Tea and Soetkoekies 300 years ago

Solms Delta > Deep Delta Blog > Tea and Soetkoekies 300 years ago
November 10th, 2014
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Ever wondered about the social lives of Cape inhabitants 300 years ago?

In an age before TV and internet and being able to read emails and chat to friends 24/7 with the aid of our smart phones, what exactly did people do with themselves? They had to spend ‘real’ time with each other, and the Cape was especially noted for its hospitality.

The custom of paying visits was a daily social practice – no whattsapp group chats, real life chats were the order of the day. You didn’t even have go through the arduous task of checking social calendars to see that you would be free to meet in two months time, you simply pitched up on your mate’s doorstep and you were always welcome to a cup of coffee or perhaps a glass of wine. Sounds very jovial! Adam Tas, the owner of Libertas in Stellenbosch, remarked jokingly in his diary that he frequently returned from such visits in very ‘high spirits’ indeed.

No doubt a welcome respite from all the farm and housework there was to do – aside from the many agricultural tasks on the farm you had to slaughter your own meat, thresh wheat for bread, churn your own butter, make candles, soap, jams, pickles, dry meat and fruit….a farm was virtually self sufficient in the past. With the help of slaves, all these tasks were accomplished as well as the manual washing and ironing of clothes amongst the endless list of daily chores and duties. Not very much went to waste – boerewors was made after slaughtering in the cooler winter months and the left over fat rendered into soap. Handy that, even if not so appealing to modern consumer tastes. On the other hand it would have ticked many of our fashionable catchphrase boxes: ‘sustainable’, ‘economical’, ‘free range’… I don’t think any retailer has cornered the market on ‘free-range soap’!

In the past if you visited your friend anywhere close to dinner time you would be encouraged to stay for the evening meal. In the very early days of the Cape settlement, had you dined with the first Commander, Jan van Riebeeck, you would have eaten off of pewter plates and cups. Adults were seated at the table while children stood beside it (an interesting thought for modern parents who spend most of their evening meal reproving their children to SIT still and eat their food!). Later porcelain from the East was introduced on its way to from China and Japan to the markets in Europe. In the 18th century chinaware at the Cape included chocolate cups, tea pots and coffee sets, perfect for all the entertaining one had to do. In our Museum van de Caab we have beautiful examples of this delicate 18th century teaware that was excavated on the farm. Such dainty and tiny vessels in comparison to our gargantuan coffee mugs of the present. You can just tell that drinking tea or coffee was a ceremonial ritual as well as an art form.

Served along with your beverage might have been a biscuit which is still a South African favourite. Cape free bakers were apparently granted permission in the 17th century to bake ‘soete koekjes’.

Here is an old Cape recipe if anyone is willing to give it a try and is daring enough to post the results on our Facebook page.I chose this recipe as it involved using wine which I had never heard of as a biscuit ingredient (I recommend our Solms-Delta Langarm and why not enjoy a glass while you bake at the same time?). The use of mutton fat in the other recipe I found less appealing than the wine, and more tricky to find, at least in my household. Traditionally, these biscuits used to be decorated with red stripes using “rooi bolus” (a ferris-oxide mixture used as food colouring as can be seen in the recipe below) which could be substituted in present by powered red food colouring available at most good baking shops. If you are pressed for time (keeping in mind the dough is still supposed to stand overnight) then leave out the decoration part.

So why not drum up a batch of local baking history, invite a friend to kuier over tea (or Langarm!) and get some real facetime instead of virtual.

500g cake flour
2ml (half a teaspoon) salt
2ml ground cloves
10ml (2 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
5ml (1 teaspoon) ground ginger
5ml (1 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda
300g (1,5 cups) sugar
200g (0.8 cups) butter
5ml (1 teaspoon) red bolus (ferri-oxide mixture)
1 egg
25ml (2 tablespoons) wine

Sift dry ingredients together and rub in butter. Beat egg and wine together. Combine ingredients and mix into a stiff dough. Leave to stand overnight. Take a piece of dough and work red bolus into it. Roll out the remaining dough to a thickness of 5mm. Arrange strips of red bolus dough on rolled dough and roll out again to a thickness of 5mm. Cut out rounds of dough with a glass about 50mm in diameter. Bake in a hot oven (200 ° C) for 10 minutes.

Research and recipe from Renata Coetzee’s ‘The South African Culinary Tradition’. 1977. A fascinating time travel into our culinary past!

Photo courtesy of “The Pretty Blog”

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