriebush,” which could easily be in the Texas Panhandle or eastern New Mexico of the 1950s-70s if you ignore the Boer names and Afrikaans interjections.
The author is a well-known South African cookbook writer, and the book includes recipes associated with the characters in the tales. The recipes all look very good, and range from “sheesh, that’s complicated” to “even I can do that” simple, South African to Greek to Italian, salads to main-dishes and some really rich desserts. All have conversions from metric and mass/volume measures to English units, although you don’t really need a conversion for “one whole chicken, cut into pieces.” However, the dish measurements (a 19-cm pie plate) are not converted so you’ll need to measure. Also, the temperatures for the oven are in Celcius, so you’ll need to look that conversion up as well. The author also assumes you know what a braai is (cook-out), aubergenes (eggplant) and other things. Some ingredients and seasonings might be a bit tricky to find locally, but Amazon and other places do offer quite a range of mail-order options.
The stories range from light and amusing to darn near tragic. There are tales about daily life, stories of love found, of amusing mis-understandings, and in one story of vicious bullying by children and adults. All end with a “happily for the known future,” and the guilty do make amends. I get a sense that the book is written for female readers, which explains the tone and that the protagonists are the women of town.
One thing is very much missing, and that is the presence of black South Africans. There is nary a whiff of Apartheid or the modern struggle for equality and justice in the book. Corriebush is idealized through and through, if by idealized you mean that the only problems are those caused by misunderstandings and human nature.
I recommend this as a cookbook, and as a light read with happy endings. I’m going to try several of the recipes. If you are looking for stories about South Africa as it really is, warts as well as chocolate torts, this is not your book.
*In England, Aga is a brand of stove. Aga-saga is a sometimes derogatory name for stories and novels about domestic life and minor family dramas, the sort of thing you can imagine two women sitting in the kitchen to discuss over tea and biscuits/cookies. Every so often I get in the mood for something like that. Jan Karon’s Mitford books are similar in feeling, but on a wider canvas.