Koeksister – a South African delicacy
As a child growing up in southern Africa a weekly treat was a koeksister. Every Saturday my mother would park on the main square right in front of Bamfords Bakery. As we got out of the car the aroma of fresh bread and baked goods would assault the senses – I remember it like it was yesterday.
However there were errands to run and first was always the supermarket. Mother was an avid bargain shopper and with three supermarkets in the main street and list in hand, we would visit all three comparing prices of each item on the list. We then returned to each to secure the items they were featuring at the lowest price. Tedious it may sound but the Dairy Den was located between market two and three and served the most delicious soft serve ice cream in a cone. And on special days there was a chocolate flake added making it a Choc 99 – what a delight!
But I digress. With groceries in hand there was the occasional visit to Holdsworths the Chemist (pharmacy) and perhaps the Hobby Shop (my older brother was an avid airplane modeler) and then on to what had been anticipated all week…..the bakery.
As you walked in the overwhelming aroma of sweetness of the freshly made koeksisters prevailed. They were always fresh, dunked in the most glorious of syrups and ready to explode in your mouth. Of course they were purchased and sat like the bait of temptation in the box until we got home and all sat down to lunch as a family. Finally the moment arrived. There were no microwaves in those days so we ate them at room temperature. I can’t imagine that warming them up would have improved them…they were already perfection.
Some people say a koeksister is the equivalent of a doughnut but trust me..doughnuts don’t hold a candle to these incredible pieces of culinary delight. All too often I see recipes that say ‘easy koeksisters’ or ‘koeksisters in a snap’ but despite the fact that I am fairly handy in the kitchen my attempts, thus far, to recapture this moment in time have ended in abject failure and so I regard the makers of these creations in the highest esteem.
It was, therefore, with great anticipation that after more than thirty years I returned to South Africa and top of my list was securing a koeksister. The first night in the hotel, as a turn down notion, there, sitting on a ceramic tile beside my bed was a miniature koeksister. I thought I was going to weep at how quickly my desire had been fulfilled. I lifted it to my mouth, felt the sticky syrup, and took a bite. Total disappointment. This was not the koeksister of my childhood and I desperately hoped that my colleagues, who had been regaled with tales of my desperate need for a koeksister, were not similarly chomping on this imposter and thinking I was crazy!
The following day, after colluding with our guide, we decided that at some point during the next two days in Cape Town we would stop at a true local bakery and secure koeksisters. As it turned out the next two days were over the top, and more, with some of the most amazing repasts, snacks and delicacies ever to cross my lips and in a state of being continually full, the bakery stop simply never happened.
So just exactly what is this love of my life, this koeksister? The traditional braided version originates from the Afrikaners though there is a Cape Malay version which is spicy and has a sprinkling of coconut on top. While there is much to be treasured in Cape Malay cuisine, the Afrikaner version is, for me, what this is all about! The format is simple – dough deep fried in oil and immediately dipped into cold syrup (the magic moment) resulting in a crisp sticky outside and a melt in your mouth interior. You cannot possibly imagine how good they are until you have had one…..and having the real McCoy requires a trip to South Africa. Yes, you will love Cape Town, be thrilled by the great whites and enchanted by the wildlife – but your first real koeksister bring with it the promise of a life changing experience. Trust me!
2 Cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. of butter
1/2 cup of water
Oil for frying
Syrup for the Koeksister
1 kg of sugar
1 and 1/2 cups of water
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
juice of one lemon
Termites Are Amazing
On a recent safari in Thornybush Game Reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, our ranger stopped next to a termite mound. It was about 8 feet high and as big around. The ranger explained that the mound was twice as deep in the earth as it was tall! “Like an iceberg” he said. Astonishing! Now, I’ve never thought much about termites. (Except when I lived in Florida and didn’t want them munching on my house) But when he said the mound was twice as deep as it was tall, I was amazed.
Some mounds can grow to 90 feet high! The mounds contain millions of termites living underground. Deep Inside the mound is an extensive system of tunnels and conduits that serves as a ventilation system for the underground nest. There are also numerous gallery chambers. One chamber contains the queen of the termite colony. Our ranger said that one queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs a DAY!
The mounds termites build are extremely complex in there architecture. They might just look like a pile of dirt but they serve the insects well. The mounds surface at ground level is very porous. So, the outside air can penetrate the mound’s walls and cool the hot air rising from the underground chambers where the termites live. The mound acts as an “air conditioning system” keeping the insects cool in the hot African environment.
The mounds help to create biologically diverse habitat that helps the survival on many, many species. Ants are termite’s natural enemies. When they battle the dead from both sides provide nutrients for the soil around the mounds. A few times that I’ve seen cheetahs they also seem to be lying or sitting up on a termite mound. Cheetahs or leopards climb a tall termite mound to scope his territory for predator and/or prey. Other animals frequent the mounds including monkeys, elephant and mongoose. Their feces and scraps of food also add to the nutrients in the surrounding soil. This allows plant life to flourish and attracts animals. It is a never ending cycle of life around the termite mounds.
Nature is truly a wonder.
South Africa's Wonder - Table Mountain
When I first visited Cape Town, South Africa it was in early December 2008. Arriving at the airport I was met and transferred to my hotel by an African Travel sister company representative from Thompson’s Africa. It was nighttime and city was ablaze with holiday lights.
“You are lucky” the driver commented. “Table Mountain is illuminated for the holiday season and not too many people have a chance to see this.”
I stared in amazement. High intensity spotlights flooded mountainside with light. A sight to see.
Interestingly, the first time Table Mountain was illuminated was in 1947 during the British Royal Family’s visit. It was also a sight to see for English explorer Sir Frances Drake who gazed upon it around 1580. “The fairest Cape, the most stately thing we saw in the whole circumference of the globe.” Drake wrote in his ship’s log.
Now, I’ve seen other magnificent peaks in the world, namely, the Matterhorn in Zermatt and Sugar Loaf in Rio-De-Janeiro. These giants are taller but Table Mountain is one of the most recognizable mountains in the world. It stands 3,280 feet high, ending on a virtually flat top mesa. That’s about 3 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.
Table Mountain also stands right in the middle of the smallest and richest floral kingdom in the world with 2250 different species of flora surrounding it. It also stands on the tip of the African Continent. No wonder Table Mountain was declared one of the new Seven National Wonders of the World in 2011. It also earned the prestigious title of one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in 2004.
This past May, I had a chance to return to Cape Town and see Table Mountain once again. But unlike my first visit in 2008, I had a chance to go to the top of this magnificent peak. Ascending to the top was a thrill in itself. Unlike other gondola cable cars, Table Mountain has what’s called a “rotair” car. The floor of the cars rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving passengers a panoramic view.
Once on top of the peak the views are incredible. One could see the infamous Robbin Island the “Alcatraz” of South Africa. Here, Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, along with some 3000 other anti-apartheid activists, for two decades of a life sentence. In 1996, Robben Island was declared a National Monument and a World Heritage Site in 1999. Gazing down upon one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I felt so grateful that I finally succeeded in reaching the top of this incredible mountain. And, when you go to Cape Town, you must also take that cable car ride to the top of South Africa’s wonder – the Table Mountain.