Wow! What a launch we had in MacGregor on Wednesday night for Hester se Brood by Hester van der Walt. The owners of the Karoux restaurant, a fairly new MacGregor hot spot, know how to organise a fabulous party. Andre and Kurt are charming, efficient and warmly hospitable hosts. The evening was summery, the Karoo courtyard and fairy lights the perfect setting. Karoux had organised delicious local wines from the MacGregor Wine Farm. Their Colombard is the house white at Karoux and their Shiraz and Pinotage are prizewinners.
Hester specially made bread for the occasion, what a treat. She made foccaccia with delicious toppings and a huge celebratory challah with a chocolatey raisin filling that was so delicious I thought I’d died and gone to heaven after one bite. Positively orgasmic. I think I will have to learn how to make challah. Hester uses only Eureka stone ground flour for her breads.
As people came in they greeted Hester and Lies Hoogendoorn, her partner (whose art work is an integral part of the book, including the cover painting) enthusiastically. The guests bought copies of the books like ‘hot cakes’. Hester sat down to sign and before the more formal part of the proceedings were begun, we had almost sold out of books. I was also thrilled that Natascha Mostert, who did the book design and layout, came to the launch. Hester and Lies were thrilled to meet her and to thank her for her input and sensitive book design work.
The more formal proceedings started with me saying a few words about Modjaji Books and what I am trying to do with this small press. When I first met Hester and Lies to talk about the book, I got my Modjaji feeling, it is an electric lighting up inside of me feeling. While I read the manuscript, the feeling intensified. And during the launch I was afraid I might burst into ecstatic flames. Hester is a gifted writer and a wonderful person, calm, centred, loving, focused and many other things besides. Hester and Lies saw the printed book for the first time at about 3 in the afternoon. The launch was only a few hours later, the most thrilling for me was to see the way the took the book and looked and it and held and paged through it. I could see they loved it. Every now and then they would look a little choked up, a little misty-eyed.
Hester spoke, her is what she said:
It was not difficult to choose bread for tonight. It had to be foccacia. I have a clear memory of my first bite into the crust of its close relative, the ciabatta. I knew immediately that this was real bread – the crust rough and honest like our landscape and the inside crumb tasty and filled with large uneven holes. The ideal bread for breaking with your fingers and for soaking up sauce and for cleaning your plate.
I guess that was the beginning of my search: I wanted to make a perfect ciabatta! I paged through recipe books and I experimented, I waited with bated breath to take the bread from the oven. But then the first cut through the crust was a disappointment – this was not the real thing. Until one day, during a difficult time in my life, a time of burnout in my work, when I had no energy, I stumbled on a special book on artisan bread by Maggie Glezer. That was the start of my life with bread.
Hester se Brood tells the story of that search. I share the what and the why and the how of making real handmade bread in your own kitchen. I tell the story of the oven, the wood and the firemaker, the market, and of this village and its people who provided the womb for the story to grow.
Hester read from the first page of her book
‘n Mens kry brood — en Brood. Dis wat ek besef het toe ek vir die eerste keer in ‘n ciabatta gebyt het; daardie lugtige Italiaanse brood genaamd pantoffel: plat en eerlik met ‘n kors soos ‘n gehaarde landskap. Binne vol groot rysgate, ideaal om met jou vingers te skeur vir die opdoop van daardie laaste souserigheid uit jou boord.
Net daar het my soektog begin, ‘n Geblaai deur resepteboeke het my van die een boekwinkel na die ander geneem. Halfskelm maak ek myself staan by ‘n tafel vol boeke, ‘n resepteboek oopgeslaan en notaboekie op my handsak gebalanseer. So skryf ek af. By die huis gaan probeer ek die resep uit. Wag in spanning vir die brood om uit die oond te kom. H’m, lyk nie sleg nie. Maar die eerste sny deur die kors weet ek al: dis nie wat ek soek nie. dit lyk soos die tuisgebakte brood van my kinderdae, die soort wat net lekker is omdat dit nog halfwarm uit die oond is.
Colleen Crawford Cousins my friend and collaborater also spoke about the book. Hester and Lies are old friends of hers, and right from the start she too saw Hester’s book. She advised me on cover design and book design. She saw that the book is about making bread, but it is also and perhaps more importantly about making a handmade life and Hester chose to write it in Afrikaans as an act of reclamation of her mother tongue. I wished Hester had read for much longer when she read us two tantalising paragraphs.
Niel Jonker, who helped Hester and Lies to build their wood fired oven came specially to the launch with his family. He also spoke about his involvement with the oven, becoming a baker of bread and of his friendship with Hester and Lies.
Oh and a charming little detail: Colleen and I stayed at the MacGregor Wine Farm Cottages – the entrance to which says “Ina Naude en man”. There has to be a story there.