Melktert

‘Expat’….I don’t like that word at all….I don’t know why but it conjures up images of red-faced, drunk, pale skinned people running around some exotic location lamenting about the good ol’ days back in the old land. OK, that pretty much describes me, I admit, although hopefully I’m not too red-faced or drunk. But I do pine for home, and my South African friends here, for the most part, pine for home too. We spend an awful lot of time talking about the things we miss, and more often than not it’s about the food, or it’s the good times we had surrounding some food related tradition – the braai, for example, which is our version of the BBQ.

Growing up in our home, food was based largely on what British and American people were eating at the time – hamburgers, pasta, roast chicken, stews, steak and kidney pie (loved it then, hate it now), but my mom (as you may have gathered from earlier posts) is and was an extraordinary cook, and always experimented with different cuisines – Thai, Mexican, French. However,  I had an Afrikaans grandmother and through her I learned about Boerekos – literally ‘farmers food’. Boerekos is an amalgamation of  ideas and tastes brought to the country by the Malaysians, the Indians, the Dutch, English, Portuguese, and the French and  over the years has taken on its own hue and identity. Nowadays, ‘South African Cuisine’ is a mixture of Boerekos and  the indigenous foods of the Southern African tribes – food that has been eaten on that piece of land for hundreds and hundreds of years, long before Jan Van Riebeeck arrived on a Cape Town beach in 1652.

But back to Boerekos, and more specifically Melktert, or Milk Tart. The tart of my youth! Once I made the 14 hour road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and decided along the way that I had to find a milk tart to take home. Luckily I was with my friend Lisa – she’s the only one who would tolerate me doing this – but I wanted this tart so much that I stopped at the local post office of a very small, very Afrikaans town in the middle of nowhere, probably the Karoo,  and asked where I could find one. The lady behind the counter told me I could knock on the door of the house the next road over ‘you’ll know the house because it has some terrible nice ceramic gnomes in the front garden’. By the way, that isn’t a typo. She actually said ‘terrible nice’. So I found the house, knocked on the door, and lo and behold, the lady had a milk tart to sell. She baked for the local ‘tuisnywerheid’ (home industry shop) and she was renowned for this tart. It was heavenly.

Milk Tart consists of a puff or short crust pastry, baked with a creamy filling made from milk, flour, sugar and eggs. Vanilla and cinnamon is used, the latter is sprinkled on top which gives the tart its famous look.  The ratio of milk to egg is higher than in a traditional custard or Chinese egg tart, and this gives it a stronger milk flavour, hence the name.

You can find the recipe here – this wonderful food blog, Scrumptious, is written by Jane-Anne Hobbs Rayner…all about her take on South African food. I am obsessed with it!
(loved this post on the birthday parties of her youth)
Some things I did differently:
I did not include the naartjie peel (clementine) because I wanted the unadulterated version, but I’m sure it is a wonderful addition.
I used puff pastry because that is what I had, but I think a short crust as described in Jane-Anne’s recipe would be nicer.
And lastly, I did not sprinkle the castor sugar (also known as superfine sugar) on top – instead I did the traditional thing and sprinkled some ground cinnamon on the custard BEFORE I put it in the oven.
*Thank you to my step mother Josandra Janisch (who also grew up with Boerekos) for all her help and late night conversations about which pastry to use!!*

All this talk about nostalgia for the food we grew up on…makes me wonder what Julia will be nostalgic for when she’s my age. I had better step up my game and make sure the has an über eating experience….no kraft mac ‘n cheese in this house. No way!

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3 responses

  1. lisa lowenthal

    what a lovely memory – yes you certainly did knock on the door of that terrible nice house! and yes that melktert was yum xx

    July 27, 2011 at 1:45 am

  2. Too lovely by half

    July 27, 2011 at 2:50 am

  3. A lovely and evocative post Frances. Thank you so much for the mention and I am *really glad* you enjoyed my milk tart recipe.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:22 am

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