My morning coffee, and a rusk ….

rusks in a Johannesburg bakery

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…

my breakfast this morning: a rusk with a Cappuccino

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:  InThe 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.

1938 photograph of a column of ox wagons in commemoration of the Great Trek in South Africa
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
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
9oz butter
½ cup raisins (optional, or experiment with seeds like pumpkin and sunflower)
2 eggs
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.

A South African sign

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
This entry was posted in South Africa, Tutto va bene and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to My morning coffee, and a rusk ….

  1. Priya says:

    Allow me to laugh out loud at the final sign first. 😀

    I love rusks! We get all kinds here in India as well. I love the aniseed ones and milk ones and ajwain (a seed tasting almost like thyme, but not quite) ones. Oh love them all! I do ‘dunk’ them sometimes. Just to ‘feel’ the sogginess. 😛

    Thanks for the history of the South African rusk and the recipe, too. I don’t know whether I’ll find enough confidence to try it out, but I’ll certainly try to!

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the sign.

      That’s interesting! I didn’t know one could get rusks in India. I’m so happy that you don’t have to imagine what they taste like, or what I mean by the sogginess after they’re dunked 🙂 Oh my, so when you sit on your lovely veranda eating your breakfast coffee and rusk, you must have a marvelous chorus from the birds of India.

      I don’t know ajwain so can’t imagine what they taste like. Are the rusks in India imported from South Africa? I wonder if Indian shops here would have ajwain rusks?

      Sitting on the long plane journey home Mr F and I agreed we would bake rusks … I hope we do it before christmas!

      We know so little about the history of various foods. Now that you know about the Great Trek I wonder whether it will change your appreciation of rusks.

      • Priya says:

        It’s a beautiful weather outside, Rosie. Thunder, hail, rain. Tea and rusk would be quite the thing in this weather. Though I wouldn’t mind a good grog either..

        We do get rusks here. Ajwain is grown all over India. It is an effective herbal medicine for many tummy ailments. Used cleverly, it acts as a great digestive.

        The history will certainly make me remember the Voortrekkers.

      • dearrosie says:

        You shared your beautiful photos of the rain – silly me I forgot you’re in the middle of monsoon season! Is it too cold to sit outside on your veranda?

      • Priya says:

        The weather keeps changing, Rosie. For instance, right now, I’d give anything for a cool lemonade. Monsoon hasn’t arrived in these parts yet. Another month to go…

      • dearrosie says:

        Well now I’ve really showed my ignorance to the world. From your recent pictures and descriptions of the pouring rain I assumed the monsoons had started. How much more rain must fall before its called a monsoon?

        What is the brand name of the rusks you eat?

      • dearrosie says:

        Priya I also want to mention that I like your new photo/avatar. You’ve got such beautiful hair 🙂

  2. Val says:

    You must have strong teeth! I got some rusks by mistake recently (thinking they were French Toasts) and they damn near broke my teeth. I used to love rusks when I was a younger, and could eat the things, but alas my rusking days are over. (Maybe people didn’t ask what a rusk is because they’re used for babies: teething aids. Obviously doesn’t work the other way round though for us poor folks whose fangs ain’t what they used to be!)

    Hopefully as well as giving up oxen carts, most of the racism of White South Africans has also gone. Bad days, those.

    • dearrosie says:

      Val there are several varieties of rusk. The teething rusks are really nasty things and much to hard to chew. The South African rusks are not hard to chew – just take a bite and you’ll get covered in crumbs.
      I believe the most common S. African brand is “Ouma” – that’s I bought from the shop in L.A.

  3. magsx2 says:

    Personally I’m not a rusk lover a bit too hard for me, dunking them in my coffee is the only way I can really enjoy them. 🙂
    I love the sign that is a classic, a very good explanation of why the bar is closed.

  4. souldipper says:

    When I was in South Africa, I saw rusks, but because I’m not a biscotti fan, I didn’t try them. Wonder what adds to the flavour in SA.

    Love the sign!

    • dearrosie says:

      I don’t know why I enjoyed eating rusks for breakfast in South Africa because they are very plain – almost like eating dry toast – but a rusk with my coffee is now the easiest way for me to be reminded of our wonderful holiday.

      Do I like rusks because j’adore biscotti ? (which reminds me I’ve got biscotti stories I could share with y’all)

  5. Reggie says:

    I love rusks and biltong! I laughed when you said it wasn’t a good idea to eat rusks in the car, though, especially if they are un-dunked rusks – the crumbs really do go everywhere. I also find that rusks dunked in coffee – or cappuccino or chococcino – are just the best. Better than if they’re dunked in tea.

    Did you try the different Rooibos teas?

    Whenever we go on roadtrips in South Africa or when we drive up to Namibia to visit family there, I love buying rusks and biltong from the farmstalls etc we see along the way. Buttermilk rusks and kudu or springbok biltong are my favourite. Sigh…

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Reggie
      Thanks for stopping by and for explaining that its best to dunk rusks in coffee – not tea. I don’t like dunking because so many soggy bits land up floating in ones cup of coffee.
      I have tried a few rooibos teas, but I prefer the plain. What’s your favorite?
      Although we bought biltong at several different places around the country, unfortunately we didn’t get to try kudu or springbok. Next time!

  6. Reggie says:

    Hi Rosie

    I also much prefer the plain rooibos tea. I like to buy it from Khoisan Tea (

    There are so many different blends nowadays, that one gets quite muddled. Quite honestly, if I want it to taste of honey, lemon, ginger, vanilla, or cinnamon, I’d much prefer to use some of those natural ingredients in my cup of tea, rather than buying an artificially flavoured (or ‘nature identical’, which just isn’t) version.

    Did you know that the Aspalathus linearis shrubs (Rooibos) grow only in South Africa, and specifically in the Cederberg Mountains near the small town of Clanwilliam in the Western Cape?

    A slightly differently tasting tea is made from Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia), which grows only along the Garden Route (Southern Cape coast). If you get a chance to taste that, give it a try.

    I am curious – do you get South African or Namibian biltong in the States? And if you ever come to sunny SA again, consider adding on a week (or two) to visit Namibia, our extraordinarily beautiful neighbouring country to the north. It will be well worth it!

  7. dearrosie says:

    I didn’t know that Rooibos only grows in the W. Cape. That’s amazing!
    I have tried Honeybush tea and I don’t like it.
    We cannot import meat from Africa into the USA. If you bring biltong from S. Africa in your suitcase it’s confiscated by US immigration. Unfortunately.

    I would LOVe to go to Namibia. Is that where you were born?

    • Reggie says:

      Honeybush does indeed have a different taste – I also prefer Rooibos. Pity about the biltong – I wonder whether the immigration officials end up nibbling it?! 😉 It IS very tasty, after all. You’re welcome to email me if there’s anything you’d like to know about Namibia; it is sooo worth a visit.

      • dearrosie says:

        LOL I wonder whether the TSA screeners don’t need to bring lunch because they eat the confiscated food? I hope it doesn’t just end up in the trash!
        I’ve written about my frustration at the airport when the screeners insist on taking away my yogurt – something I eat with a spoon.

I'd be delighted if you left me a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s