Posted by: nancycurteman | June 2, 2013

South African Foods in “Murder Casts A Spell”

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One of the fun parts of writing my new novel, Murder Casts A Spell, was learning more about some of the traditional South African foods I’d tasted while visiting Cape Town. Three foods in particular interested me so much that I wrote them into my story—Rooibos tea, Umbhako and  Hertzog cookies.

rooibos-tea-potMost of the characters in my book had occasion to sip a cup of steaming Rooibos tea, also called red bush or bush tea. Rooibos tea comes in several fruit blends and is high in healthy antioxidants. You can drink it with milk and sugar or with a slice of lemon and some honey. The Rooibos plant grows in a small section of the western coast of Western Cape province in South Africa. It grows in a symbiotic relationship with local micro-organisms, and past attempts to grow Rooibos outside this area have all failed. It is and apparently will remain truly South African.

Umbhako, also known as Xhosa Pot Bread, is very nice with Rooibos tea. Umbhako is th a traditional food of the Xhosa people, the dominant tribal group in Cape Town. Mandela belongs to the Xhosa tribe.  Umbhako is called pot bread because it was traditionally cooked in a cast iron pot on top of the stove. In my novel, Sarah, a Xhosa innkeeper in Ikhaya Township, prepares Umbhako for two of my main characters, Lysi and Grace. Umbhako is somewhat similar to cornbread. Sarah served it with jam and butter.

Hertzog cookies, affectionately called Hertzoggies, was named after General Hertzog, who was the Prime minister of South Africa from 1924 to 1939. These were apparently his imagesfavorite cookies and for good reason. They are delicious little jam and coconut tartlets topped with meringue. Although South Africans love them all year round, they are traditionally served at Christmas time. The lead characters in Murder Casts A Spell gobble them up as they enjoy a Christmas Sundowner on Camps Beach near Cape Town.
By the way, no Hertzog cookie lover will touch Smut cookies named after Jan Smuts who was leader of General Hertzog’s opposition party.

South African foods are delicious. Look for them in my new novel, Murder Casts A Spell, due out in a few months.

More tips:

Great Cape Town African Restaurant: Marco’s African Place

A Khayelitsha Shebeen

Murder and Munchies a Marvelous Mix


  1. I love that you incorporate traditional foods into your books, NC. When I read, I don’t want a lot of details about what people are wearing, or how the couch is upholstered . . . but I ALWAYS want to know what they are EATING. :mrgreen:


    • Nancy, I just checked with my publisher and he will allow me to add two recipes, one for Hertzog cookies and one for umbhako.


  2. I’ve been having fun incorporating different foods into my novel as well. It’s been a bit different because its a fantasy so I find myself creating special dishes that hopefully reflect the culture.


    • Jodi, what a great idea to create recipes for a fantasy novel. I love it!


  3. My cousin and his wife (~ age 81) toured out from Johannesburg, roughing it quite a bit, but on a bus. They rode through Kruger National Park, over 7,000 square miles of lions, elephants, you know, wild animal country. Awesome they said, then a 1 day detour into Swaziland, different small country, to see natives & culture. Down to the southeast coast, beautiful, and they would appreciate it because my coz used to sail and venture out pretty far. Then to Cape Town, that they also loved. Loved the geniality of the tour folks, etc. and highly recommended it. I’, sure they sampled Cape Town food, too. I want to go some day, but the round-tuit hasn’t floated in and hit me yet. Good post.


    • Richard, Your cousin and his wife are my kind of people. I want to travel into my 90’s at least. Africa, yet! We’re talking some real roughing it even on a bus. Good for them.


  4. The name “Xhosa” comes from that of a legendary leader called uXhosa. There is also a theory that the word xhosa derives from a word in some Khoi-khoi or San language meaning “fierce” or “angry”, the amaXhosa being the fierce people. The Xhosa refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and to their language as isiXhosa.


  5. I love rooibos tea! And I love that you incorporate foods into your books. I’m excited to read this when it comes out!
    I am starting a new link-up party this week for all things book and reading related on my blog, Mommynificent. I’d love to have you join us with this post and any others you’d like to share. Hope to see you at Booknificent Thursday this week and every week!
    Tina @ Mommynificent


    • Hi Tina, Thanks for your comment about rooibos tea. I went to Mommynificent site. It really looks interesting.


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