Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Phillida's Country Bread

In many South African shops you can walk in and buy a loaf of heavy, moist brown bread. It has seeds in it and toasts really well, and I've never seen it anywhere else.

The bread above, a flat top sort of bread, is the home version that I grew up with. The sticky mix rises in the bread tin and is baked as soon as it has about doubled in bulk. Cut fresh and then frozen, I toast it for my breakfast. Here I ate it hot from the oven for supper with shameless amounts of butter, and Fynbos honey, brought from Cape Town.

Who is Phillida? All I know is that Phillida used to - and may still - bake the bread at the Matjiesfontein hotel in the Little Karoo.

We stayed there a couple of New Year's eves in a row to escape the dread and depression of Forced Mirth and of Not Having a Party in Cape Town. Matjiesfontein is a train station, the hotel, a shop, and that's about it. The stars are wonderful, the silence profound, even if there is a ringing to it, and the service and accommodation rooted in another time. At midnight my dad would fire a Swiss-made rocket from an empty champagne bottle in the only street.

Phillida's bread was served with chicken liver pate at night and butter and jam in the morning. My mom first published her recipe for the bread in House and Leisure, when she was its food editor.

[12 October 2010: Thanks to Lily for this clipping from House and Leisure]

An aside: at the booksale (books are VERY expensive in SA) at Exclusive Books in Constantia in January, I was about to purchase Richard E. Grant's journal about the making of his movie Wah Wah. A good film. But as I leafed through the book an entry jumped out. It was rather whiney, true (in the vein of "lamb lamb and lamb on the menu, with three starches." But that's why you go there. Boerekos Timewarp), so that's off-putting , but it described how he was staying at the hotel at "Meitjiesfontein". Oh, common! I put the book down and turned my back on it.

Over-reaction to a typo? Maybe, since I make many myself. But it's the trajectory of a typo that fascinates me. WHO is checking? It's a place name for goodness' sake. And ironic that the memoir of a film about the end of colonialism in an African monarchy makes a very colonial error about a super-colonial ex-British outpost!

Meitjiesfontein. What was the former South African thinking?

Here's another trivial tidbit about inaccuracies in the film.

Historical fact quibbling aside, it's still well made and very worth the watching.


  1. There's nothing shameless to such amounts of butter... :-)

  2. Well,as I was eating it, it seemed fine and delicious, but looking at the picture it suddenly looked criminally stupid.

  3. Hi, I'm Phillida and I used to bake country bread in various parts of South Africa, and well, in lots of places, all around the world....could that be my recipe??! And I've given the recipe to many people I've met on my travels. Could you send me the recipe...I couldn't find it on the web site you mentioned. I'd love to know if it's the same bread...and it could be that famous?! There are not many Phillida's around.

  4. Hello Other Phillida

    I doubt you'll see this now, but:

    I don't think it's yours :-)

    Did you live and work at the Matjiesfontein hotel in 1990's? My mom met that Phillida :-)

    I have no way to contact you as there are no emails at your listed blogs...


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