In this study the origins and originality of the South African milk tart (melktert) are investigated and used as an artefact of food culture to enable a better understanding of food as a vehicle for identity, food as memory as well as communication through food. Although the milk tart has many roots and was introduced to South Africa by way of different influences, it is the general perception that the milk tart derived from Afrikaner tradition and culture. This is however not entirely founded. Moreover, milk tart has been adopted, adapted, and subsumed by women of different cultures and backgrounds into South African heritage. It has been indigenized to such an extent that it is now considered a national treasure regardless of background and even commemorated with ‘National Milk Tart Day’.
Therefore the aim of this study is to investigate the South African milk tart through a model that includes three sequential stages – introduction, adaptation and subsuming – in the process of indigenization of food identities when different cultures meet. This model, borrowed from the Philippines, interprets the term “indigenization” as food being the product of having been influenced by that of many others. Like the Philippines, South Africa was also exposed to many other culinary traditions and influences and thus this approach is appropriate in tracking the journey of the milk tart over time and continents until it became a household name and was subsumed as part of everyday life in South Africa.
At the crux of the matter lie questions of identity, belonging and heritage which arise at the intersection of food culture and history. Food has the power to shape place, time and social interaction if one analyses the complex and dynamic ways that gender is expressed in food and cooking.
In this dissertation recipe books and food writings are used as primary sources to investigate the origin and originality of milk tart, and the trans-cultural role it played for women across the cultural divide. Given the reservations that exist regarding record keeping and in particular where household matters are concerned, this study has adopted a wider and “more generous and more inclusive archival lens.” In researching this history, the local recipe books, compiled predominantly by women, are used as “the archive” that reflects on the context, ingredients and methods germane to them along with the silenced voices that partook in the process. The milk tart recipe books are thus the diaries, the memory bank, and in effect a gendered food archive that reflects as a particular identity marker within the South African context along with the “other” within this domain.
Dissertation (MSocSci (History))--University of Pretoria, 2020.