In 1986, I moved into my first flat (apartment); it had a gas stove. Even though I only lived there for six months, that gas stove was seminal to the development of my cooking skills and more importantly, my love affair with gas. It was an antique, rather like this one.
I lived in Yeoville, Johannesburg, and the gas was piped into the block, and metred. That was a bit of a joke: the metre was somewhere under the sink and had a coin slot. When the gas “ran out”, all one did was open the rusty coin drawer, haul out a lurking coin and pop it into the slot – always the same coin. As I recall, I was billed all of R1,50 a month, if that. In today’s US Dollar terms, around 10c, and then around $3,75…
The first time I had someone over for dinner, as an entirely novice cook, whose repertoire, at that stage, consisted largely of some sort of mince** disguised as spaghetti bolognese, I decided that I would serve whatever it was (probably mince) in a roasted pumpkin. I have no idea where the notion came from, but through trial and happily, no error, I roasted a lovely little green pumpkin in my antiquated gas oven.
The next abode had an electric stove, and because it was a house-share situation, the repertoire grew, but I missed “my” gas: the instantaneous heat, that meant I could fry an egg in the blink of an eye. And the grill: located just under the hob, which meant it was easy to keep an eye on and made the most fantastic grilled cheese. I lived on cheese and tinned tuna in that first flat: I had no fridge, so I had to eat most of the perishables that I bought, that day. I ate lots of vegetables.Mercifully there was a Spanish greengrocer – and lovely man, who could speak little English – on a corner about two blocks away. I learned to select very carefully and found ingenious ways of ensuring that the perishables I did have to buy, stayed cool. However, as a consequence of having to eat an entire tin of tuna in one sitting, I still have a very serious aversion to it. Only the most ingenious of disguises will even begin to tempt me to eat anything other than fresh tuna.
My next encounter with a gas stove was in the first property that was really “mine” (or the bank’s, I should say). Like the other building in which I had lived a few years before, this flat also had piped gas, but without the antiquated metering system.
So, the love affair continued, spurred on by a move to Queenstown, in the Eastern Cape. Here, for the first time, I needed to produce a meal every evening. This is when I really started learning to cook: I discovered the importance of planning and timing. The former as self-preservation and the latter, a combination of planning and experience. All this after I’d successfully produced my first solo Christmas lunch of turkey and all the trimmings – for at least ten. I had never, ever, single-handedly stuffed or roasted a turkey! And somewhere between that first flat and my departure from Queenstown, a table that indicated the temperature for each gas mark, found its way into the now-faithful recipe book.
By that time, I was hopelessly smitten. So, when many years after that, and in another life, The Husband and I re-did our Cape Town kitchen, a gas stove was not negotiable. Admittedly, my love affair with gas was only one of three reasons for this: I have a “thang” about eventually being “off the grid” and South Africa, in 2008 (as we did again in 2015 and 2018), had a national electricity crisis. So, with my first-never-to-be-repeated (yes, another first) kitchen revamp, came a new gas hob. I was in my element. And a far cry, it was, from that first stove: electric igniters. Then, when we moved to McGregor, a gas stove was not negotiable; nor was a kitchen revamp. Never say, “Never”, they say.
Rotten woodwork (in all senses of the word), no space for the dishwasher (which “lived” on the veranda for three months), not to mention a virtual absence of practical storage space, necessitated urgent and serious action.
Look, a full gas stove!
With a thermostat and calibrations for the temperature, rather than the gas marks which characterised my first two, this stove which has produced the best shortbread I have ever baked.
I still, by the way, roast cucurbits. A few years ago, one of the vendors at the McGregor market was selling the most beautiful, young gems – they were enormous. I could not resist: one would make an entire, delicious meal. The Husband was not convinced, so, not to be thwarted, I set out show him otherwise. The solitary squash, duly pricked and lathered with olive oil, was baked in a moderate oven until it was soft but not mushy. It needed to be firm enough to be halved and the shell reserved intact. Once the it had cooled down enough to handle, the stalk was removed and the fruit was cut in half. I scooped out the pulp, complete with seeds, chopped it and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I added a knob of butter, and put the mixture back into the shells and popped them under the grill to warm through. Finally, they were topped with some lovely labneh, and fresh, chopped chives. An enormous meal, we had. That salad was definitely greed and not need…
And all this, because I had to learn how to cook with gas and had a silly notion of roasting a pumpkin – nearly 30 years ago!
© Fiona’s Favourites updated from the first posting in February 2018.
** ground beef for my US readers