A true South African icon, who lives in people’s pantries, visits Knysna

Food guru gets standing ovation at Oyster Festival luncheon and talk

Ina Paarman with one of her books at the Knysna luncheon and talk.
SAGE ADVICE: Ina Paarman with one of her books at the Knysna luncheon and talk.

My first memory of Ina Paarman harkens back to my mother’s kitchen and cooking more than 20 years ago.

When my mother died, my sister and I were faced with a vast spice cupboard that probably had every spice and seasoning that Paarman ever made.

As long as I can remember, a salad isn’t dressed pretty without Paarman’s Honey and Mustard dressing and a chicken or turkey at Christmas without her sage stuffing mix would be a sad affair indeed.

She lives in our cupboards, our cuisine and is a part of the fabric that comprises all good South African things.

No wonder then that when Paarman came to town during the Knysna Oyster Festival, the luncheon and talk at Villa Castollini was packed out.

Organisers expected about 80 women to come and there ended up being more than 150 women, including some men.

Ina Paarman with Greater Knysna Business Chamber for Tourism executive committee board member Elmay Bouwer.
BIG WELCOME: Ina Paarman with Greater Knysna Business Chamber for Tourism executive committee board member Elmay Bouwer.

My friend Annie came with me. She is one of those super home chefs who can cook and bake anything (yes, we love going to her house for a meal).

She has two of Paarman’s very first cook books including a signed copy and the pages are well thumbed, no doubt been referred to often in the last 30-plus years.

In 1990, Femina Publications published The Femina Cookbook with Ina Paarman Magazine Cook of the Year — and magazine editor Jane Raphaely wrote on the back page “Ina Paarman helps busy women who respect real food to get it together”.

“Families yell for more, entertainment becomes a pleasure, and the cooking classes make it all as easy as pie.

“When Paarman joined Femina in 1988, she was already renowned as a teacher and demonstrator of good food.

“Her cookery school had an excellent reputation, she already published Cook with Ina Paarman which was into its fifth printing and she has attracted an even larger following with her charming and instructive television demonstrations.

“Femina was to bring her yet another audience. This group of young, mostly married women respect real food, but don’t have the time, energy or training to get it together.

“Ina’s food is the answer. It’s a mouthwatering mixture of modern and traditional, and every recipe has been tried and tested, not once but many times,” Raphaely wrote in the prelude to this book.

Ina’s down-to-earth way of talking to her readers is evident in so many of the recipes from her first book through to the latest modern hardback version.

She writes of fried chicken: “Why can’t you make fried chicken like they do at takeaways? Nobody can — because the chickens are fried in a special high-pressure frier ... but here is a substitute recipe ...”

Then in Ina Paarman’s Real Food for Real People published in 1994, the home economics teacher and lecturer, as well as a regular food writer to South African magazines and newspapers, summed up her lifelong passion: “A book for the head, the hand, the heart, written with much love and attention to detail.”

Mississippi Mud Pies, Ina says, are “are fussy to make, but absolutely divine!”.

Of her Mussel Pasta recipe, she says, “It’s a great personal favourite. One can almost smell the sea and feel the sun on your back.”

Ina Paarman’s passion shines through in her recipes then and now in her new book, Ina Paarman’s My Favourite Recipes featuring 100 of her all-time favourite recipes — all beautifully photographed giving a generous glimpse into her love affair with food over a 50-year career.

The focus is on fresh seasonal produce, and her clear, nurturing style of writing recipes and explaining techniques ensures stress-free cooking, a winning formula she has stuck to.

She sold and signed every last book she brought to Villa Castollini, with women buying more than one at a time.

Paarman started her career with what she calls humble beginnings working from her garage with no running water and no money to advertise.

All these years later, her range of products has grown enormously with her son looking after what has become an international business.

There are about 250 staff working in her warehouse in Cape Town and her business has grown to exporting more than 200 products to 30 countries while her products from spices to soups and curry mixes, dressings, baking mixes and more are found in abundance in all South African grocery stores.

She says her biggest fans are in the Middle East where people particularly like the robust tastes of South Africa.

Creating her own range of spices, marinades, dressings, ready-to-eat soups and baking mixes and more, was a logical progression of her love of food.

Being somebody she describes as a “perfectionist”, it made sense that she would want the whole food story to be as pure as possible hence her range which is preservative-free and as natural as possible.

“Of course, everything we make is what I would eat at home,”  Paarman says describing her merchandise.

For the lunch at Villa Castollini, Paarman brought two of her chefs from Cape Town to cook the meal.

Guests were treated to a hearty mushroom soup served with a mushroom pesto butter-baked baguette, then to Ina Paarman Cape Malay prawn and fish curry, to roast chicken with dates and olives, buttery long grain rice and, of course, a tossed green salad with leaves dressed in her magic balsamic vinaigrette.

An Ina Paarman carrot cake (you can buy the mix in a packet) and a granadilla cheesecake rounded off a perfect meal.

Each of these products features in her recipe books while the ingredients for these meals are packaged ready to add and or just heat and eat such as the soup.

Meeting Paarman was a treat. You would never believe that she is 83.

Paarman is tiny in person with a genuine warmth. She painstakingly signs each book with a personalised message and a smile.

At the end of her talk, she got a standing ovation and that says it all. She is a winner!

Lessons to take away from Paarman are:

• Second best is not good enough. It has to be perfect. Don’t compromise, it has to be right.

• A successful business takes time and you need empathy with your clients. “I have an advantage in that I work with mothers and housewives like me. Make the customer your queen,” she says.

• Success comes from hard work ... it doesn’t happen overnight.

• Gratitude is important which is why I “go on my knees every day with thanks for health, a beautiful garden and children”.

• Focus on the positive.

• Good nutrition is all about eating balanced meals and using natural ingredients, eating clean. Mushrooms are so healthy they should be eaten a couple of times a week.

• Oil carries flavour. Use cream rather than synthetic versions. Love butter in moderation ... there is no substitute.

What a heart-warming event this luncheon was. Paarman thanked Food Lover’s Market as sponsors of the Oyster Festival and for being the supplier of the fresh groceries for this lunch.

Proceeds from the day went to the Knysna and Sedgefield Hospice.

In a goody bag, guests were given some samples. The Beef and Lentil Soup (new from the kitchen) is described as a rustic beefy homestyle soup that’s robust in flavour, wholesome and deeply nourishing.

I usually make my own soup, but I would honestly agree with the label that says “for guests — better than made at home.”

Brand new on the shelf are her ready-made curry sauces, Tikka, Butter Chicken, Durban Curry and Cape Malay.



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