For hundreds of years, rusks have been a favorite tea snack, especially in South Africa. Filed in the name of rusk By the Dutch in the late 17th century, rusks were initially a tasty comfort food that traveled well and did not spoil easily. No wonder the unsweetened originals supported ancient sailors and Voortrekkers on their voyages to escape colonialism.
Until the 1930s, rusks remained very popular among the Afrikaner community. During the Great Depression, businesswoman Elizabeth Ann Grevenstein of Molteno in the Eastern Cape started a small crumb business in response to an appeal from the town pastor, to help women earn some money.
Thus, Ouma Rusks were born, which led to the commercialization of the curd rusk. To this day, Ouma Rusks is Molteno’s most important industry, employing hundreds of local residents.
Unsurprisingly, the original recipe has evolved over the years, meeting the demands of modern production of the rusk sought after by South Africans the world over.
Time has left a huge imprint on the ingredients and taste of the original homemade indulgence.
A quick look at the Ouma Rusks label reveals that the buttermilk rusks now contain wheat flour, sugar (the second ingredient that reveals their high sugar content), vegetable fats (palm fruits and TBHQ, an antioxidant), buttermilk powder, salt and “flavorings”. Per serving, the equivalent of 2.9g of sugar and 2.2g of total fat.
And the more modern version, Chunky Muesli Rusks, contains wheat flour, muesli, wheat bran, roasted peanuts, coconut, sugar, vegetable fats (including palm fruit and TBHQ, an antioxidant), raising agents, flavorings and salt.
On the other hand, Woolworths produces “homemade” rusks. She says Homestyle Muesli Rusks are produced in Poland from stone-ground flour, badger-friendly honey, buttermilk and free-range eggs. They’re a little pricey (a 450-gram package is R68 as opposed to R48 for Makro’s Ouma) but the quality difference is noticeable: these have a real home-style taste, look, and feel.
It’s also easy to make rusks at home. If you’ve never made rusks before, give it a whirl.
I spent most of my school life at a boarding school and my mom, knowing how bad the food would be, always packed a “tuck” that would last us all semester, and then some.
Her recipe is simple and wonderfully nutritious – it only takes very little time.
Healthy rusk muesli
6 cups cake flour (or a mixture of cake and whole-wheat flour)
10 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup light brown sugar
3 cups all bran flakes
500ml of curd, diamonds or yogurt (if you don’t have any of these curds add some lemon juice)
350ml butter, melted (or shortening, if you don’t want a very buttery flavour)
200ml oil (canola or sunflower oil)
125ml sunflower seeds (or mixed)
30 ml vanilla extract
Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a deep baking tray.
In a very large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix well.
In another bowl, gently beat the eggs, add the oil and yogurt, and mix well.
Work well into the dry mixture and pour in all of your liquid, mixing with a spoon until well combined.
Spread the mixture in the baking tray (with sides) and bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown.
Cool, remove from the baking tray and cut the rusks to the length and thickness you desire.
Lower the oven temperature to about 60°C.
Put the buns back in the oven, on the racks, with a bit of “breathing room”, or if you have a roomy warming drawer, and leave them overnight with the door slightly open (place a piece of cardboard in the door to allow the steam to escape).
The next morning, turn off the oven and leave the door closed for a few hours. The rusks should be ready to swing by late afternoon. DM