Before you get excited, this is not an article on the stereotypical Afrikaans Tart. There will be no mention made about cropped hair dyed red; finger nails that can be used to pick up prey from great heights; leopard print everything; push up bra’s from La Senza that poke out just a bit; foot-high wicker heels; eye-level ovens or the phrase “Ag scattie.”
This is a loving dissection about the food of a misunderstood tribe which I am happy to be a member of.
The tart as an item of confectionary is used by the Afrikaans to demonstrate both generosity and frugality. Frugality is perhaps the wrong word. Rather, they are made to be of such a size that you will enjoy your slice but it would not under any circumstances be big enough to spoil your appetite for lunch. It has been my experience that tarts in the Afrikaans culture are used as affection made manifest. They are often brought out as a sign of respect to visitors. Slices are handed out at family gatherings or social events as freely as hugs. The point is, it is a display of saying “Hey, I like you” in a more nuanced and intimate way than people outside of the tribe would understand.
It is no surprise that the two tarts on this list are made with very few ingredients. It speaks to the practicality of a race whose history is defined by being on the move and making do with little. Again the idea is a simple one: I have used what little I have to respect you being here with me.
Afrikaans tarts are traditionally shallow-dished affairs which come in one of two guises.
The first is the sweet but not too sweet type. This can best be exemplified by the humble Milk Tart which every South African knows but few have experienced properly. The Milk Tart is very rarely made in the home these days, with most of us only knowing the store-bought variety that has a spine of thick crust and whose contents is little better than spongey air. The true Milk Tart has only a memory of a crust. The custard-like filling should glide into you as though on the wings of a classic aria played out of a mahogany-boxed gramophone. Few people have experienced this. The Milk Tarts of my youth were offerings from my Ouma. They were always swelling out of the dish with cinnamon dancing on the outermost membrane. Perhaps I am blinded by nostalgia for this dish. It was a thing eaten in summer, on verandas in the Durban heat when my Oupa and Ouma would visit smelling of lavender and wool. It was an acknowledgement of love which sat on the back seat of the car all the way from Pretoria just to be shared.
The second type is the sweet tart. A sweet tart likewise finds its avatar in the form of the Geheime Tert. Under no circumstances is this to be called a tart prior to eating. The reason it must be referred to as a tert is to prepare your tongue to have its life shortened by 8 years. This is not because the tert tastes bad, it is because its recipe was designed as an affront to insulin. The architect of this recipe was either an individual who believed heart failure was somewhere on the food pyramid or a desperate housewife trying to off her diabetic husband. The standard ingredients in any Geheime Tert consist of brown sugar, butter, egg whites, six molecules of flour and hubris. I do not believe it is baked. The recipe is most likely a summoning spell where the spirit of Julia Childs on a mobility scooter appears as hissing smoke out of your oven and hands it over to you.
Suffice to say it is the best thing you have ever eaten.
Imagine a lemon meringue that kicked meth and turned its life around as a motivational speaker. That is a Geheime Tert. Its short-base is saturated with the syrupy run-off from the filling above. The filling – oh sweet mercy the filling – is made out of blending impeccably prepared brown sugar and corn flour into what can only be described as your pancreas’ quiet death. It is so moreish, so unbelievably delicious, that you wonder why spades have not been used as cutlery yet. This is all topped off with a sweetened meringue spiked in memory of Guy Fieri’s head.
Breathless you will ask for more.
Breathlessly you will be told your bastard cousin finished it.
There are more tarts out there. There are more variety’s as well. There is the blushing humility of the Cremora Tert (first kind) as well as the rugby-forward subtlety of the Banoffee pie (second kind). I am willing to confess that I have overly-simplified the concept of the Afrikaans Tart but the fact remains, it is a humble symbol of a nation. As is the case with a lot of food, culturally specific dishes carry with them the weight of history. There are dialogues which can be engaged with through the simple act of sharing a slice of tart. I intend to keep talking whenever possible.