According to the book “Die Geskiedenis van Boerekos 1652 – 1806” by HW Claassens the word biscuit was borrowed from the French, meaning “twice baked”. This word was preferred to the literal Dutch translation of the French word (“tweebak”). It was not strange that they chose the French word, because at that time French influence was wide spread. From history we learn that French soldiers were sent to war with hard bread, which was called “Biscuit de guerre” – a hard, almost inedible biscuit made from flour and water.
The rusks eaten on the VOC ships were not much better. In the book “History of Boerekos 1652 – 1806” mention is made of a quote from Peter Kolbe’s book “Naauwkeurige Beschryving van de Kaap de Goede Hoop“ in which he describes rusks as “so hard it can hardly be mastered by my teeth”.
Long before the rusk recipe was published in 1761 in “De Volmaakte Hollandsche Keukenmeid” the women of the Cape were already baking their own rusks. The biscuits were sold to the sailors and passengers of passing ships and to expeditions that ventured into the country’s interior.
Even though good quality rusks are available at all South African supermarkets, flea markets and some farm stalls, many families still prefer to bake their own rusks.
Nowadays it is no longer the hard, white biscuits of hundreds years ago, but can contain bran, oats, raisins, sunflower seeds and much more. This makes it just as much a healthy breakfast snack as an ideal coffee break treat.