Dr Renata Coetzee was a pioneer in research and awareness of the various food cultures in South Africa over five decades. The foreword by Dr Mark Solms (of Solms Delta estate) bears testament to her immense contribution and tireless passion.
Through her lifetime of research and books, Renata Coetzee built a national and international awareness of the culinary heritage of various cultural groups in South Africa. It is apt that her last book, Food Culture of the First Humans on Planet Earth – A Feast From Nature, is being relaunched with a 2nd impression, to bring it to the attention of a wider public.
Many will remember this remarkable woman as someone who was obsessed with our roots in many different forms with the food culture of different groups as her resource.
Her aim was to promote “nutritional authentic cultural cuisine” which she believed could play a huge role in our tourism industry.
Her major contribution is probably scientific, but she has always tried to engage ordinary people interested in food heritage with creative and stimulating documentation of various aspects of the South African – and particularly the Cape’s – culinary culture and lifestyles.
By going back into the past, the way brains progressed and patterns developed, influenced the way people selected food.
When the San and the Khoi people split, for example, their food choices developed differently, many made for practical reasons. Some wouldn’t let go of traditions, but sometimes changing environments determined new dining habits.
The San, for example, became hunter gatherers, and the Khoi turned to smaller animals while also learning more about the veld and the plant life around them.
This was determined by the way their lifestyles changed, something which still influences and determines our eating patterns and choices today.
Because of the way she studied, researched and publicised her hard-earned knowledge through her writings, TV programmes and formal training, she empowered thousands of women over the years, by training them in the finer skills of entertaining guests and tourists with her cultural cuisine.
This latest version of this unique collector’s book on original food cultures, A Feast From Nature is a combination of the many decades of her knowledge as a nutritionist and food culture expert with multidisciplinary research of over 15 years – bringing together aspects of archaeology, palaeontology, botany, genetics, history, languages and culture in a unique way. While scientifically sound, it is also beautifully illustrated and a true collector’s piece.
In 2015 she self-published the book, through Penstock Publishing. The first print-run of 500 copies was sold out but reprinted shortly before her death to make her unique work available to a wider audience. Academics, researchers and food experts can also benefit and build further on her research.
According to editor Truida Prekel, “Communities will benefit from further work to build understanding among various cultures and on the history of our ‘First Peoples’. Indigenous plants with culinary and agricultural potential can be further developed for food production.”
“Her research included interviews with many elderly Khoi-Khoin women and men in various regions, about the details of their food sources and uses. A special feature in the book is that wherever possible, the Khoi and Afrikaans names of plants and animals are given, with English and scientific names.
About 250 fine photographs and over 80 illustrations of edible indigenous plants – as well as maps and Khoi traditions – make the book a journey of discovery, bringing to life the linkages between evolution and culinary history over millennia.
“The book also offers valuable lessons in terms of the nutritional value of many indigenous foods, food security and sustainability. The DST/NRF Centre of Excellence: Food Security, hosted by UWC and the University of Pretoria, has supported the reprint of the book. They, together with the Agricultural Research Council, intend doing further research on indigenous food products identified in Coetzee’s extensive work on the various food cultures in South Africa.”
The book can be ordered from [email protected] or online at http://www.sun-e-shop.co.za
Her legacy is legendary as it impacts on all of our lives, and futures.
A past dinner menu in her research honour attests:
A honeybush and aloe cooler
Nature’s Salad consists of morogo puree, spekboom gel, pelargonium sand,
lemon foam, pickled papkuil shoots, compressed aloe buds, and an array of flowers
Forager’s Pride is a dune spinach soup with deep fried warthog biltong
Rocky Waters, includes Tilapia, buttered ice leaf, sea fennel and oyster leaf puree and bokkoms dust
Exploring Burrows presents porcupine and waterblommetjies
served with “ystervark-se-mielie”, roast uintjies, crickets rice and glace de viande
The meal concluded on a sweet note:
Sunset tea party of buchu panna cotta, served with pickled t’samma,
rooibos and gooseberry syrup, arum lily crumble and acacia sweets
Additional words and images by Diane de Beer – De Beer Necessities