I mentioned in previous posts how I loved eating a rusk every morning with my coffee when we were in South Africa.
I was surprised that no one asked: what is a rusk?
Firstly an illustration…
We found a store in L.A. that sells rusks, and though they aren’t nearly as tasty as the one’s we ate in South Africa they are a good substitute, especially when eaten with the cappuccinos Mr F makes for our weekend breakfast.
We’ve got it all except for the birds. Of course birds sing in our yard every morning – and hummingbirds come to the feeder – but they aren’t the birds of Africa. It’s like drinking Assam tea without the milk. Yes it’s tea but…
Secondly, with thanks to “google” I can give you a history lesson: In “The Great Trek” of 1835-1838 more than 12,000 Afrikaans farmers left the Cape Colony and trekked by ox wagon into the unknown interior of the country in search of land where they would be free, and beyond British control.
The Voortrekkers felt that the British policy destroyed their traditional social order which was based on racial separation, and would undermine white predominance, which they saw as God’s own will.
- A column of ox wagons commemorating the Great Trek (1938 photo)
Using oxen to pull their wagons, the Voortrekkers took little with them: a gun, a bible, some seeds, and food that would keep on the long journey like biltong (beef or game strips, dried and cured to preserve it from decay) …
…. and baked rusks which are chunky sweetish “rocks” double-baked like biscotti so they keep indefinitely. You’re supposed to dunk them in your coffee or tea to soften, then bite off the soggy end, but as I don’t like the soggy end, or the mess that’s left at the bottom of the mug, I prefer to eat them un-dunked.
While South Africans don’t travel by ox wagon nowadays, they still eat Biltong and rusks. I can see why. Mr F and I were pleasantly surprised how tasty biltong is especially as it’s just a slice of raw meat.
The Voortrekkers had to travel across wild country, negotiating rivers, mountains and gorges
The Great Trek in South Africa
There are many varieties of rusks in the shops e.g. wholewheat, buttermilk, condensed milk, aniseed, and muesli.
For those of you who’d like to bake a batch:
Recipe for South African Buttermilk Rusks
Preheat the oven to 380F
2lb 12oz flour (half wholemeal half white)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp salt
½ cup raisins (optional, or experiment with seeds like pumpkin and sunflower)
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup oil
Grease three 8”x 4” loaf tins – or any combination of deep baking dishes that gives you about the same baking area.
In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour. Add the raisins.
The rusks are good plain, or you can experiment with raisins, nuts and seeds.
In a separate bowl mix the buttermilk, sugar, eggs and oil, and beat until well combined.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and stirring slowly with a wooden spoon, pour liquid into the well. When too stiff to mix, knead with hands to form a firm dough.
Form the dough into balls about the size of golf balls and pack them tightly in one layer into the loaf tins. If done correctly you should get six rows of three into each tin.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Leave to cool on a rack for 30 minutes before breaking up into individual rusks. Place the rusks onto cookie sheets (so the pieces aren’t touching each other and there’s enough space to allow air to circulate around them) and dry in a low oven 225 F for 4 to 5 hours, until the centers are completely dry.
Makes about 60 rusks. Stored in an airtight container they keep for weeks.
Note: It’s not a good idea to eat rusks in the car. Even if you take one bite, I can guarantee you’ll be covered with crumbs. Because I don’t dunk mine I have to eat over a plate.