Let’s face it. In 1970s Port Elizabeth there was not a whole lot of zeal for innovative cooking. Save for a handful of restaurateurs and private individuals who tried to push culinary boundaries, most folks were still doing the “take some chicken drumsticks, cover it with mayonnaise and sprinkle over a packet of crushed cheese and onion chips” type of “cooking”.
My parents, thankfully, did not belong to this insular and dismal brigade. Mike and Rosa were both passionate about food and had their own areas of expertise, Dad doing most of the day-to-day cooking and Mom jumping in when they were entertaining. And of entertaining and experimentation there was plenty – it was the 70s after all.
We always had people over, often unannounced, as Dad had the rather unfortunate reputation of being able to whip up a wondrous meal or plate of snacks practically out of thin air. Even the day-to-day cooking was inspired as no two meals were ever the same and the dishes always centred around whatever food treasures Dad could track down that week, whether at the market or anywhere with a “special”.
Dad especially loved Pick n Pay and after Marist Brothers was torn down and the Walmer Park Shopping Centre built in the 80s, he practically lived there every day. His main mission in the afternoons – to fetch us from school – was really an excuse to pop into Pick n Pay on the way home. Those were the days he’d come home with kohlrabi or Jerusalem artichokes, live crabs from Swartkops (nowadays the river is so polluted you can’t risk dipping your toe in, much less catching crabs) or would source the salmon needed to make gravlax after researching the recipe and method from a Norwegian contact of his.
And contacts are important in cooking. Dad had buddied up with the guys from Lusitania and every now and again we’d feast on crayfish. Sometimes he could only get the heads as the tails were destined for lucrative markets; these he’d use for stock or painstakingly pick out the flesh using pliers.
We were lucky in the Liebenberg-Bojanus household – we were having bouillabaisse or burritos long before French peasant food or Mexican became a fad; long before Spurs or the proliferation of cookbooks and Google-able recipes. And it’s not like my folks were flush all the time, hence the importance of “specials” and “contacts”!
Souffles, however, were never something my mother had much enthusiasm for – I think she viewed it as the kind of thing only a pretentious hostess would make, and she always took particular delight in the scene from ‘Shirley Valentine’, where Shirley destroys the teacher’s pet’s souffle using a great big butcher’s knife.
Skipping a few decades, I only got the recipe we’re featuring today in the late 90s, although Glenn Meyer, the friend whose resistance finally crumbled enough for him to share it with me, had been making it for years – his mom, whose recipe it actually was, was probably making it as far back as the 70s! But there’s is nothing pretentious about Valmae Meyer, nor is making a souffle as much of a cliff jump as my mother had wanted to believe.
A souffle is basically a light and airy creation that starts off with an egg yolk-based sauce, which you then lighten by adding stiffly-beaten egg whites. It can be savoury or sweet, hot or cold, and the hot ones especially need to be served straight away, or they’ll poof right down and not look nearly as impressive and glorious as intended. - Louise Liebenberg
Lemon Souffle – The Recipe
I’m never quite sure if this recipe is a souffle in the true sense of the word as it seems altogether too easy to make; you really just have to make sure you fold the stiff egg whites in gently at the end. Then, of course, there’s rule number one as with any souffle – you mustn’t open the oven door until the cooking time is over. I usually make this recipe in ramekins – you should get 4 to 6 out of it – but Glenn and his mum always make it in an oven dish.
1/3 cup cake flour; 3/4 cup white sugar; grated rind and strained juice of 1 large lemon; 1/4 cup cold water; 1 cup milk (I use full cream); 2 eggs, yolks and whites separated; 1 Tbsp melted butter.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or around 180 degrees C. Mix the flour, sugar, lemon rind, water, milk and beaten egg yolks together. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. Add the melted butter and lemon juice to the flour/milk mixture, mixing well. Lastly, gently fold in the beaten eggs whites – don’t undo all that delicious airiness by mixing too much.
Pour the mixture into a lightly buttered oven dish, or 4 to 6 buttered ramekins, and stand the dish or ramekins in a roasting pan half-filled with boiling water. Bake in the middle of the oven, for around 45 minutes to an hour if using an oven dish, and around 30 to 35 minutes if using ramekins. If the tops start going too brown then it’s time to rescue your souffles. Serve immediately (leftovers don’t look impressive but they taste every bit as good).