Ouma’s rusks and her husband’s Ford

Text: Leilani Basson Photography: Jannie Herbst

Onverwacht. (Unexpected). Quite an appropriate name for the farm where the little town of Molteno was established in 1874. Who would have thought that this unimposing place, concealed by the shadows of the Stormberge and noteworthy only for being so cold, was also the birthplace of one of South Africa’s most unusual success stories — Ouma Rusks?

Equally unexpected is the interesting fact that Ouma Nannie’s husband owned the first Ford dealership and pick-up truck in the area, was the longest serving mayor of Molteno and was known as Oom Thys Beskuitjies – thanks to his role in delivering Ouma’s rusks.

The history

Many a great idea is born out of desperation and the humble beginning of this proudly South African nibble is no different.

Oom Sammie Prinsloo (92), the oldest living resident of Molteno, recalls the story of Ouma Rusks with vivid enthusiasm.

“The Great Depression had a paralysing effect on the community and all were beginning to lose hope as the price of wool – the livelihood of most farmers – kept decreasing and local businesses started to fold,” said Oom Sammie, leaning forward in his chair to relate the story with more conviction, his farmer’s hands resting casually on his knees.

” In 1939 the Vroue Unie (Women’s Union) came up with the idea that the local Dutch Reformed Church should – like the story in the Bible – grant each woman half a crown and encourage them to use their God-given talents to prosper.

“It was during that time that Oom Thys phoned my mother one night and asked ‘Ou Nig Ren’ (Old Cousin Ren) if she would mind sharing her secret mosbeskuit resep (must rusk recipe) with him.

“My mother, Emmarentia Frederika Greyvenstein, or Ren for short, was a close cousin of Oom Thys Beskuitjies.”

Although she hesitated for a while, Nig Ren eventually agreed, but said: “Maar die resep gaan nie verder nie, nĂ©, Neef Thys? (but the recipe will stay between us, right Cousin Thys?).”

“I can’t say for sure that this is the same recipe that made Ouma Nannie so famous, but I do recall this little incident as clearly as if it was yesterday,” said Oom Sammie.

It goes without saying, then, that Ouma Nannie saw baking rusks as her calling and used her grant from the church to buy ingredients. Her first batch sold within minutes at the next church bazaar and orders came pouring in. The demand for Ouma’s rusks just grew and grew, and soon they were the talk of the town and a must-buy at rugby games, bazaars and other gatherings.

Ouma’s eldest son, Leon, saw great potential in his mother’s baking skills and – with a heavily loaded Ford bakkie from his father’s dealership – set off into the countryside to further test the rusks’ popularity and investigate the possibility of a market up north.

His travels proved successful. The rusks meant business and upon his return he built a rusk dryer from an old car engine, added a few extra clay ovens and converted the modest farm barn into what was probably SA’s first rusk factory.

At first the rusks were sold under the name of Uitspan and later Outspan – to give them a bit of a bilingual flavour. As Nannie’s baking found its way into households everywhere, a business decision was made to honour Nannie Greyventein’s time-tested recipe and allow her legacy to live on as Ouma Rusks. The slogan, “Dip an Ouma”, was coined, along with its catchy jingle in radio and eventually television adverts.

But let’s take a few steps back.

In 1941, the Greyvenstein’s barn was changed into a proper factory thanks to a loan from the recently established Industrial Development Corporation. Tragically, the factory burnt down in 1952 but a bigger, better factory was built and a few other food products and snacks were added to the now prosperous Greyvenstein empire. They included favourites such as Taystee Wheat breakfast cereal, roasted peanuts and, in 1957, the first crispy potato chips in the country — the Simba brand as we know it today. This, of course, is a story in its own right. In the 1970s the business was sold to Fedfood.

In 1994, Ouma Rusks became part of the Nola brand and a range of popular flavours (buttermilk, muesli, wholewheat, condensed milk and aniseed) were introduced.
Nola eventually became a division of Foodcorp Ltd – currently one of South Africa’s leading food manufacturers.

Despite commercialisation and the loosening and eventual breaking of family ties with the Greyvensteins as their various brands were sold off to different manufacturers and companies, the Ouma factory remained in the heart of Molteno, continuing to serve the community that enabled it to rise from the Depression.

* An awesome read indeed! Get the full story on Ouma’s rusks and her hubby’s Ford in the September issue of Leisure Wheels. And dip a Ouma while you’re at it!