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THE FOOD WE ATE.  6. Tameletjies    [4min read] 

My last blog before the festives was on boerewors.  This one will deal with a potential for dessert or a treat when a sweet is needed.

I have an incurable, non-PC sweet tooth so this is my recipe for tameletjies.  Like many Afrikaans words, this name is untranslatable, but the delight is, basically, a soft toffee with pine kernels.

My initial spelling was tamalletjies; then tamelletjies; then Professor Google showed me the way.  Faldiela Williams cookbook agreed.  It’s tameletjies.  So there we are!

It is one of the oldest sweets in South Africa, and is attributed to some of the earliest Malay settlers in the nascent Cape colony.  For settlers read slaves; indentured workers [probably the same thing as it took a life time to pay off the re-settlement costs]; ship-jumpers [latter day  boat people]; and political exiles who were more likely to be imams than cooks and promoted Islam in a neo-Christain colony.  These imams were intellectuals of the highest order and they wrote the first Afrikaans book in Arabic; it was an outline of Islamic traditions.

Pine kernels were plentiful in Cape Town.  Imported sugar came from West and

East Indian islands before indentured Indian workers set up the sugar plantations in the north-eastern coastal lands of Natal. The kernel-laden toffee became a much sought after treat for the early colonialists.

As youngsters, we collected the browned pine cones in summer and split them open with a rock or hammer to release the hard-shelled seeds.  We then cracked the hard outer case of the pine seed, and the little cream kernel was ready for preparation.

It was messy, sticky work with the pine cone glue sticking to fingers which were not easily cleaned.  It also took some expertise to crack the hard shell cases without crushing the contained kernel.  It was especially painful when street games were in progress, and you wanted to be out there with the rest of the street kids.

You can now pick your kernels up at the supermarket, rather than risk life and limb to pick them from high pine treas. It was easier to get tameletjies from local vendors.  In our street, the Malay aunties cooked up their syrup on open wood fires in their backyards.  Fire-cooking added a slight smokiness to the sweet.  The two competitors both lived with their families in large wood and iron shanties at opposite ends of the street.  The vendors were popular also because they made some of the best koeksiesters in the area, but more of this coconut-smothered warm delight will follow in another blog.

INGREDIENTS [my recipe] – KISS principle                                                                500ml can of golden syrup                                                                                          200g of pine kernels                                                                                                      Flat teaspoon of butter

I use the syrup to save on expensive electricity when one cooks sugar and water down to a syrup. [I do the same with jams – also speeds things up quite a bit.]

Keep the heat low and add the kernels.

Take a drop of the mixture and place it in ice-cold water to check how thick/firm the syrup is – i.e. is it a soft or firm toffee; it’s your choice.

Add the butter, stir it in and turn off the heat when it starts to bubble.  Keep stirring for a while.

Besides flavour, the butter will prevent the toffee from sticking too tightly to the paper cupcakes which will hold about a tablespoonful of the mixture.

Add the mixture to the cupcakes while warm and runny, so remember to set up the paper cups before starting.

Let the toffee in the cupcakes settle on a tray or table top. There’s no need for a fridge, though that would speed it up.

Other versions add slivered almonds; stick cinnamon; ginger; other nuts.  The pine kernel flavour is subtle, hence my KISS approach.

There’s no need to cut the kernels which some recipes recommend.  I also ate the kernels in fudge, but I have never been a fan of fudge of any description.

Those with dentures may prefer a harder toffee.  A softer one could prove embarrassing in company!

This simple sweet is one of a few made in heaven.  I’m awaiting my watermelon konfyt melon [pie melon to Aussies and Americans].  Watch this space for the perfect konfyt recipe – another KISS project which will be due out soon.

So, give this one a go and let me know if it works for you.

P.S.  This recipe comes with a health warning to diabetics.  You are allowed one pine kernel only with a tiny bit of toffee; and I mean tiny!


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