We visit the oldest home industry in the country – in Ermelo, of all places
Many home industries are closing their doors, but Tuiskoop in Ermelo – South Africa’s oldest and biggest home industry co-operative – is still holding its own against the delis with their fancy offerings and the supermarkets with their cheap but heartburn
Don’t bother trying to sound out the 56 “members” – or rather, the official owners – of Tuiskoop about their nearly 47 abundant years. The “secret to their success” is quite clearly spelled out on an A4 sheet in the shop: “Those who make cakes are not just selling a product. They are selling their time, attention, talent and creativity. Support handmade.”
There’s never been a shortage of the last two – talent and creativity – in South Africa, but the 24/7 merry-goround on which the middle class finds itself means that time and attention are scarce resources. And this is the problem that has been addressed here, on the corner of Joubert and Jan van Riebeeck streets in Ermelo, since 1 October 1970.
On this day a handful of local farmers’ wives opened the doors of Tuiskoop, in the process creating a market for their handiwork, cakes, pastries and home-grown fruit and vegetables. There weren’t any laws governing home industries in those days, which meant there were endless dealings with the health inspector and months of administrative red tape to contend with. (This is also why, for the first few months, shoppers could buy anything from needlework to cat litter, but no foodstuffs.)
There’s been a complete about-turn since, but the most important thing remains exactly the same as it was on day one: At Tuiskoop you will always be greeted and there will be conversation and advice, even if they don’t know you from Adam. And no shortcuts are taken here – not when it comes to the quality of the ingredients or final product or packaging. In fact, the only shortcut allowed is the one that clients take when they decide, for whatever reason, that they don’t have the time to bake and cook themselves.
“In the past people used to joke that Tuiskoop was a shop for the lazy housewives of Ermelo, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time. These days everyone has to work hard to put food on the table and most people are really very busy,” says Marietha Mentz, who was the chairperson from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2004 to 2006. She is currently the deputy chairperson.
Keeping up with the times
In days gone by, home industries always seemed to have a slightly sinister, sect-like aura: the people behind the No 18 koeksisters, the No 3 Hertzoggies, the No 24 milk tarts, the No 11 chicken pies or the No 7 Kewpiedoll toilet-roll covers remained a state secret. Yet, on every toilet cistern in town there perched a No 7 Kewpie doll with a roll of toilet paper concealed beneath her crocheted dress. And the No 18 koeksisters and No 11 pies put in a regular appearance at the local “bring a plate of something savoury or sweet” gatherings.
Kewpie dolls for toilets haven’t been sold at Tuiskoop for many years now, and if you ask the person at the till to tell you who makes the No 25 milk-tart jaffles, they’ll answer without hesitation. >
OPPOSITE A home industry is a little like a church bazaar, with something for everyone, but at the former – especially a community landmark like Tuiskoop – the supplies are constantly replenished and the tables are never packed away. In Ermelo, Platteland discovered a number of originals: jaffles with a milk tart filling (No 25’s); bags of corn-cob firelighters by Cobus de Vos, No 29 (“You Capetonians know only Blitz, but here we use corn cobs.”); and 1-litre plastic jugs containing a home remedy for diabetes – made by No 36, Madelein Jacobsz – that’s made of chopped-up soaked prickly pear leaves with the instruction to take one tot glass in the morning on an empty stomach.
“In the past people used to joke that Tuiskoop was a shop for the lazy housewives of Ermelo, but that hasn’t been the ca0s5e1f0or2a0 Kloilonmge tteimrse.”