Queen of the kitchen

2013-11-07 11:08

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At 70, most people are taking it easy. But foodie extraordinaire Cass Abrahams isn’t most people.

Tell us what you’re up to, then?

I have a cooking show on kykNET, Cass se kombuis, which could spin off into a book. It focuses on the diverse cultures that influence South African food. I also give cooking classes.

Foreigners are often referred to me and they always want to learn how to make bobotie – they seem to think it’s the country’s national dish! My husband, Jowa, and I are so tired of bobotie, we give the leftovers away!

You cater too, don’t you?

Yes, and I really enjoy it. I can cook anything but I specialise in heritage food – I will make a Malay starter, for instance, and a Portuguese main dish.

I’m also involved with a group of women aged between 60 and 86 who all used to live in District 6. I want to help them write up their recipes.

These women were doing urban foraging long before it became trendy – they were making meals from crayfish heads, cows’ lungs… and you should hear the stories they tell!

What about your story? Where are you from?

I grew up in Halfway House near Rivonia, Johannesburg. My mom was white and my father was black – they were married before mixed marriages were banned.

My dad was shot dead in 1960. The family suspected the security police but couldn’t prove anything.

I’d planned to become a doctor but those dreams died then. When you’re young you make plans for your life but then life happens...

So what did you end up doing?

I did a bachelor of science at the University of Lesotho and then studied education at the University of Cape Town.

That’s where I met Jowa. I taught for years until the situation in the schools became unbearable.

It was a bad time. The kids were constantly being arrested. In the mornings I’d teach; in the afternoons I’d be bailing kids out of jail.

I always had a wad of R100 notes in my bag because that’s what they charged for bail.

When did your food career begin?

In 1983 I left teaching and became a demonstrator for Tastic rice.

I told them, ‘I know all about demonstrating. The kids do it the whole time!’ I couldn’t cook so they sent me for lessons. I also learnt to cook by watching my husband’s grandmother, Oemie.

I watched everybody: when I went visiting I’d see what they did in the kitchen, then try it myself. People call me the lady who cooks from memory because I never look at recipes!

Do you ever tire of cooking?

Never. I love feeding people too much.

More about Cass

I live . . . in the same house in Retreat, Cape Town, we moved into 30 years ago. I raised my three kids here. My husband and I rattle around in it now but we won’t move. We love it!

I love . . . the generosity of Malay culture. When we make guests food, we believe it belongs to them, so they must take the leftovers home with them. This is Barakat ( ‘blessing’).

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