Heritage food – my take


This post, in its original iteration appeared in 2018. On another platform. I have, for a number of reasons, been trying to systematically restore “missing” bits. It’s a mixed blessing: some I choose not to restore. Others, like this, make me realise how much our lives have changed in the last year and now, more.

This was the story of one of our Sunday Suppers. We hosted them for three years. We’ve not hosted one since January 2020. We’re still asked if we “do” them.

I do miss them, but honestly, until we understand Covid better, it’s kind of scary allowing strangers into one’s home and private space. I hate admitting that I (we) have developed a serious dose of stranger danger. I do, paradoxically, admit that we are a little lax in our village bubble. That said, I don’t miss the obligatory hugging and kissing that characterised so many social encounters – especially with acquaintances and people one has only just met and with whom one has, at best, a tenuous emotional connection.

I digress, of course…

Heritage, my adopted country and food

In South Africa, in September, we celebrate our combined heritage. Like so many countries, we are a bit of a melting pot but in South Africa, heritage is also the site of much contestation. However, I won’t go into that, except to say that Heritage Day precipitates two things. One, a public holiday and the other, South Africa’s shared love of gathering around a fire on which a meal is cooked. Yes, the barbecue. In South Africa, though, it’s the braaivleis or shisa nyama that is virtually universally traditional. Needless to say, when this particular commemoration spawned a public holiday on a Monday, the Sunday Supper menu reflected that. So it was, in 2018, when I had already been thinking about the menu, but had not come up with anything, I get this direct message on Instagram:

“Are you by any chance doing lunch/dinner on Sunday 23 September. Can you recommend a place to overnight in McGregor! Thought we would come and test your kitchen and catch up??”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks, Dr Groundwater and I had all been – yes, you guessed it – at university together. All of us in the Geography department and she and I in the same residence. Other than bumping into her at a local market more than 20 years ago, and hearing Dr Groundwater elucidate about the drought and his speciality on a local radio station, I had seen neither of them since those days; other than her following my Instagram account, we are not in touch.

In addition to their advance booking for Sunday Supper, dear friends, Mr & Mrs Gummi, from Cape Town, were to booked into our Little Room and yes, especially so that they could be here for Sunday Supper.

Boot on the other foot

Now, there is something you should know about Mr Gummi. Not only are he and The Husband dedicated carnivores and bosom buddies who hail from the same part of the world, but Mr Gummi is a former restauranteur and chef. We met him – and them – in his restaurant. It’s one thing having a casual braai or a dinner around the table in one’s home, and quite another when, so to speak, the boot is on the other foot: there is just a little pressure.

South Africa and Scotland

Back to the menu. Of course, it needed a heritage theme. In my wisdom, I decided it should reflect both South Africa and Scotland. I am a naturalised South African; the Scottish connection is both about The Husband’s and my heritage and the village whose Scottish heritage is reflected in its name, McGregor. With my kitchen constraints, it was neither practical to do a “common or garden” braai nor given that Sunday Suppers had developed a set format of starter, main and sweet. Two things that had been part our first heritage menu in 2017, featured: the starter of a paté made with local, smoked fish, and the sweet.

The final menu

The starter was two pâtés served with crostini. Followed by a braaied Springbok fillet and Fiona’s Scottish Milktart. None of the diners was vegetarian. I cannot remember what that option was…

The two patés: I cannot give you specific recipes for either, except to explain what they consist of, and how I make them.

Two pâtés

Angel fish pâté

This is a pâté usually made with a smoked fish (snoek) which is a rather coarsely textured, very bony, oily fish. I prefer to make it with angel fish – the flavour is more delicate than the heavy, salted smoked flavour of the snoek. Either way, both fish are readily available if one has access to fresh fish or the sea.

I make the pâté with fish that’s is left over from a main meal – usually done on the braai – cooked over hot coals, on the skin, not turned. It’s basted with a mixture of olive oil, butter, parsley, garlic and lemon juice. The Husband reckons he only knows how long to braai the fish for because I make just the right quantity of the libation. I’m not so sure, but I’ll take it!

The cold fish is separated from the skin and flaked into a bowl into whichI add a spritz of dry white wine, followed by a dollop of cottage cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and finally, in this instance, wild garlic leaves and either chives or green onion tops.

Combine these ingredients until the correct consistency is achieved – without mashing or puréeing – adjusting the quantities and the seasoning as you go along. If you are in South Africa and using wild garlic (Tulbaghia), be judicious with the quantities. It is very (the actual word begins with an “f”) strong and it develops over time, especially when combined with dairy.

Stash the pâté the fridge until you are ready to use it – either in a single receptacle or in individual dishes – depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

Homemade maaskaas (cottage cheese) pâté with wild herbs

Making cottage cheese is easier than you think. In South Africa, you can buy cultured soured milk. I have, when I could get really, proper (how’s that for English) full cream milk, soured it and made cottage cheese from that. Full fat milk is getting harder and harder to come by, so at the suggestion of a friend, I cheated and bought the maas. I haven’t looked back and I make it regularly, treat it exactly the same way:

Put a colander into a large bowl to catch the whey and then line the colander with muslin. Dump in the maas and tie up the muslin. The whey will drain out and you will need to pour that away if it fills quickly (on to your pot plants or into the compost because it’s actually full of goodness). It will need to hang for at least 24 hours, but better for 48 and you will have cottage cheese of the most fabulous creamy consistency to which you can add the flavourings you want.

For this supper, I added wild garlic and suurings or wild sorrel to the cottage cheese. I grew up eating these sour little leaves and flowers – in the Eastern Cape they are mauve and where I live, in the Western Cape they are yellow and flower in abundance in spring – especially if it’s been an especially wet winter.

A bit like the angel fish pâté, adding the seasoning and flavourings is a matter of personal taste, remembering the caveat about the wild garlic leaves, and which applies just as much to conventional garlic. When you’re happy, either serve immediately – the flavour is better at room temperature – or store until you’re ready to use.

Springbok loin on the braai

The second course was Springbok loin rubbed with a mixture of my homemade spicy plum jam, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil to which I added a teaspoon of crushed coriander seed, a crushed clove of garlic and about a dessertspoon of fresh, grated ginger. Having marinated for about four or so hours, the loins were braaied (grilled) over hot coals until they were medium rare, and then removed and allowed to rest.

Some will say that this is too rare but remember two things: venison is not just well matured but has no fat marbling which makes it dry and easy to overcook. Secondly, as I had to keep it warm and avoid overcooking while waiting for diners to be ready for their main courses, I always elect to take the meat off when it was under-done and allow it to rest.

In terms of quantities: Springbok is a small animal and one loin serves about two people.

A diner’s plate of springbok fillet medallions, jus and vegetables with herb butter.

Fiona’s Scottish Milk Tart

The dessert, when I served it for the first time last year, was an instant hit and has become a regular feature of Sunday Supper menus.

It consists of the filling of a traditional South African melktert (milk tart) served with a side of Scottish shortbread in either a lovely little glass or, more prettily in my mother’s Royal Albert coffee cups.

By all accounts, it was a menu and a meal that was a success!

* direct translation is “grilled meat” and usually shortened to braai pronounced “bry” – like “fry”

** shisa, according to an online dictionary, means to heat or to burn

*** nyama in many of the Nguni languages, including isiZulu and the one I am most familiar with, isiXhosa, is meat

In closing – it could take a while…


That I have been able to recapture much of this blogpost, albeit updated and edited, is thanks in no small measure to blockchain technology. What is on a blockchain can’t be deleted – even if your website disappears. The folk from @exxp, @fredrikaa and Martin Lees (@howo), the programmer behind the WordPress plugin have set up a front end that enables one to download – in text – everything one has posted from WP to the blockchain. So, although the image links were lost in the original post, the text was not. Fortunately, the file names were saved and I could find and reload the images.

Not just for Gen Z and Milennials

People of my vintage tend to glaze over when I mention that I blog to a blockchain. I’m not going to pretend that I understand much if any of the details. The social blockchain community of which I am part, includes folk of all generations.  From all over the world.

Recently, fellow S’Affrican, contemporary and blogpal @lizelle started an online community that is home for the more hesitant less geekish and technically inclined. I don’t like being pigeonholed or boxed, so the eclectic focus of this community and the multi-generational (40 – 100 year) span of Hive Silver Bloggers is a space in which my equally eclectic interests fit. It’s recently been noticed by some of the blockchain big cheeses whales which means @lizelle is doing something right. I know that. She and the community deserve support.

Sunday Suppers

We do miss them. Not necessarily the not having a weekend and the sometimes bone-aching exhaustion after a busy (and successful) Sunday. We have met some interesting and fascinating people. We (I, perhaps more than The Husband) had fun. I miss the cooking and the sense of occasion that I had the privilege of creating for our guests. We will, possibly “do” them again. If. There is a need, we feel safe, and/or, as we have always said, people (there must be between four and ten) ask us to “do” a Supper @ The Sandbag House experience.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications. From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

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Seriously sizzling – these siss-sters

I have been making koeksisters for the McGregor Market for more than six years having last made them in the early 1990’s.  At that time, I thought they were horrendously enormous and occasionally trotted them out with tea or as a dessert.

Fast forward twenty or so years:  the world is much more health conscious than it was then, and not having a sweet tooth coupled the new understanding of sugar addiction, I decided to make little ones.  It’s a decision that’s stood me in good stead.

Traditional Afrikaans cookie

For international readers, let me explain:  a koeksister is a deep fried pastry.  There are two types of koeksisters in South Africa;  both are a sweet, deep-fried confectionary.  One has Malay roots and is traditional in the “coloured” community and is rather like a spicy doughnut that is rolled in coconut and colloquially known as a “koe’sister“.  The ones that I make have Dutch roots and are traditional Afrikaans fayre; drenched in a syrup.

Of course, for an immigrant rooinek* to make and sell them in the shadow of the Dutch Reformed Church, is one thing.  To hear ‘n regte, egter boer and person of real, genuine Afrikaans farming stock, or a “coloured” person say that my koeksisters are “delish!” or better still – “they taste like home” – is a source of some pride!

* literal translation of rooi nek is red-neck  – the derogatory term for the pith-helmeted English soldiers whose necks would get sunburnt during the Anglo-Boer war (Source).

A view over McGregor village dominated by the Dutch Reformed Church.

A little etymology on the side

I did a bit of research as I was perfecting my product, and one of the things that I learned is that there is no such thing as a “koeksuster”.  Every search engine I used, chucked up “koeksister”.  So, the literal translation of the name cannot be “cake sister” – a common misconception.  Even in South Africa – I’ve given up disabusing some folk about it.

What I found out

The Afrikaans word for “sister”, one’s fraternal female sibling, is suster. It turns out that the “sis” is alliterative:  omdat hulle so ‘siss’ as hulle in die warm oilie en koue stroop gesit is.  They siss when they’re frying in the hot oil and still sizzling, dropped into the icy syrup.

My recipe is based on a book given to me, nearly 30 years ago, in a past life.  It was also my first ever South African cookery book.  A few years ago, I was looking for a do-it-all local book for a friend and discovered that it was still in print!  What a delight to find my basic South African culinary Bible – the perfect gift for that occasion.

I have, of course, made a few minor (I suppose that depends on perspective) adjustments, i.e. butter instead of margarine, slices of fresh ginger and whole cinnamon instead of the ground-up stuff.

You can download a printable version of my recipe here. If you do, buy me a coffee? Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

Good game played slow

Making koeksisters is a morning’s work.  Not only must the dough rest, but the cutting and plaiting of anywhere between 24 and, in my case 52-odd koeksisters, is a game most definitely played slow.  It’s a labour of (mostly) love that I do at least every other Friday – ahead of the market.

A little more debate

Koeksisters do keep (and freeze) well – for as much as a month – because the sugar is a natural preservative – as are both the ginger and cinnamon.  If you don’t keep them cold and eat them quickly, they do lose their slight crunch.    Once they’ve cooled, completely, seal them into the container to and put them in the fridge or a chiller – the cooler the better.  Over time, their flavour improves as they draw in cinnamon and ginger syrup. Well, mine do – because I leave them in the syrup.

There is no consensus:  do koeksisters taste best fresh and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside?  Or, softer, more flavoursome and dripping in syrup?


This is the third iteration of this post.  The first was in about 2016, not long after I started blogging.  The second was last year and was one of the posts that disappeared when my earstwhile host absconded – with all the posts I’d written over that year.  This, third (hopefully lucky) post is part of the process of revising, updating and sorting recipes so that they’re more accessible and printable.  For me, as much as for anyone who wants to use them.

The significance of three and five-oh

The McGregor Saturday morning market has been a defining feature of my week for the last seven or so years.  Fridays are always kitchen days.  Saturday mornings are occupied (winter or summer and when it’s dry – which is most weeks because we live in a rain scarce region) with packing things up, and heading down the road, setting up, selling and then returning home for brunch.

South Africa’s lockdown meant that for four months, my the week had no shape.

Market changes

The market’s resuming, just on two months ago, was interesting.  Suddenly we had to take steps to control numbers and access to our little “precinct”.

A misty set up for the first “Covid” market in McGregor

We were surprised when, two or so weeks ago, there was a queue of people waiting to come in.  Fifty patrons?  We were gobsmacked.  We had no idea that we ever had as many as fifty patrons at one time.  Ever.  Let alone more.  Or during level 3 lockdown.


Just last week, I hit a personal milestone.  September, a year ago, and because I discovered I had a number of repeat marmalade customers, who nagged and because I had sold out, I started keeping track.  Very old fashioned and low tech.

I had sold fifty jars of marmalade in a calendar year.

Here’s the thing: for more than a quarter of that year, we have had no markets.  It’s only at the market, or direct from home, and with no real marketing or promotion, that I sell marmalade.  This month (September) alone, I have sold ten jars. Four just this Saturday.  To a repeat customer.  They are best customers.

That’s not all – the third five-oh

Although we are in the sixth month of a national state of disaster – also known as Covid lockdown – South Africa moved to level 1 a week ago.  The number of people testing positive for the corona virus seems to be dropping and the country’s recovery rate is at 90% (a discussion for another time).  It was also a long weekend so the village was full of visitors – hoping to enjoy spring weather.  There was, however, a momentary return of winter.  That said, there was a more than healthy turnout at the market.

For the first time in more than a year, the entire batch of fifty-odd koeksisters sold out.

Perhaps rather apt to have sold out of a traditional or heritage food as this is the weekend during which South Africa celebrates its complex and diverse heritage.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing, research and online tutoring services

writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share my  occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr.  On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.