Koeksisters with a twist!

Over the holidays, in a fit of year-end ‘let’s get our life in order’ craziness, I tackled the pile of recipe books that I inherited from my late Granny Yvonne. We shared the same birthday and many an afternoon was spent helping her in the kitchen, and, more importantly, licking the chocolate cake mixing bowl! She was a member of the Women’s Association, and was renowned for her obsessive-compulsive attempts at the annual banana loaf competition. The dining table, in season, positively groaned under the weight of ‘imperfection’. The slightest crack was not good enough. We were always soooooo over banana loaf by the time the season was over.

I don’t know how to tell you this, but not one single cookbook got thrown away! I was morose – how could I do that? So many terrible books but also history – books that told the story of the evolution of food and what we expect from it. Our current eye for presentation and technique is really streets ahead of what was happening in the 70s, 80s and even the 90s.  No more salmon mousse (in the jumping salmon shape), no more devilled eggs (please say no!) and NO MORE microwaved prawns because ‘it’s so convenient people’. The list goes on and on…

Anyway, recently my boys put in a ‘request’. It normally goes like this… It would be so nice if we could have koeksisters….Can we have koeksisters? (Pleading hands and fluttering eyelids.) I decided to give it a whorl, but why do it the easy way? In my collection of inherited wonders, is a 1919 book called ‘Hilda’s Where Is It?’ This is a collection of researched recipes of Dutch (or Batavian, being Netherlands under French rule in the 1800s) and Malay origin that found their way to South Africa. And there I found a ‘Koesister’ recipe.

You might be familiar with twisted knot and super-sweet delicacy that South Africans enjoy today. I have a suspicion that, like the happy disappearance of the jumping salmon, koeksisters have moved on significantly since then. I gave the recipe a try. For starters, there is a lot more spice in them than modern recipes and the surprising inclusion of yeast. The instructions were vague and I still don’t know the difference between a breakfast cup and a cup. I suspect, somewhere, Google knows.

Although they had a good flavour – nice and aromatic – the result was not so great as the syrup did not really soak in as it should even though the syrup was super cold. The recipe did not mention too much detail so there is a chance that, failing to channel Hilda and ask her directly, I have missed the point entirely.

Afterwards, I got thinking. I wondered whether I had inadvertently made Malay koesusters and not koeksisters, yet no second proving on the cut dough was required and there was no desiccated coconut anywhere. I also could not find any information on the history of the evolution of the humble koeksister. At what point did this Dutch recipe split in South Africa and why the difference between the two? If you know, please pop in a comment!

While my banana-loaf-inherited-obsession-gene was not satisfied, what was fantastic was to recreate a recipe from the 1800s and taste the flavours from long ago. I will keep working through this special little book and explore these days of old. Just to illustrate, the ‘zoetkoekie’ recipe has sheep tail fat in it. Can you imagine me asking the butcher for that? And why not try? Watch this space!


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