Throwback Thursday: Pumpkin fritters – a little bit sweet, a little bit savoury and purely South African
Pumpkin fritter. Pampoenpoffertjie. Pampoenkoekie. It’s sweet. Yet it’s savoury. And to the South African palate, there’s nothing quite like it.
It’s the sweet treat that we eat with a plate full of meat and vegetables. It stands out from the pack precisely because of that. It’s a vegetable fritter coated in cinnamon sugar, and to its fans, it’s the perfect food. Manna from Food Heaven.
Pumpkin fritters are such a core feature of South African food culture that, under “fritters” on Wikipedia, they are the only fritter containing pumpkin to be mentioned at all, even though fritters from 17 world regions are listed.
The most common fruit in fritters in the world appears to be the banana, but they are generally regarded as sweet treats, whether dessert or a sweet snack. There are apple fritters aplenty, and all manner of others. Wikipedia does get a bit carried away, though, listing such delicacies as Italy’s arancini and India’s pakora (chilli bites) as fritters. Well, they are, sort of … but not quite.
But our pumpkin fritters are different. They’re seen as sort of savoury, even though they’re sweet. And there are different ways of making them.
Isn’t it weird that we eat them as part of a savoury meal? We certainly do in the Karoo. At the nightly Karoo buffet at our local Victoria Manor Hotel in Cradock, you’ll find bain-maries set out with game, lamb, chicken pies, roast potatoes, creamed spinach, rice, broccoli, roast chicken and pampoenpoffertjies, one variation on the theme of a pumpkin fritter. (Some pumpkin fritters are cooked in a pan and are therefore flat, others are deep-fried in oil and consequently turn into crispy, golden puffs [poffertjies].) Ditto at Lani Lombard’s Sunday lunches in the gardens of Albert House alongside her True Living Karoo Deli eatery in town.
If they’re not on the menu, there are customers who will ask for them or share their bewilderment that this most obvious of staple meal ingredients would not be available. That’s how commonplace they are.
Yet, you’d swear this was more of a pudding than a savoury ingredient. Wouldn’t you?
But we are not the only ones who love them. Browse online and you’ll find recipes for them, and odes to them, from North America to Australia and New Zealand. They don’t all understand them the way we do though. Some describe them as an appetiser. Others as a daytime snack. There aren’t any, or many, descriptions of them in foreign parts as something you’d eat with your braised brisket or your turkey roast.
Then again, America does have its pumpkin pie. I’ve tasted several, and they were all stodgy and awful. Too heavy a hand with the flour, most likely. Maybe what they need is a South African in the kitchen.
One American punter even described them as “pumpkin pie doughnuts”. 🙈🙈🙈
(Makes 8 to 12 depending on how generously you spoon them into the pan)
For the batter:
1 cup plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups steamed pumpkin
2 extra large eggs
For the coating:
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp butter for frying the fritters
3 Tbsp more butter to dip the fritters in before coating in cinnamon sugar
Steam the pumpkin, drain in a colander, and leave it to cool. Once cooled, whisk it into a purée.
Stir the flour, baking powder, 4 Tbsp sugar and salt together in a bowl.
Stir in the pumpkin purée and beat until well combined. Add the two eggs and beat well.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Melt 3 Tbsp butter in a frying pan on a moderate heat until foaming.
Using a tablespoon, add generous spoonfuls of the batter to the pan, allowing space between them while cooking.
Fry, in batches, until golden brown on both sides, turning once.
Meanwhile, mix 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon together in a bowl.
Melt the remaining 3 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan.
Toss the fritters in the melted butter, then roll them in the cinnamon sugar. DM
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.