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Posts tagged ‘baking’

Take the Biscuit

This week I attended the Johannesburg launch of Gabeba Baderoon’s Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid. In it, she traces the long history of the representation of Muslims in South Africa, arguing that this is crucial to understanding how ideas around race and sexuality, for instance, have changed over time in this country. Importantly, though, she also looks at how Muslims themselves have both responded to and challenged the ways in which they have been portrayed.

She devotes an excellent chapter to the meanings and uses of ‘Cape Malay’ cooking. This is a cuisine, Baderoon notes, that carries with it the memory of enslavement and violence – a memory which was erased, in particular, by the recipe books written by white authors about the cooking of the Cape’s Muslim population, most of whom are the descendants of slaves. Part of the purpose of books such as Renata Coetzee’s The South African Culinary Tradition (1977) was to use this cooking to demonstrate the existence of a particularly South African cuisine which was linked more strongly to Europe – albeit heavily influenced by southeast Asia – than Africa.

When Muslim women – both in the Cape and elsewhere – began to write their own books during the early 1960s, they acknowledged the ‘Africanness’ of their cooking. Their recipe books

meant that Muslim food would no longer be a realm presided over by white experts who drew from silent or apparently submissive black informants in their kitchens, and spoke on their behalf. The transformation of Muslim cooks from silent informants to spokespeople of tradition began to subvert the use of ‘Malay’ food to solidify a ‘general’ South African cuisine that marginalised Africans and centred a European-oriented whiteness.

Baderoon uses the example of the Hertzoggie to demonstrate how Malay food encodes a fraught, but also subversive, history.

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Hertzoggies are small – delicious – cookies consisting of a layer of pastry, a blob of jam (usually apricot), and a dome of desiccated coconut. They’re named after JBM Hertzog, Prime Minister of South Africa between 1924 and 1939. Representing largely the interests of white Afrikaners, Hertzog oversaw legislation which further entrenched segregation. The landmark 1936 Native Trust and Land Act and Native Representation Act not only further restricted the land that Africans could hold, but also removed those Africans who qualified to vote from the voters’ roll in the Cape and dashed any hopes of extending the franchise to blacks nationally.

According to Cass Abrahams – an authority on Cape cooking – it was in this context that the Hertzoggie was invented. Baderoon quotes her:

[Hertzog] made two promises … He said that he would give the women a vote, en hy sal die slawe dieselfde as die wittes maak he will make the Malays equal to the whites. Achmat [Davids, the late linguist and historian] reckoned the Malays became terribly excited about this and they put this little short-crust pastry with apple jelly underneath and then had the egg white and coconut on top of it and baked it and called it a Hertzoggie in honour of General Hertzog. However, when he came into power he fulfilled one promise, he gave the vote to the women, but he didn’t make the slaves the same as the whites. So the Malays became very upset and they took that very same Hertzoggie and covered it with brown icing, you know, this runny brown icing and pink icing and they call it a twee-gevreetjie [hypocrite].

I had never heard this account of the origins of the Hertzoggie before and it rings entirely true for me – particularly because of the widespread use of desiccated coconut in Cape Malay baking. It demonstrates Baderoon’s point about the use of food as a form of subversion by people otherwise socially, politically, and economically marginalised, particularly well.

However, I think that it’s also worth thinking about the Hertzoggie in relation to other baking traditions. It’s a little difficult to keep apart these different strands of South African cooking. Hertzoggies appear in recipe books written by – and, presumably, for – white, middle-class class women during the 1930s. And, often, they placed alongside recipes for Jan Smutsies or Smuts-Koekies.

Jan Smuts – statesman, war general, philosopher – was Hertzog’s main political rival. Although the differences between Smuts and Hertzog’s politics, particularly as regards segregation, should not be overstated – after all, they formed the fusion government between 1934 and 1939 – they tended to represent opposing liberal and conservative impulses within South African politics during the 1920s and 1930s.

Smutsies are similar to Hertzoggies, but have a plain pastry instead of coconut lid covering the jam. Was the relative austerity of Smutsies a commentary on his asceticism? That said, other recipes imply that Smutsies and Hertzoggies are, in fact, exactly the same – only the name changes according to the political sympathies of the baker (or the eater).

The same recipe books which include Smutsies and Hertzoggies also refer to puddings and cakes named after other white, Afrikaans heroes: like General de la Rey (hero of the South African War) and President Steyn (the President of the Orange Free State during the same conflict) cake. (They’re both cakes heavy with dried fruit and nuts, although Steyn’s is decorated with meringue.)

I don’t write this to undermine Baderoon’s argument, but, rather, to note how entangled South Africa’s culinary traditions are. Also, I want to reinforce her point about the subversive potential of food: that a biscuit invented by poor, black, Muslim women first in support of, and then in criticism of, a political figure could be taken up and celebrated by precisely the people who voted for him.

Further Reading

Gabeba Baderoon, Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014).

William Beinart, Twentieth Century South Africa, new edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Saul Dubow, Apartheid, 1948-1994 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 17.10.2012

The UNEP report for World Food Day.

Bankers must be stopped from betting on food.

The number of people on food aid doubles in the UK.

Are we headed towards a food crisis?

Starbucks sells bad coffee, dodges taxes.

There’s been an increase in the amount of arsenic in American rice.

To match the Walton heirs’ fortunes, you’d need to work at Walmart for seven million years.

Farmers begin a mass slaughter as the cost of animal feed rises.

Drought in Spain is pushing up the price of olive oil.

A study of the meals chosen by prisoners on death row.

How to attract bees into cities.

Reflecting on the recent Tim Noakes scandal.

Mushrooming and the man who saved Prospect Park.

Sandor Ellix Katz: fermentation enthusiast.

A restaurant staffed by prisoners has just opened in Wales.

Reflections on being a vegetarian.

Snake venom wine.

The effects of nuclear explosions on beer.

Foreign bodies in food.

The Los Angeles Times‘s new food quiz.

Breakfast in Argentina and Chile.

The £250,000 kitchen.

Accounting for America’s new enthusiasm for avocado.

Amazingly wonderful surreal advertisements for pork, leeks, cress, asparagus, and celery. (Thanks, Mum!)

What makes chocolate so addictive?

Coping with lactose intolerance.

Lawrence Norfolk‘s top ten seventeenth-century recipe books.

The science of peeling hard-boiled eggs.

The Downton Abbey cookbook.

Eating in Burma.

Still lifes of food in art. (Thanks, Jane-Anne!)

Pubs and bars from the past.

Convincing fake meat?

Tim Hortons opens in Dubai.

Bring me the head of Ronald McDonald.

A recipe for carrot cake.

Favourite reader recipes in the New York Times.

Pairing novels with cocktails.

The science of baking with butter.

The middle-class hierarchy of sparkling water.

Matthew Fort reviews Nigellissima.

Why does everything taste like chicken?

How to make your own Nutella.

A blog dedicated to the drinks in Hemingway‘s writing.

Photographing famous food scenes in literature.

A toaster that toasts bread AND forecasts the weather.

How to peel ginger with a spoon.

The state of the jelly salad in America.

Food Links, 09.05.2012

Why wasting animal protein is unethical.

A pink slime timeline.

How to build your own food empire.

The flagrant LIES told by food writers about how long to cook onions.

A limerick about toast.

Food in South Korea.

Japan’s best street food.

How McDonald’s explains the world.

Technology and the transformation of the American dairy industry.

How to stop overfishing.

What is lampredotto?

The strange dietary habits of the Romantic poets. (Thanks, Sarang!)

Wallace Stevens on peaches.

Bacon-filled macaroons.

An introduction to West African cuisine.

The cupcake ATM.

The most common cooking mistakes.

Three ways with sea vegetables. (Thanks, Mum!)

An anti-baking manifesto.

How to eat a roast dinner.

The world’s ten best cities for food.

Scorpion lollies at Selfridge’s.

How to cook a giant slender-tailed cloud rat.

Betty Crockers over the course of the twentieth century.

Paleo fast food.

Ten facts about flavour. (Thanks, David!)

Pop culture cookies.

America. Made out of frying pans.

The dishes that Mark Twain missed when he was abroad.

A Georgian gentleman on dinner.

Eat more fruit.

How restaurants are named.

Is it time to stockpile maple syrup?

Six rules for dining out, by a frugal economist.

Anthony Bourdain on food-loving hipsters.

How to make custard in the microwave. (Thanks, Simon!)

Food Links, 02.05.2012

Books on booze.

As London prepares to vote for its new mayor, consider Ken Livingstone’s enthusiasm for breakfast.

Twenty ways to change the way we eat.

Five foods to save the world.

The latest craze in the food world: tattoos for chefs.

How coffee helps to revitalise cities.

Read more

Food Links, 09.11.2011

Useless, but surprisingly joyous – a crochet apple jacket.

Emily Dickinson, cake enthusiast.

Marion Nestle on Denmark’s fat tax.

The amazing appetites of Ariel Sharon.

Anatomical kitchen gadgets.

A Q&A with Heston Blumenthal.

The perils of opening a coffee shop.

Please consider buying pork from these fine people.

A brief history of cannibalism.

More evidence that corn ethanol and speculation have caused the recent spike in food prices.

Nutrition, health, and height. (Thanks, Mum!)

The rise and fall of the potato.

Meet Tofu Boy.

Why is television so obsessed with baking?

‘Lewis and Clark ate dog so it’s not un-American.’ How useful. (Why we should eat lab-grown meat.)

How to cook in a tiny kitchen.

Reiventing waffles.

The best and worst places to find recipes on the internet.

Vintage British food – with photos.

A history of sweets.

Food Links, 06.07.2011

Gordon Conway considers the global food crisis.

The Guardian lists the ten best literary picnics.

Although hugely successful, organic farming faces a range of challenges in India – despite the growing  evidence that organic farming can feed the world.

On Thomas Jefferson, food, and slavery.

How can cruelty to animals in American factory farms be prevented?

Border conflicts – between Isreal and Palestine, Mexico and the United States – are made worse by competition over water and food insecurity.

Behold Coralie Bickford-Smith’s beautiful covers for Penguin’s Great Food series.

One third of the world’s food is wasted.

‘Sponge cakes for all!’ Is baking a feminist act?

Why do Americans insist upon not using scales to measure ingredients when cooking?

Is Baking Feminist?

Life in post-1994 South Africa can be very strange. Yesterday morning my friend Ester and I went to the National Gallery’s retrospective on…Tretchikoff. Yes, apartheid South Africa’s favourite producer of kitsch, bad, and, occasionally, bizarre artwork has earned himself a serious exhibition and re-evaluation. As far as I can see, his sole redeeming feature was his consistency: Vladimir Tretchikoff was never mediocre, but always uniformly, consistently, bad.

But on our way into the Gallery, we came across Cape Town’s first experiment in yarn bombing. This is a form of graffiti or street art where knitting and other needlework is used to decorate public spaces. Statues get scarves; railings are covered in woolly tubes; and trees are festooned with crafty baubles.

A yarn-bombed lamp in Hay-on-Wye

Yarn bombing is now a global phenomenon, and it’s part of a broader craft movement which seeks to celebrate, promote, and often re-learn hobbies like knitting, crotchet, and tatting. Stitch and Bitch societies – founded originally in the United States – can be found now in nearly every major city, and knitting is particularly hip. Much of this is given a feminist spin. It’s an attempt to reclaim activities once derided as unimportant because they were performed largely by women. Some craftivists make the – legitimate – point that suffragettes used embroidery, tapestry, and quilting to create banners and to raise funds for their cause.

Baking has undergone a similar transformation. At the Hay Festival a fortnight ago, Nigella Lawson argued:

Baking is the less applauded of the cooking arts, whereas restaurants are a male province to be celebrated. There’s something intrinsically misogynistic about decrying a tradition because it has always been female.

I agree.

She added that How to be a Domestic Goddess (2000), the recipe book which kick started both her career and the British enthusiasm for cupcakes, is an ‘important feminist tract’. Now if this is the case – and I write this as one whose copy is scuffed, stained, and torn from extensive use – then I am a three-toed sloth. But her point that baking is seen as a particularly feminine, and, as a result of this, frivolous, pursuit is worth considering.  In fact, professional cake-baking seems to be dominated by women: most pastry chefs are female. Restaurant cooking and bread baking are largely a male preserve, and are seen as more serious, complex, and creative activities.

The yarn-bombed National Gallery in Cape Town

But feminists are not the first women to celebrate baking and home cooking as part of the construction of particular femininities. However much money suffragettes may have raised with their needlework, even larger numbers of women organised tea parties and sold cakes, cookies, and delicately embroidered goods at fetes and bazaars to support missionary work and other more conservative causes. In 1881, the Huguenot Seminary, an elite girls’ school near Cape Town in the Cape Colony, organised a bazaar selling cake and embroidery and raised enough to fund a year’s rent and living expenses for a woman missionary working on a Dutch Reformed mission station in the Transvaal.

Baking has been used by different women at different times to mean many things. What is so interesting about the recent rediscovery of baking (and knitting too, for that matter) is that it’s been embraced enthusiastically by young, educated, middle-class women. I think that this is the product of a variety of factors: the impact of a resurgent green movement and the global economic recession have encouraged a rediscovery of craft and cooking both to save money and to reduce our impact on the environment; young fashion designers and cooks’ interest in knitting and baking have made these fashionable pursuits and rendered ‘make-do-and-mend’ cool; the impact of television series like Mad Men have prompted a (hopefully ironic) re-embrace of domesticity; and this is also a reaction to the feminism of the 1970s which rejected traditionally feminine pursuits because of their connection to women’s subordination.

And here is a crucial point: middle-class women now have no need to bake or to knit. These are leisure activities, to be done in the evenings and over weekends. We forget that until relatively recently in the West, most women baked and sewed not out of choice, but because they had to: because shop-bought cakes and clothes were expensive. One of my maternal great-grandmothers was a seamstress because that was deemed to be an appropriate trade for a white, lower middle-class adolescent in pre-War Cape Town. But my very bourgeois paternal grandmother employed a cook, nanny, and maidservant to do her domestic work for her – as indeed her mother had done too.

I don’t know what my great grandmother would have made of yarn bombing, nor of the slow gentrification of the Cape Town suburb in which she lived for most of her life. Woodstock, recently dubbed ‘Cape Town’s Manhattan’ by the New York Times, is being gradually transformed into a hip, middle-class enclave. And baking is an aspect of this transformation.

This map drawn by UC Berkeley student Danya Al-Saleh plots the gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission District through bakeries. (See here for a bigger version.)

She’s not the first to do this. Kathe Newman has argued that ‘cupcake shops can provide a more accurate and timely guide to the frontiers of urban gentrification than traditional demographic and real estate data sets.’ This is certainly true for Cape Town. The very traumatic gentrification of parts of the Bo-Kaap or Malay Quarter – where families were forced to move out of houses which they had rented for generations – was signalled by the arrival of upscale bakeries. In Woodstock, where  gentrification seems to be proceeding at a slower pace and without the fracturing of existing communities, bakeries and cafes have begun to appear along the main road and near the Neighbourgoods Market, that ultimate expression of Capetonian cool.

In the city’s eastern precinct – the district which stretches from Parliament at the top of Roeland Street and all the way to the Cape Archives – people have been lured out of their cars and onto pavements first by Charly’s Bakery, and then by Mugged on Roeland Street (ho ho), and the coffee- and cupcake-selling Book Lounge. When I first started working at the Archives in 2005 for my MA thesis, the furthest I would go for lunch was to dash across the parking lot to a slightly dodgy sandwich shop. I returned in 2008 while researching my PhD, and could choose between at least five different places to eat – and felt safe to walk to all them.

As one commentator notes, it’s because cupcakes and cake shops are fashionable at the moment that we can use them as an indicator of gentrification:

In the 1990s, it might have been the proliferation of Starbucks coffee houses that indicated gentrifying neighbourhoods, and in the 1980s, perhaps gourmet yoghurt shops moving into an area, etc. I don’t know about other cities, but in NYC where I live, right now it would be the new doggie day care centres that are springing up in many places that appear to designate a change to a more affluent, up-and-coming hipster-ish nabe.

The point remains that cupcakes have been embraced with enthusiasm by middle-class women and have been implicated in the creation of contemporary middle class femininities. Activities once performed by women out of necessity have been transformed into hobbies – and because of middle-class buying power, cake shops and cupcake bakeries are now involved in the gentrification of poor, often crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

More yarn bombing at the National Gallery in Cape Town

I am not suggesting, to paraphrase Cyril Connolly on George Orwell, that I can’t eat a cupcake without commenting on the appalling working conditions in the icing sugar industry. I understand how fraught and disruptive processes of gentrification can be, but I really enjoy being able to walk down main road Woodstock to buy coffee and cake at The Kitchen. And I think that it’s fantastic that so many cake shops and cafes are run by women, and I’m so pleased that the craft movement is reviving and remembering skills which were at risk of being forgotten.

But I do think we need some perspective. Our enthusiasm for cupcakes and cakes is helping to fuel gentrification of poor neighbourhoods – and we need to think carefully about the implications of this. As my friend Shahpar pointed out a few weeks ago, cupcakes are snack food for Dhaka’s busy street vendors. In other words, cakes and baking mean different things all over the world. Cakes, cupcakes, and baking can only be associated with feminism for white, affluent middle-class women. Baking a tray of cupcakes may be a subversive, feminist act for me, but it’s a well nigh impossible one for a woman living in Gugulethu.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 25.05.2011

I think Lorraine Pascale is utterly fantastic.

Michael Pollan adds a few more food rules.

‘The world would be a better, safer place, freer and more democratic, if our cheese and onion crisps tasted better.’ Yes, well: on the science of tasting food.

Harriet Deacon writes about food nominations to the Intangible Heritage Convention.

The world’s top 50 restaurants were announced recently. This is an incredible video about the restaurant ranked 28 – Combal Zero in Italy.

The loquat harvest is about to begin in Los Angeles.

It’s lambing season in the northern hemisphere.

AA Gill talks about eating and reviewing food.

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