Lost secret fish cookbook of Kalk Bay

Fish cleaner, Kalk Bay Harbour. Copyright Chesney Bradshaw 2016
Fish cleaner, Kalk Bay Harbour. Copyright Chesney Bradshaw 2016

When my mother spotted a house in Kalk Bay, actually between Clovelly in Kalk Bay, she really started preparing wholesome family-cooked fish meals. With a husband who was a keen fisherman and a harbour just down the road, the fish was plentiful and cheap in those days.

She went all out preparing tasty fish dishes for our family including calamari, yellowtail, pickled cob, fried tuna steaks, fish soups, black mussels and, of course, crayfish. Friends who visited at the time loved the fish she cooked and overseas visitors from Sweden, France, Australia and the USA were bowled over.

My mother, Myra, had such a love of cooking fish that she eventually came out with a cookbook of her own called “Myra in the Galley” (which forms part of my father’s book “Fish aren’t Fools). The cookbook section gave the real secrets about preparing fish dishes.

In those days she had learned to cook fish from her mother Thomasina Bradshaw who was retired at Witsands at the mouth of the Breede River (I was fortunate enough to visit both their graves in the Barry Memorial Church which is a National Monument –  built by the original Barry family in 1859) when I was growing up.

When we used to catch the bream in the river, Thomasina would prepare the fish in the morning on a gas stove. I have never tasted such perfect fried fish again. My mother’s cookbook section did well but it wasn’t reprinted and nowadays you’d be only able to find it on one of the international second-hand book websites at a tremendous cost.

But there were many other women in the fishing village of Kalk Bay who cooked delicious fish in the 1960s and 1970s. One year the ladies from one of the local churches prepared a small volume of fish recipes from all the women in the village who wished to contribute.

Now there’s another cookbook with many secret fish recipes but  because only limited copies were printed, you can’t find it anymore. Remember that these recipes were made by ordinary people who cooked home meals for their families. You won’t find fish recipes like these from today’s TV masterchef’s and other cooking celebrities.

These days when I yearn for one of those family-cooked meals from years ago, I turn to the classic South African cook books, “Reader’s Digest South African Cook Book”, “Cook and Enjoy It” and “Indian Delights”. The Indian Delights book is a speciality book that goes deep into South African Indian cuisine.

The other two cover a wide range but don’t go into any depth. Yet, when you long for tomato breedie or waterblommetjie breedie, you’ll find the recipes there. Those two were dishes that in winter my mother Myra would prepare and I can still see the meals, smell them and taste the delicious home-cooked food.

The women from Kalk Bay, including my mother Myra, who published their recipes collectively were the pioneers of fish meals that you could cook, eat and enjoy. A far cry from the greasy, overcooked and unhealthy fish fair that is hastily dished up in restaurants nowadays in Kalk Bay.

Isn’t it fantastic to still have my mother’s fish recipe book where after decades I can still refer to her delicious recipes when I want to cook fish even though she has not been with us for decades now.

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