Thursday, February 3, 2011

Simple Hearty Fare

It must have been comforting to Grandma Vandenbergh to have a cookbook in her native language. The title of the book, Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten, means something like "Simple Hearty Fare"  --  with calculations of the cost of each recipe. An epigraph on the title page announces boldly, "Met nieuwen tijd komt nieuw weten, "With new times comes new knowledge."

The cookbook's author was Martine Wittop Koning, a Dutch cooking and nutrition teacher who lived from 1870 to 1963. Fashions in food come and go just like fashions in clothing and anything else. But long before the Food Pyramid was developed, our grandmothers, guided by nutritionists like Martine Koning, knew what we are rediscovering today: simple hearty fare made from fresh natural ingredients is the best.

The meals prepared by my grandmother, and my mother after her, were invariably based on three elements: meat, vegetables, and potatoes. It was like the three bases in baseball (was dessert home base?), or like a three-legged stool. In fact, I remember from my community development work in West Africa, that the nutritionists there followed a similar simple model for nutrition education, developed by the World Health Organization. We talked about "grow foods," which contained a lot of protein; "glow foods," such as fruits and vegetables that contained a lot of vitamins; and "go foods," which had carbohydrate for energy. And there you have your meat, vegetables, and potatoes.

I tried out a one-pot meal from Grandma Vandenbergh's cookbook that followed this pattern: Snijbonen met aardappelen en rookworst, or string beans with potatoes and smoked sausage. Here's a translation of the original recipe:

- 2 lbs. preserved (home-canned?) string beans
- 3 lbs. potatoes
- 1 lb. smoked sausage
- 2 tsp. salt

The quantities in all the recipes are intended for four adults, or "husband, wife, servant, and two children." I thought that was a bit much for my three-person household, so I reduced the recipe by half. I used fresh green beans, which were probably not available in Holland in January in the first decade of the 20th century. And I couldn't find smoked sausage in my local supermarket, so I substituted breakfast links.

Here are the steps I followed:

Peel and rinse potatoes. Place in a 2-quart saucepan with enough water to cover them halfway.
Add salt.
Prick the sausages with a fork, and place them in the pan over the potatoes.
Rinse and cut the beans and place them over the sausages. (At least that's what the recipe said. As you can see in the picture, I ended up with the sausages on top!)
Bring to a boil, cover and cook over moderate heat for about half an hour. 


I suppose if you put the beans on top, they would absorb some of the flavor of the smoked sausage as they steamed.


When the potatoes are tender, remove the sausages from the pan; mash the potatoes and beans together, and serve alongside the sausages.




And there you have the simple three-legged stool of meat, vegetables, and potatoes. It would never have occurred to me before to mash potatoes and beans together, but actually it wasn't bad; it wasn't bad at all. And I guess my husband and son agreed, because by the time we finished our meal, we didn't have any leftovers at all.

Eet smakelijk!  Enjoy your meal!

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