Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The Giechelaars"

Whenever relatives from Holland came to visit, my mother and her siblings would be delighted to entertain them  --  and delighted to hear once more the language they remembered from their childhoods.

Out would come the best china teacups and silver only used on special occasions; into the oven would go the Dutch sand cookies or apple cake to accompany the fragrant tea. Sometimes other Dutch acquaintances or relatives who had emigrated to Canada would come to join the group around the dining room table.

Tea Party chez Aunt Grace: l. to r. Uncle Norman, Aunt Grace, ?, ?, Aunt Louisa, Oom Jas

And then, in counterpoint to the click of spoon against saucer, the giggling would start. The family gatherings were always full of lively conversation and hearty laughter. In fact, if you laughed too much, you were a "giechelaar," from the verb giechelen, to giggle.

The first relative I remember coming to visit from the Netherlands, probably around 1961, was Grandma VandenBergh's younger brother Jasper, my Mom's "Oom Jas," who always regaled the group with amusing tales of family doings on the other side of the Atlantic. He did not speak much English, but that did not stop him from enjoying his visit to America. On one of his walks around the neighborhood, he met an Italian immigrant who didn't speak English either, and the two conversed with gestures and broken English.

Tea Party chez Aunt Louisa: l. to r. Uncle Jake, Oom Jas, Aunt Connie
Relatives invariably brought gifts from the Netherlands too  --  dainty silver teaspoons (Dutch cousins were always surprised at how big American teaspoons were!); recordings of Dutch patriotic songs, or a book of piano arrangements of Dutch songs; and another time a fancy wind-up clock that chimed every half hour.

But the best gift was the sense of conviviality and shared heritage with the cousins from across the sea.

In the family archives is a photo that dates from 1903, showing my great-grandmother Geertje Daams (nee Vonk), who was born in 1851, with her children grouped around her. Great-grandfather Jasper Daams (born in 1836) had passed away four years before the family portrait was taken. See if you can identify Grandma VandenBergh and Oom Jas:

Daams family portrait 1903

The answer is at the end of this post. But first, this week's recipe:

The cookies shared at family tea parties were sometimes stroopwafels (a round waffle-type cookie with a syrup filling, that would become deliciously warm when placed over a cup of hot tea), or speculaas (spice cookies) brought from Holland, or home-baked Dutch sand cookies from a recipe share by a family friend:

Mom's handwritten copy of cookie recipe

These are delicious buttery sugar cookies, maybe called sand cookies because they turn out to be the color of sand when baked. In trying out this recipe, I attempted to reduce the fat content by substituting butter-flavored baking sticks, which the package claimed to contain 50 percent less saturated fat than butter. This was not entirely successful, since the dough did not become as firm as it should have upon being refrigerated overnight. Thus the "sausage" of dough was a little bit hard to work with the next day.

And when they came out of the oven, the cookies were a little hard to remove from the cookie pan. I recommend using half butter and half margarine, which would still have less cholesterol than all butter, but probably make the dough a better consistency:

Just out of the oven!
Even so, they tasted almost as good as I remember from the tea parties of my youth. Like Proust's madeleine cookies, when I dipped them in my tea, the flavor conjured up memories of the tea parties of my youth.

Tea and sand cookies

And now, as promised the Daams family who's who:

Daams photo with names

Thanks to Margriet W. for scanning and labeling this old photo!


  1. For those unfamiliar with Dutch nicknames -
    "Kees" is pronounced like "Case", a nickname for Cornelius
    "Freek" is pronounced "Frake" and is a nickname for Frederick. Maybe I should have put their full names on the photo, but Mom had labelled it with their nicknames.

  2. Thank you Mardi, for explaining that. I only knew the nicknames, since that's how Mom labeled the photo!