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Tannie Maria’s Love Advice and Recipe Column: Tom’s...

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Tannie Maria’s Love Advice and Recipe Column: Tom’s Milk Tart with Naartjie Peel

Oval naartjie milk tart. Image: Supplied

Sally Andrew is the author of a series of Tannie Maria murder mysteries set in the Klein Karoo. In this monthly column, Daily Maverick collaborates with the (fictional) Karoo Gazette to share some of Tannie Maria’s stories, letters and recipes.

Chapter 26, ‘The Milk Tart Murders’

Henk agreed to meet me for a walk behind the Olive Garden restaurant.

I parked my blue Nissan bakkie in front of the restaurant, between the olive groves. There was a Toyota bakkie there, but it wasn’t Henk’s.

I went around to the rockery and flower-beds at the back. There were bright vygies in so many colours. And all sorts of crazy Karoo flowers. Sticky snot-roses, purple bobbejaantjies, and those orange aloes with white prickles on their blue leaves. There were plants whose names I didn’t know, some tall and graceful, others short and prickly.

As I walked down the winding gravel path, I heard slow and steady footsteps crunching behind me. I guessed they were from Henk’s long legs, but I didn’t turn around. I’d suggested we meet here, not because I really like to walk, but because I didn’t want to sit still and face him.

‘Maria,’ he said.

I could feel the warmth of his body behind me.

The path widened. He walked beside me and his arm brushed against mine.

‘How are you?’ he asked.

‘Fine,’ I said, ‘and you?’

‘Well …’ he said.

For a moment I thought that he was going to tell me how much he missed me. That he’d made a big mistake with Sanette. He’d beg my forgiveness, agree to leave his house with all of Norma’s stuff, and move in with me and my hens.

But the moment passed, and he didn’t say or do any of those things. Instead he said, ‘I’m not here to bother you with anything personal… It’s about Tom du Toit’s death. You’ve heard?’

‘Ja,’ I said. ‘Terrible.’

‘Do you know he wrote you a letter?’

‘Helmina told me,’ I said. ‘But not what it said, just that it was addressed to Tannie Maria.’

‘I have a copy here,’ said Henk. He took a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and unfolded it.

We were now next to a wooden bench shaded by an olive tree. Henk pointed to the bench and we sat. He was a little too close, his thigh almost touching my knee.

Henk held the photocopied page open and I took it from him. Tom’s writing was neat, with small swirls.

There was a dark smudge at the top of the paper, which I touched with my finger.

‘Blood?’ I asked.

‘Ja,’ said Henk. ‘The letter was on the writing desk where he was stabbed.’

There were sparkling orange vygies growing beside our bench. They somehow made me feel even sadder.

I looked down at the page again, and read. 

Dear Tannie Maria,

I’ve enjoyed reading the Klein Karoo Gazette and your column in particular. It was serendipitous to bump into you. I have some important questions that I’m hoping you can help me with.

I’ve lived away from Ladismith for some decades, and unexpectedly returned to attend to a family matter. It’s been a sad occasion, but punctuated with joy, as I have rekindled a forgotten love.

Can a man reclaim the sweetness of his youth?

Can we overthrow convention in order to do what delights us? Or are we bound by the ruts we’ve carved for ourselves?

I’ve received an unexpected luck, and now have the opportunity to be true to myself. The time has come to break free. To wear my own apron strings.

What do you say?

Talking of aprons, can you help me with traditional Ladismith recipes? I suspect you could give me the best melktert recipe? With the naartjie peel?

My plan is

The letter ended there. I turned over the page but it was blank.

‘Do you understand it?’ asked Henk.

‘He wanted a traditional Ladismith milk tart recipe from me,’ I said. ‘And he’ll never get to see his plan through, whatever it was.’

‘His plan must have been to do with his first love,’ said Henk, pointing to the letter. He read, ‘Forgotten love… sweetness of his youth.’

Gobbled up. Image: Leigh Schroenn

I thought of Helmina. She and Tom had been close when they were kids, and more recently too. But I didn’t mention her. Instead I said, ‘There was that woman at Oupa Frik’s funeral in a pink dress who seemed very… fond of Tom.’

‘Maybe, but I was wondering if Tom, um, prefers men?’ said Henk.

I read from the page: ‘Overthrow convention.’

Helmina was coloured and Tom white; it would be unconventional for them to have a romance, especially with a mother as conservative as his.

‘Wear my own apron strings,’ read Henk. ‘He was wearing a bra. Did Helmina tell you that?’

‘Yes. A pink frilly bra. But that doesn’t mean he’s gay,’ I said. ‘There are also men who’re… whatchamacallit? Transvestites.’

‘There’s a long list of new names – LBQXYZ; I can’t keep up. But, ja, maybe he’s talking about his forgotten love for dressing up in bras and aprons. I wonder if he did that when he was a kid?’

‘You could ask his mother.’

‘Maybe I’ll show her the letter when she’s calmed down.’ He took the page from my hand.

‘That woman in the pink dress, her name is Karin. Karin van der

Spuy. She was outside Oupa Frik’s house this morning. Very upset. Her husband is the man who hit Tom at Frik’s funeral. Henry van der Spuy.’

Henk nodded, then read the letter again. ‘Tom says here that he bumped into you.’

‘Jessie and I popped in, when he was rushing out. He said he loved my advice column.’

‘He’d marked the Gazette with an “X” next to your column. It definitely made an impression on him.’

‘Sounds like the poor guy was in need of advice. I must find that melktert recipe with the naartjie peel.’

I took Tom’s letter back from him. ‘Can I keep this?’ I asked.

‘Well …’

‘It is addressed to me.’

‘All right. I’ve got other copies.’ He stared down at his hands resting on his thighs.

‘How have you been doing?’ he asked.

His hands didn’t answer him so I said, ‘Fine. Really. And you?’

‘Okay,’ he said.

‘I must go,’ I said, and stood up.

‘Okay,’ he said.

He looked up at me with those storm-blue eyes. They seemed sad, like a ship lost at sea, but I didn’t stay to gaze into them.

I left him sitting there on the bench next to the bright-orange vygies.

***

Tom’s Milk Tart with Naartjie Peel

(Makes 2 milk tarts, so give one to your neighbour)

  • Crust
  • 2½ cups (330 g) cake flour
  • 2⁄3 cup icing sugar
  • ½ t salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 250 g butter, cubed and softened, plus extra for greasing
  • Filling
  • 6 thin-skinned naartjies
  • 5 cups milk
  • 1½ cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated, then lightly beaten separately
  • ¾ cup + 2 T (110 g) cake flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 T custard powder
  • ½ T cornflour
  • 5 T (65 g) butter
  • 4 t naartjie or rose-petal sugar
Rolling milk tart pastry. Image: Leigh Schroenn
Removing naartjie zest. Image: Leigh Schroenn
Naartjie zest. Image: Leigh Schroenn

To make the crust, sift the flour, icing sugar and salt together.

Add the egg yolks and then the butter, cutting it into the flour with a knife.

Using your fingers, knead very gently until the butter is mixed in. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Divide the dough in half and roll it out on a floured surface. Fit into two well-greased 24-cm pie dishes. Prick the bases with a fork.

Bake for 12-14 minutes in a preheated oven at 200°C until light golden brown.

To make the filling, use a vegetable peeler to slice strips of zest from 4 of the naartjies, or you can peel the naartjies and scrape off the white pith.

Put the zest and 1 cup of the milk in a small pot. Heat very slowly, then let it simmer for a few minutes.

When it boils, turn the heat off, put the lid on and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes (see ‘Tips’).

Cut the zest from the other 2 naartjies and chop very finely.

Rub the finely chopped zest into 1 cup of the sugar.

Remove the strips of naartjie zest from the milk.

Whisk this infused milk together with the egg yolks, half of the naartjie-flavoured sugar, the flour, salt, custard powder and cornflour.

In a large saucepan, stir the remaining 4 cups of milk, the butter and the other half of the naartjie-flavoured sugar until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

Add the naartjie-flavoured egg mixture, and stir well as you bring it to the boil. Use a flat spatula to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Use an electric blender to beat together the egg whites and the final ½ cup of (unflavoured) sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into the naartjie mixture.

Divide this filling between the two crusts.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 20-25 minutes, until the custard sets but before the top browns.

Stand back and clap for yourself.

Before serving, sprinkle about two teaspoons of colourful flavoured sugar onto each milk tart. For a change from cinnamon sugar, sprinkle on naartjie or rose-petal sugar. You may be able to buy these, or you can make your own (see following recipe).

Tips

Heat the 1 cup of milk with the zest of 4 naartjies before you make your crust – more time makes for a stronger flavour.

You can replace the fresh zest with dried peel. Powder the dried peel in a blender, and use ¼ cup in the milk infusion (discarding what sinks to the bottom of the pot) and ¼ cup in the sugar.

Rubbing the finely grated zest of one orange into the sugar is another delicious option.

You may prefer to eat your milk tart warm, but it does set better when it has cooled completely. 

Pastry for milk tart. Image: Supplied

Naartjie or rose-petal sugar

(Makes 100 ml)

  • A handful of organic rose petals, picked with love,
  • or 3 naartjies with peel, sliced
  • 5 T (75 ml) white sugar

Dry the rose petals or the naartjie slices slowly, so they don’t lose colour or flavour. Use a warming drawer or very low oven (perhaps at the end of your rusk-making), or just the dry Karoo air. Don’t leave too long in direct sunlight or the colour may fade.

Crush or powder the dried product, using a pestle and mortar or a blender.

Mix 25 ml (1 T + 2 t) of this colourful powder with the sugar, by hand. (The ratio of powder to sugar is about 1:3.)

Spread out the sugar on an oven tray and spray very lightly with spring water. Mix by hand, to make the colour bleed, then spread out again.

Leave to dry overnight, then store in 2 x 50ml bottles.

Tips

This recipe is for 100ml, but it would be wise to increase the quantities because of all the time and work involved.

You may be able to buy dried naartjie slices or dried (edible) petals, which will make the job much quicker for you. DM/ML

Author Sally Andrew. Image: Thierry Cassuto
“The Milktart Murders” by Sally Andrew. Image: Supplied

This letter and Tannie Maria’s recipe are an excerpt from The Milk Tart Murders, out on 1 March 2022. You can buy Sally Andrew’s books here.

Sally Andrew is the author of the bestselling Tannie Maria mysteries, books that have been translated into 14 languages across five continents. She lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo with her artist partner, a giant eland, and a secretive leopard. Sally also spends time in the wilderness of southern Africa and the seaside suburb of Muizenberg.

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