Recipes from the Heart: Traditional Southern Africa Family Desserts & Snacks

by Sandy Salle on October 23, 2012

In an effort to share all of the wonderful flavors and dishes from southern & eastern Africa that I grew up, the team at Hills of Africa has decided to create a recipe book. This book will include recipes from some of the leading properties and tour operators in Africa, as well as recipes that I was introduced to as a child, growing up in Zimbabwe.

Below is a glimpse into my childhood and the dishes that I grew up with, as well as some of the dessert and snack recipes that you’ll see featured in our recipe book (expected to be published before the end of 2012): 

My parents were born in England and moved with their parents to Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) when they were about two years old. My mum’s family lived in Harare, the capital city, and my dad’s family lived on a tobacco farm just outside Harare. The two families became friends, and it was always their intention that my parents would marry each other—and they did!

Once my parents married, they moved to Chimanimani, on the Zimbabwe / Mozambique border, where they grew coffee. This is where my siblings and I were brought up. I have two brothers, Graham and Andrew, and a sister, Pam. Being four siblings born in five years, we became the best of friends. Family time for us was very special, and I have so many wonderful memories of playing tennis against the house (breaking a few windows), all four of us and the dog riding the motorbike with my dad around the farm, stamping on coffee beans to take off the skins, and making friends with our farmworkers’ children.

Anock was our cook; he was the most wonderful man. He had come from Malawi to cook for my dad’s parents before joining us on the farm in Chimanimani. Most of his recipes were wholesome and made with love and pride, and it was Anock who gave me my love of cooking. The following recipes were given to me by my family: my mum, Annabelle, whom I love with all my heart; my best friend and sister, Pam; my beautiful sister-in-law Edz; and my very generous mother-in-law, Lynn. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we all do, and be sure to share them with your own family. Family is the heart and soul of a meal, after all.

Below are some of the recipes that my family enjoyed, growing up in Zimbabwe (and now I am thrilled to share these recipes with my children in the United States!):

Edz’s Farmhouse Rusks

Side note from Sandy: Rusks were a staple snack for us growing up in Africa because they are so delicious, but also because they do not go stale very quickly. You can make variations by adding nuts, raisins, dates, muesli, seeds, or coconut to the dry mixture. Rusks are fantastic for hungry kids!

South Africa recipes

Makes about 30 rusks

  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white bread flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a mixing bowl.

3. Add flours, oats, baking powder, and baking soda and mix well.

4. Beat egg with milk and lemon juice and add to butter and flour mixture. Mix well.

5. Pat dough out into a greased 13-inch-by-9-inch jelly roll pan.

6. Flour hands lightly if necessary and press out evenly, spreading right into the corners.

7. Slice into 11 strips across the pan, and 3 strips down, making 33 “fingers”.

8. Bake for 30 minutes.

9. Cut through again, then remove rusks and arrange on baking trays.

10. Dry out in warming drawer or in a 250°F oven (best overnight).

Berry Jam

Side not from Sandy: Quick, easy, and stunning! The fruit keeps its rich color in this jam. It is perfect on scones for an afternoon tea, or give to the kids in peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

This recipe works well with any type of berries (whole or processed), as well as fruits such as apricots, plums, and peaches.

Zimbabwe recipes

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen berries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 ½ cups white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method:

1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan. Heat on high for 5 minutes (10–15 minutes if using frozen fruit), stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until sugar has dissolved.

2. Push down any sugar crystals from around the bowl with a wooden spoon.

3. Bring mixture to a boil and continue to cook until setting point is reached (10–15 minutes). To determine whether setting point has been reached, place a couple of drops of jam on a cold saucer (put one in the fridge while you’re making the jam). Leave the drops to cool; the jam should wrinkle on the surface when you push your finger across the top.

4. Leave to cool, then stir, place in Mason jars, seal, and label.

Milk Tart

Side note from Sandy: This dessert is also called Melktert, which is Dutch for “milk tart.” This dessert originally came from the Dutch who settled in South Africa. It is very easy to make and a family favorite dessert.

South Africa recipes

Serves 6

Step 1: Pie Crust

  • 7 tablespoons margarine or butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Method: 

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Cream margarine or butter and sugar.

3. Add egg and beat in well.

4. Add flour and baking powder and mix in well.

5. Press crust into two 8-inch pie dishes.

6. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until slightly golden.

Step 2: Filling

  • 4½ cups milk
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup cake flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Method: 

1. Heat the milk in a stainless steel pot.

2. In the meantime, mix cornstarch, flour, salt and sugar together in a bowl. Then add eggs and mix thoroughly.

3. Once milk has reached boiling point, add the egg mixture.

4. Stir continuously until it’s thick and bubbling (like custard).

5. Add the butter and vanilla and stir until melted.

6. Give the mixture a good whiz with a hand-held mixer—or, even better, a hand-held blender. This is very important because it stops the filling from cracking.

7. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and sprinkle with cinnamon.

8. Cool and place in fridge.

Lynn’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Side note from Sandy: This is my mother-in-law’s recipe and my husband’s favorite dessert. It is really easy to make. You can also make the crust with crushed cornflakes, butter, and sugar: melt butter and sugar in a saucepan, add crushed cornflakes, then pack into pie dish and let set in the freezer for 10 minutes before adding the filling.

traditional African recipes

Serves 6

Step 1: Crust

  • 1 stick margarine or butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cup flour (approximately)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Beat margarine or butter and sugar together.

3. Add egg and vanilla.

4. Add flour until it reaches a workable texture, similar to a soft pastry dough.

5. Press into a large pie dish.

6. Bake until the crust is a light golden brown (approximately 10 minutes).

7. Remove and cool to room temperature.

Step 2: Pie Filling

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Juice of 4 lemons, or 3 lemons and 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sugar

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Separate eggs. To yolks, add lemon juice, vanilla, lemon zest, and sweetened condensed milk.  Mix well with a hand whisk.  Fill pie crust with this mixture. Bake for 20 minutes.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Beat egg whites with sugar until stiff and then spoon onto pie in hills and peaks.

4. Return pie to oven and bake 10–20 minutes or until meringue is light golden brown. Turn off oven and leave in oven for 10 minutes.

pinterest

Stay tuned for the release of our recipe book! 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie March 16, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Since returning from Zimbabwe, I make rusks every few weeks (depending on how fast we go through them!). Your recipe is my guide and helps me recreate a Zim moment when paired with tea. Thank you!

jessie androos May 24, 2016 at 12:12 pm

i love this sooo much thanks ;,)

Jaymes October 31, 2017 at 11:49 am

Finally, how to make milk tart and the pastry too. What a boon you have been to me. Thank you.
And of course the jam… and then the lemon meringue pie.. only problem is the condensed milk.

Sandy Salle November 6, 2017 at 9:53 am

I love Melk Tart and this is such an easy peezy recipe. Enjoy.

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