Traditional Heritage Recipes are part of our everyday life and especially when it comes to public holidays. The South African people are renowned for their varied culinary dishes. Since early times travellers have mentioned the good food they were offered at the Cape. South African cookery developed from the eating habits of the colonists and their slaves, who came from various parts of the world. Many South African recipes derive from the Netherlands. German soldiers in the garrisons, as well as subsequent German immigrants, also contributed considerably. Social activities at the Cape always reached a peak when there were ships in Table Bay. After the crew had enjoyed the hospitality of the burghers, these were in turn treated to receptions on board ship, and the exchange of recipes and different kinds of liquor which accompanied these festivities greatly enhanced the local cookery. The Cape Malays even used to exchange songs for wine.
Traditional Heritage Recipes
The character of South African cookery bears the stamp of the circumstances in which the colonists lived. Numerous recipes and eating habits developed from necessity. The preservation of meat and fish in a warm climate was a serious problem, which led to the preparation of biltong, dried sausage, salt-snoek and corned meat, as well as salt-rib.
The traditional salt-rib is prepared as follows: 1 rib of mutton (3 to 4 lb, 1 .4 to 1. 8 kg); ½ cup salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; ¼ teaspoon saltpetre. Rub the mixture of salt, sugar and saltpetre well into the rib of mutton. Place the meat in an earthenware or enamel basin and leave for two days, turning it twice daily. Hang the meat up so that the moisture can drip off. Sever each rib in two places by means of a hammer and chisel. Wash the meat and cook in a fairly large amount of water until tender. Drain and grill over hot coals. If preferred, the rib may be smoked before use. The colonists used to hang the meat in the chimney. If necessary, the meat may be sprinkled with ground coriander and pepper and dried even further, in which case it should be soaked overnight before use. (Serves 6-8.)
Biltong or dried meat is regarded as a delicacy and is peculiar to South Africa. It is usually cut from the hind leg and a portion of the shoulder. The long or `string’ biltong taken from either side of the vertebral column is cut into smaller pieces. After these have been cut, they are salted and packed in the skin or hide (so that the hair does not come into contact with the meat) or in an enamel container. The following mixture is suitable for dry-salting. For every 50 lb (23 kg) of meat use: 2 lb (.9 kg) salt, ¼ – ½ lb (500g – 2 kg) brown or white sugar; 1-2 tablespoons coriander; 1 tablespoon pepper. Rub the mixture well into the meat and pack the meat into the container. Before hanging the biltong, it may be wiped with a cloth dipped in diluted vinegar, or rinsed in a weak solution of vinegar. Sprinkle with ground coriander and pepper. Hang the biltong in a cool, well-ventilated place and protect it from dust and flies.
The first settlers obtained their meat mainly from the native people, who declined to slaughter young animals, and the quality of the livestock raised by the early burghers was affected by periodic droughts. As a result, many traditional recipes are specifically suitable for tough cuts of meat, for instance pot-roasting at a low temperature in a heavy iron pot, and minced meat dishes such as bobotie; the addition of acid in some form or other, as in sosaties, also helps to make the meat tender.
Here is a traditional recipe for sosaties: 1 ½ lb (.7 kg) pork; 2 lb (.9 kg) mutton; 2 large onions; 1 tablespoon mutton fat or lard; 2 tablespoons brown sugar; 3 teaspoons curry powder; 1 tablespoon maize flour; 2-3 cups vinegar or sufficient to cover the meat; 2 cup soaked dried apricots or 3 tablespoons apricot chutney; 6 orange leaves. Dice the meat and season with salt and pepper. Slice the onions into rings and sauté in the fat or lard till golden brown. Add all the other ingredients except the meat. Bring to the boil and allow to cool down. Add the sauce to the meat and leave for two days. Arrange alternate pieces of fat and lean meat on skewers. Grill over the coals. Bring the sauce to the boil, thicken with flour, season with salt and pepper and serve with the sosaties. (Serves 6.)
The Malays made considerable contributions to Cape cookery: bredie (a mutton and vegetable dish); bobotie; atjar (pickles); curried meat and fish; and the liberal use of herbs and spices. The latter were often used to disguise the flavour of meat that had begun to go off: Bobotie prepared according to the following recipe, will always remain a favourite: 2 onions, chopped; 1 apple, diced; 2 tablespoons butter; 2 lb (.9 kg) minced raw meat; 2 slices bread; 2 tablespoons curry; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 eggs; 2 tablespoons vinegar; 2 teaspoons salt; ¼ teaspoon pepper; ¼ cup raisins; 12 almonds (optional); 6 bay or lemon leaves; 1 cup milk; 1 teaspoon turmeric (optional). Sauté the onion and apple in the butter and combine with the meat, bread (soaked in the milk and the excess milk squeezed out), curry, sugar, one egg, vinegar, salt, pepper and raisins. Blanch and quarter the almonds, and add. Mix thoroughly. Place in a greased baking dish. Roll the lemon leaves and insert upright at regular distances in the bobotie. Bay leaves are not rolled. Bake in a moderate oven for 60 minutes. Beat the remaining egg in the milk and pour over the bobotie about 10 minutes before it is removed from the oven. Serve with rice and chutney. The leaves are removed before the dish is served. (Serves 8.)
Yellow Rice Recipe
Yellow rice is a very popular dish: 2 cups rice; 6 cups boiling water; ½ cup Demerara (yellow) sugar; 1 tablespoon butter; 1 tablespoon ground turmeric; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 cup raisins; 1 stick of cinnamon. Wash the rice. Add all the ingredients to the boiling water. Cook until the grains of rice are tender and all the water has been absorbed. (Serves 6-8.)
The French refugees refined the art of making jam and preserves, raisins and wine, and brought in the use of wine for culinary purposes. The original recipes have to some extent fallen into disuse, but many containing wine have survived, such as for oblietjies (rolled wafers) and old-fashioned soetkoekies (spiced biscuits), which are mixed with wine, according to Hildagonda Duckitt in Hilda’s “Where is it?” (1891): 4 lb (1.8 kg) flour; 3 lb (1 .4 kg) Demerara sugar; 1 lb (.5 kg) ground almonds; 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda; 2 tablespoons ground cloves; 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon; 1 lb (.5 kg) butter; 2 lb (.2 kg) or sheep-tail fat; 4 eggs; 1 glass red wine. Sift and combine the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter and fat. Mix with the beaten egg and wine. Knead the dough thoroughly and leave overnight. Mix one teaspoon red bole into a small piece of dough. Roll out the rest of the dough to about 25 mm thickness, arrange strips of the red bole dough on it and roll in. Roll out to about 3 mm thickness. Cut out the biscuits with the rim of a tumbler or similarly shaped cutter. Bake on a greased sheet at 400 deg F (205°C) for 20 minutes. (Makes 40 dozen biscuits.)
In the old days most housewives could cook well and also had excellent cooks. Bread was generally baked at home, but in the Duminy diary, mention is made of an account paid to the baker on 2 January 1790, for bread that had been delivered.
It was to be expected that the eating habits of the immigrants of different nationalities who later entered the country would influence the traditional cookery. The 1820 Settlers introduced various recipes for fruit-cakes, plum-pudding and other steamed puddings. Those from Scotland brought recipes for making marmalade, scones, shortbread and typical dishes prepared with oats. Jewish recipes, which have stood the test of time, rapidly gained popularity among the rest of the population; these include beetroot soup, certain typical fish dishes, and various cake recipes: The Italians, Greeks, Austrians, Hungarians, Swedes, Syrians, Indians and Chinese have all made their contributions to the South African cuisine. Chinese sweet-and-sour pork is a very popular dish. During time immigrants have commercialised many traditional recipes on a large scale. Various types of sausage peculiar to different countries are obtainable in most parts of South Africa. Smoked sausage and spekulaas (very similar to the soetkoekies) from the Netherlands are manufactured in large quantities. The English Cheddar and sweet-milk cheese, and the French Roquefort cheese have become well known, while cottage cheese has been a familiar product for very many years.
The culinary heritage includes sweets such as `doemela-klontjies’ (boiled, pulled, crisp sweets delicately flavoured and coloured), tameletjie (sweets made by boiling sugar and water together with flavouring such as almond, grated orange or tangerine peel), water-melon preserve and candied peel. Dried figs were pressed into moulds and then sliced. In days gone by good children were rewarded with a handful of raisins and almonds or dried sugar-pears, flattened with a hammer. Pear syrup, prepared from saffron pears, and moskonfyt are old-fashioned preserves.
Boerebeskuit, mosbolletjies (must-buns), soetkoekies, milk tart, sponge cake and koeksisters (plaited strips of dough, fried in deep fat and then plunged in syrup) are always popular refreshments at social functions. In the recipe for typical old-fashioned milk tart the egg-yolks and whites are not separated: 500ml of milk (2 cups); 4 tablespoons sugar; 2 tablespoons butter; 2 eggs; 1 stick of cinnamon or 1 teaspoon tangerine peel; 4 tablespoons flour. Heat the milk and tangerine peel or cinnamon to boiling point in a double boiler. Mix the sugar and flour. Gradually add the hot milk to the mixture and mix to a paste. Return to the double boiler and beat, stirring continuously until thickened. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the butter and stir in the beaten eggs when the mixture has cooled. Line a tart plate with puff pastry. Brush over with egg-white before adding the filling, to prevent the crust from becoming soggy. Pour in the filling and bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven (450°F, 233°C), reducing the heat during the last 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar before serving. (Serves 8.)
In rural districts, the farming community had to make as independent a living as possible. Cereals were grown and ground to flour. In one district, almost every farmer had a small water-mill in a river; though it ground only about a bag of grain a day, it sufficed for household consumption. Elsewhere the mill, which was operated for the benefit of the entire district, was the place where everyone gathered for neighbourly chats while the flour was being ground. It was customary to pay the miller in flour.
Delicious crusty, golden-brown cakes (roosterkoek), made on a gridiron, and bread baked in large ovens were preferred by many to any form of cake. Where no oven was available, an ant-heap was hollowed out to serve the purpose. After the fire made in it had burnt out, the coals were removed and the loaves placed in the ant-heap.
In winter, it was customary to slaughter a pig and, in certain parts of the country, an ox. Each farmer’s wife in the neighbourhood was then given a `karmenaadjie’ (originally a chop) which in the case of a pig included a piece of fresh bacon, a tender cut of pork and a reasonably large length of sausage. Boer sausage (boerewors) was made in large quantities. The mincing-machines were most efficient; the sausage-stuffing machine was a very simple piece of equipment, fitted with cog-wheels and a handle. The sausage was suspended on strips of wood in the kitchen or pantry to dry, while after an adequate period in the pickling barrels the bacon and ham were hung in the chimney to be smoked. Excess fat was used for making soap and candles. Large soap-pots were built into outside fire-places and were often also used for boiling the water needed for cleaning the pigs after slaughtering.
Fruit was dried and stored in bags in the loft. In certain Districts, the coffins which might be required or were specially ordered in advance were kept under the bedsteads and often used for storing dried fruit. During the long winter months, when fruit and vegetables were scarce, dried fruit played an important part in supplementing the family diet; not only did the dried fruit heighten the nutritive value of the diet, but it also provided variety in a diet which would otherwise have become monotonous.
Butter was usually made at home in the rural districts, and large churns as well as special rollers for removing the buttermilk and water from the butter, were to be found in most kitchens. During the period 1700-1850 an amazing amount of butter and eggs was used in various recipes. Old sponge-cake recipes require 24 hen’s eggs or one ostrich-egg for a single cake. In ordinary cake recipes half of the egg white was often omitted because such a large number of eggs were used. The use of half a pound of butter in a dessert to enhance the flavour was by no means unusual.
Sponge Cake Recipe
The following recipe for sponge-cake comes from Miss E. J. Dijkman’s cookery-book “Di Suid-Afrikaanse kook-, koek- en resepteboek”, published in 1891: Weigh 12 eggs, and use the weight of the eggs in sugar, the weight of 9 eggs in flour, 10 drops of orange oil, and 1 tablespoon of brandy. Beat the egg-yolks well, stir in the sugar, then beat the egg white till dry, stir the sugar and egg-yolk, then the flour, oil and brandy; mix well rapidly and immediately pour into a mould.
The eating habits in the various provinces are to a certain extent determined by the crops and edible veld products found or cultivated locally, as well as by the situation of the area and the origin of the inhabitants. Along the coast sea-food such as lobsters, oysters, abalone (`perlemoen’), shrimps, mussels and fish are used on a large scale. There is a wide variety of recipes for `smoor-fish’ (braised fish), pickled fish, etc. Penguins’ eggs, considered a great delicacy during certain seasons of the year, were scrambled or boiled, chopped and served with butter, salt and pepper, or lemon, salt and pepper, but are today almost unprocurable. Shellfish often required elaborate preparation, but remained as popular as seaweed jelly flavoured with sugar, wine and spice.
Traditional Heritage Recipes in each region has its own typical dishes. In the Cape Province sugar-bush (Protea spp.) syrup was obtainable until fairly recently, as well as kambro (Fockea angustifolia) jam, sour-fig (Carpobrotus muirii) jam, waterblommetjies (Aponogeton spp.) stew, apricot chutney, green apricot preserve, mebos (dried and sugared apricots), apricot `selei’ (a very thick jelly made from apricots rubbed through a sieve) and citron preserve. The Transvaal boasts marula jelly and, together with the Orange Free State, maize bread. Natal has various mango and other indigenous fruit recipes.
The use of certain veld foods was probably learnt from Natives or has perhaps developed from food shortages due to drought or other natural phenomena. It varied from district to district, but many people of the Western Province remember the mouth-watering deliciousness of sour-fig jam. Recipe: The sour or Hottentot figs should be used before they are too dry and shrivelled. The skin should still be soft enough to be removed easily. Soak the figs in cold water overnight. Drain and weigh them the next day. Cook in a little water until quite tender. Add one pound (.45 kg) of sugar to every pound of fruit. Stir carefully until the sugar has dissolved and cook until the jam is ready.
On the whole, South African cookery has a cosmopolitan character which is so tasteful and delightful. Enjoy cooking for Heritage Day !!! Contact me if you want to find out more about your families heritage.