Alright, I’m obsessed, I’ll admit it freely. Humour me though, because I think today’s featured person is most deserving and not honoured enough for having, indirectly fed a great deal of South African families… pleasantly.
S.J.A. de Villiers, also known as Ina de Villiers, the Kook en Geniet Tannie. Her book is the cornerstone from which many South African housewives (and house-husbands) have built their repertoire of weekly dinners. I remember growing up, asking my mother questions and then being referred to the old Kook en Geniet which, for a long time had been the only formal cookbook in our home. Incidentally, this book and I share a birthday. Our domestic copy is exactly as old as I am, and by 1982, at a price of R11 (about 1 GBP) it had already been in print for 31 years and had reached its twelfth edition.
Ina de Villiers’ father had initially wanted her to study medicine, but one day, her mother pulled her aside and told her not to let her father persuade her to do something that she didn’t feel like. Incidentally, Ina didn’t feel like medicine. In 1937 she started studying Home Economics at the University of Pretoria, but later decided to complete her studies back home at the University of Stellenbosch. After the completion of her studies she started working for the department of Agriculture and drove around to small towns, teaching Home Economics in small farming communities as part of an enrichment program.
In 1945 she married her husband, Japie de Villiers, who was a professor in Geology at the University of Bloemfontein. Japie had an incurable love for traveling, which led him to retire at 55 and travel the world. He died three days before returning from his long-awaited trip to China. Ina explains that her husband had grown up on National Geographic. Japie had the good sense not to only live his own dream, but also to fervently encourage his wife to live her own. His encouragement led her to finally compile her book of tried and tested recipes.
After the completion of the first Kook en Geniet the battle to find a publisher started. Finding no open doors, the de Villiers’ approached Kaap en Transvaal Printers, and published the book themselves. This continued for 40 years until the book was handed over to Human & Rousseau for publishing. It has never been out of print. Ina de Villiers retired in 1990, still residing in her beloved Stellenbosch. Later Ina and her daughter published a children’s cookbook together, Klein Kook en Geniet.
By the way, if you find yourself an incurable traveller like, Japie de Villiers, and your mother won’t let you pinch her copy, you may be interested to know that I have found libraries in Hawaii and Mississippi who both keep copies of her work. The world is a strange and wonderful place, so while you are here, at least try to eat well. Its how Tannie Ina would have wanted it.
Many thanks to Loftus Marais, an old University friend, I have leaned heavily on his interview with Ina de Villiers for my research. Read it here: Koekies en tee saam met die Kook en Geniet tannie.
Please comment and share your favourite Kook en Geniet Recipes.
Information sourced from the World Wide Web on 15 January 2010 rom the following sources: