Malefah’s Rusks

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While Quentin’s cousin was visiting us last week, I was in the middle of preparing for the real V.I.P. visitors from the Cape we were expecting for the weekend. Every single bed in the house would be occupied for the occasion of my half-sister Beatrice’s 21st birthday celebration – 12 adults, 2 kids and my Dad’s dog Chloe. We were so thrilled when Beatrice asked us if she could have a gathering at Vastrap and didn’t hesitate for a second to agree. You see, people who are lucky enough to live in the Cape need a very good reason to leave their beautiful surroundings to visit other parts of the country. Moreover, the Eastern Free State is not exactly around the corner being 1150km away! So, this would be the perfect excuse for a gathering. A way to get the whole family together in new and different surroundings to mark a very special event.

My sister Hannia and her family also joined us from Johannesburg and were kind enough to bring Quentin’s daughter Ashley with them. She had not been to the farm since January so we were very excited to have her “home” albeit only for the weekend. I organised a special surprise for her by redecorating her room with a an old four poster “princess” bed that Hannia and Beatrice both used when they were little girls. I love the idea that this special piece of furniture is being passed down from generation to generation.

Antique four poster bed with cushions from Living Life.

Antique bed with Living Life cushions and light.

There was a flurry of activity as we got everything ready for the big event: planning menus, baking rusks and biscuits, making lemon syrup, stocking up on biltong and slaughtering sheep to exchange for a cooler full of fish promised by my brother Johnny, the spear fisherman. Food is an essential part of our family bonding so I wanted everything to be just right with all the warm and fuzzy “home-made” trimmings that are associated with being on a farm.

There are few things more evocative of South African farm life than coffee with home-made rusks. Quentin and I cannot start the day without our morning ritual of rusks dunked in a mug of steaming hot coffee. We always have a fresh supply in the house and even carry them with us when we travel.

Rusks are basically like dried out biscuits. They come in all different shapes, sizes and flavours. At the moment my favourite kind is packed full of nuts, seeds, raisins and cranberries, like a wholesome breakfast in one bite. Quentin still loves his mother’s recipe for buttermilk rusks the most, but I’m not good at making them so I leave it in the capable hands of our housekeeper Malefah who used to work for my mother-in-law. The funny thing about these rusks is that they aren’t made with buttermilk at all, but rather Amasi or maas (fermented milk widely available in South Africa). I don’t know if it makes a huge difference to the taste, but Malefah likes to stick with tradition. The recipe is not written down anywhere so I just watched her and documented the steps so you can see how easy it is. The aroma and anticipation of fresh rusks baking in the oven is simply heavenly! (see also Tempting Buttermilk Rusks).

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Malefah’s Amasi Rusks:

2kg self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

500g softened butter

3 cups castor sugar

4 eggs

2,5 cups Amasi (substitute with buttermilk or plain yoghurt)

Mix the sugar, eggs and Amasi together. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking power and salt together. Rub the softened butter into the flour mixture until fully combined. Add the sugar, egg and Amasi mixture to the butter and flour mixture. Work together with your hands until combined.

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Grease a large deep baking pan with some leftover butter. Press the mixture into the pan and smooth over the top.

Bake in 180 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown on top. Allow to cool in the pan then tip out and cut into rusk size rectangles (if you are lucky, you have a fancy pan with dividers that cuts the rusks automatically!) Place on baking trays and dry out in 80 degree oven for 6-8 hours or overnight. Enjoy dunked in hot coffee!

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Christmas Countdown

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It’s that time of year when things have to get more hectic before the slow wind down to Christmas can begin. I’ve been back and forth to Joburg twice in the past week and in between there has been much socializing, cooking, baking, gardening, etcetera! When I drove home on Thursday my mother came back to the farm with me for a few days of well-deserved relaxation. She had not been to Vastrap since February and hadn’t seen the end result of our renovation. Happily she brought some rain with her! Not enough to break the drought, but at this stage we are grateful for every drop.

With my mom at cooking club.

My mom came along to our cooking club meeting on Saturday. For our year-end meeting we decided to bake biscuits and package them in boxes as gifts for the Ladybrand old-age home. I am not a big baker, but I tried really hard to get it right this time. With a little more practice hopefully there will be full cookie tins around the house for Christmas!

We had a great assortment of biscuits, unfortunately not all of them home made because time is in such short supply at this time of year. I made scrumptious Lemon Ginger cookies from the Hot Polka Dot blog. There are some really delicious cookie recipes on that site and she makes it seem so simple. I also made Marachino Cherry Chocolate biscuits using the Marachino cherries I bought at the cherry festival. They were real death by chocolate! We packaged 50 boxes of biscuits, which were happily received at the home this morning.

An assortment of biscuits.

Hard at work boxing biscuits.

Heidi and Adri.

Ready to go.

Heidi’s meringue roulade – our reward for hard work!

While we were busy over-indulging in lunch, Heidi’s husband Charles stopped by on his long Saturday ride around the district. This didn’t make us feel guilty about our lunch at all. Neither did the fact that we could not walk it off later because of the rain!

Charles and Heidi.

Too soon it was time to pack up and drive my mom back to Joburg. After the rain on Saturday I woke up early on Sunday for a thorough garden inspection. Getting into the Christmas spirit I could not resist picking some flowers and gathering some herbs, lemons and zucchini to bring back as gifts to the city. The hydrangeas are in full bloom now, a sure sign that December is near. In Afrikaans they are known as “Krismisrose” or “Christmas Roses” and they always make me think of summer holidays at the coast in Natures’ Valley. I also picked my very first Dahlia flowers. I can’t wait to see how they turn out this year, because I planted another whole patch of Dahlia’s in different colours, which are starting to come up. There should be no shortage of flowers for the house by Christmas. A very happy thought indeed!

Krismisrose.

The first Dahlia bush to flower.

Dahlia’s for my sister – the more you pick them the more they flower!

Gifts from the Vastrap garden.