My interview with Marita van der Vyver is a dream that has become a reality for me! Not only is she an iconic writer, but at the same time a top-class chef as well. Somerkos in Provence is truly only a foretaste of her “crème de la crème” life in France. I had to fight the cravings as I paged through her Somerkos in Provence cookery book and I couldn’t wait to test each recipe.
I remember how I devoured Die Ongelooflike Avonture van Hanna Hoekom during high school, because just like all her other books it is difficult to put this one down. Luckily for me, Provence is just around the corner and I quite audaciously sent Marita an email and asked her to answer a few questions regarding her “la vie” in France. I also share some recipes from her cookery book Somerkos in Provence. Read more about Marita in the rest of this column.
“This way I always see the wider picture – and it’s a big benefit, for me as a writer, but also just as a common person.”
Marita, your life is a big inspiration to many South African women.
What would you say did you learn the most about living in France?
I learned that there is always more than one side to every story. When my friends in South Africa complain about strike actions and I tell them how continuously the French strike, they can’t believe me. France is a wonderful country in which to live, but it also has its problems, it is most definitely no paradise. Just like SA remains a wonderful country despite all its problems. When I visit SA, I can examine everything happening over there with my “French glasses” – and in France I examine all the problems and pleasures while wearing my “SA glasses”. This way I always see the wider picture – and it’s a big benefit, for me as a writer, but also just as a common person.
How do you think the culture changed your lifestyle, good and bad?
My lifestyle most definitely improved. Not only because I live in France, but perhaps even more so because I live in the French countryside. My stress levels are much lower than what was ever the case in SA! I learned to be more relaxed, prepare food leisurely, eat slowly. The entire “culture of food” in France unbelievably enriched my life. And the appreciation of my French friends for good movies – not only American blockbusters – and durable clothes and intelligent company and art-as-part-of-everyday-life; these things still enrich me.
What do you miss about South Africa?
Friends that I have known since my youth. Friends with whom I go back such a long way that I never need to explain anything to them. We have a shared field of reference. We laugh at the same jokes. And then I miss hearing Afrikaans around me, in cafes and on the street. And of course, certain foods that I can’t get in France, such as whole wheat rusks to dip in my coffee. And pawpaws and guavas and koeksisters.
How did you discover and develop your love for preparing food?
I fell in love with a Frenchman who believes that the road to a woman’s heart is through her stomach! As simple as that. Before I met Alain, I was quite nervous when I had to entertain people. I would always rather read a nice book than to cook for hours on end. Now I still prefer a nice book above about anything else, but it is still a lot of fun to prepare food with him and even bigger fun to eat with him. Where do you find the inspiration for your creative writing?
Inspiration is all around us, in the simplest things – we must simply learn to see it. If you have been writing for as long as I have, it becomes a state of mind. You see possible stories in everything that happens to you, in anything that you hear over the radio or read in the newspaper…
Can you imagine your life differently if you didn’t live in France?
It is nearly unimaginable, because then my 17-year-old French-Afrikaans daughter would not have been here. I would most probably have led a good life in SA, but if I think of everything that I would have missed… Wow!
More about Marita
Marita van der Vyver was born in Cape Town and obtained her master’s degree in journalism at Stellenbosch University (SU). Between the ages of 20 and 30 she published three youth novels before her first adult novel, Griet skryf ’n sprokie, became a bestseller and literary sensation in 1992. The book was awarded with three of the most prestigious literary prizes in South Africa: The M-Net, the ATKV and the Eugène Marais. Since then she became a fulltime and versatile writer for all ages with ten novels, a volume of short stories, two collections of humoristic essays, illustration books for infants, numerous collections of short stories and essays, as well as regular columns in newspapers and magazines. She has already won various prizes for her creative writing, as well as an international scholarship from the South African Foundation for Creative Art. She was invited in 1997 to partake in the well-known International Writers Program of the University of Iowa in the USA. Her adult novels are regularly translated into English, Dutch and German, while Griet skryf ’n sprokie was published in approximately a dozen languages. It was the first Afrikaans novel ever to be translated into Chinese and more recently also appeared in Icelandic. Marita lives in a small town in the south of France with her French husband Alain Claisse. They have three sons and a daughter.
Click here to visit her website.
Somerkos in Provence recipes
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
Serves: Four people
- 1 cup instant polenta
- a pinch of fine saffron
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 3 tbsp. parmesan cheese
- 6 tomatoes
- 3 yellow peppers
- 3 brinjals
- olive oil
- basil leaves
- salt and freshly grained pepper
- Cook 2 2/2 cups of water and add the cup polenta, pinch of salt and saffron. Whip while these are added to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue stirring while adding the parmesan and butter. When the polenta has the texture of thick porridge, it is ready to be spooned over into a rectangle oven pan.
- Make sure that the selected dish is not higher than 2 cm. Place in the fridge to set.
- Place the tomatoes in an oven dish (cut into quarters if it is not cherry tomatoes and remove the pips), sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil and let it bake for 25 minutes at 160°C.
- Remove the polenta and cut into blocks. Place under the oven griller so that the top can become brittle.
- Spread the pesto on and place the tomatoes on top, sprinkle extra parmesan on top and serve at room temperature.
I didn’t add the pepper, brinjal and home-made pesto, but it is a wonderful addition to the meal.
- Cut the yellow and red peppers into pieces and sprinkle salt, pepper and olive oil on top. Bake until black bubbles form and remove. Place in a plastic bag for ten minutes to sweat. That will ensure that peels can easily be removed.
- Peel the brinjal, cut into slices along the length, place in a drainer and sprinkle salt on top. Let it stand for half an hour and dry it using paper towel. Rub with meal, salt and pepper and braai in olive oil until well cooked.
- Place the peppers, brinjal, fresh basil leaves, pesto and tomatoes on top of the polenta.
Asparagus under blankets
- 24 green asparaguses
- 300 ml liquid cream
- 200 ml chicken extract
- fresh nutmeg
- 4 slices smoked ham
- 125 g grated cheese
- salt and pepper
- Snap off the hard side of the asparagus and shave the bottom 5 cm with a potato peeler.
- Cook enough salted water to cover the asparagus for about ten minutes until it is soft but firm. Drain and place to one side.
- Cook the cream and chicken extract together until it decreased by about half. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from the heat.
- Divide the asparagus into four portions, fold up the bundle with the pieces of ham and place in oven dish. Pour the cream mixture over, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for approximately 20–25 minutes at 200°C.
- I added a few teaspoons creme fresh upon serving the dish.
This dish is one of my recipes which I created thanks to Marita’s inspiration and it went really well with appetising side dishes.
You can visit Mariza’s blog – Life in the South – here and also follow her on social media. Her blog is a place where you can be more than one thing: mother, chef, photographer and traveller at the same time. Find recipes, travel information, do-it-yourself, handy tips and how to survive in a foreign country…
Mariza also has brand-new Facebook and Instagram pages, Smaaklike Ete. Anyone from South Africa can share South African recipes here.