Lannice Snyman died in the early hours of Sunday morning, May 9. This banal declaration upturns an entire sense of place and meaning for those who knew her. Someone once said there are such people that to think of a world without them is inconceivable. If we didn’t know Lannice, we would have had to invent her.
Fortunately, many did know her. She was fabulous, formidable and funny. She was a smart businesswoman, an astute publisher, a relentless editor, a delightful writer and a consummate chef. And all these endeavours, she consumed with passion. But all of this seemed so beside the point once you got to know her. For above all, she was the most wonderful friend: generous, embracing and compassionate. She didn’t suffer fools gladly—even among her friends and family—and careless behaviour from any one was not left unnoticed but always forgiven. She had a huge heart and a canny wisdom that, like her recipes, cut through the obfuscations of cloying flavour-confusing ingredients, called a herb a herb, and told it to you good, clean and fair.
Her numerous books are a history of her passion, a chronicle of her fully lived life and a document to the cuisine of our country and beyond. She did not seek out “ethnic cuisine”, a term that wrinkled her nose, but sought to understand the geography of cooking, how the land and seascapes and the people who moved through and alongside these spaces used what was available to them. Her knowledge of the craft of cooking was boundless: she knew tips and twists to every classic procedure and invented what she didn’t. Her food was as direct and honest as her soul.
Yet, for all her willingness to welcome the world, she remained an intensely private person. There were moments in her house in Infanta, surrounded by too many people intent on inventing too many ultimate cocktails or argumentatively determined to sample a range of wines with tubs of oysters, when she would set up a small card table and play a quiet game of solitaire. Her hands would sweep softly across the worn, green felt and her eyes would rarely look up. But she could repeat back to you most of the discussions later that night around the huge granite block table. And not without her own comments sliced in.
It was this private self that played patience with the cancer that consumed her. She did not want others to have to deal with it and the illness remained an unspoken item among a knowing group of her family and close friends. When the cards finally were stacked against her and she knew what was coming, she rallied—the doctor said it was a miracle, but she was just doing a Lannice—creating her time for friends and family to gather and visit. And creating, as she always did, brilliant moments of clarity and pools of calm within which she found peace with herself and her family.
Michael, her husband, life-long friend, partner and father to her children, a man whose smoked fish can make you mad, whose braai machinery looks like the result of unresolved arguments between Heath Robinson and an arbitrary handlanger, stood in their house looking at the friends and family that gathered on the Sunday afternoon after Lannice had died. They were mostly standing around an enormous raised dinning-room table that he had made for her. “Why is it,” he asked with a smile, “that in this enormous house, we always end up around Lannice’s table?” The answer to that would fill a book.
Lannice leaves a space at the table that cannot be filled. But it will always be honoured. And a glass will always be raised to her and the memories she has made for us all.
Lannice is survived by Michael, her two daughters, Tamsin and Courtenay, her son-in-law, Chris, and her granddaughter, Trinity.