Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Home of Their Own

Elisabeth & Barend, with baby Jake 1912
As their family grew, Elisabeth and Barend began to realize that the apartment on Third Avenue was too small. In the early 1920’s, they purchased a plot of land on the outskirts of Albany, near where the Eagle Point Elementary School now stands. Today, seeing the paved streets and rows of houses in the neighborhood where I grew up (a block away from “the old homestead”), I try to imagine what it must have been like there in that previous era. The main road, Route 20, was paved, but there were no streets yet adjacent to their house. The family had to walk through a grassy field to get to the road, where a trolley would take them downtown. 

With his carpentry skills, Barend built a small house, then a larger one for the growing family. They planted fruit trees and a grape arbor in the lower lot next to the house. The only thing missing to replicate the bucolic environment of their rural villages in the Netherlands was  a cow to provide milk for the children.

But where to find a cow in New York State’s capital city? Across the Hudson River in rural Rensselaer County lived another Dutch family who owned several cows, and who agreed to sell a Holstein named “Baasje” (“Bossie”) to the VandenBerghs. The only catch was, lacking a truck to transport the cow home from the farm, Barend would have to walk the animal from Castleton on the eastern side of the river to the western edge of Albany, a distance of twelve and a half miles (20 kilometers). This journey must have taken about six hours, with Barend leading the bovine slowly along the river, past Poplar Island, Cow Island, Bear Island, and Cabbage Island, across the river at Rensselaer, and along Route 20 to Beacon Avenue, perhaps stopping here and there along the way, wherever he could find water for the thirsty animal.

It must have been worth the journey, because eventually the family owned three or four cows, including a calf which became a family pet. It was this calf that had the unfortunate fate of being slaughtered for beef steak, as the children watched horrified from an upstairs window. After that experience, the family determined that they would never do such a thing again. 

But they continued to enjoy the fruits of their labors, and of their garden in the lower lot.

VandenBergh family 1937, in lower lot with blossoming fruit trees

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I don't know whether the family grew endive in their kitchen garden, but if so, Grandma may have prepared this stamppot recipe from her cookbook. Endive is quite bitter, and thus an acquired taste, but in this recipe the bitter flavor is mitigated by the blandness of the mashed potatoes.

Stamppot With Endive:


- 5 or 6 small or 3 large potatoes
- 3 endives
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 - 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

- Peel and rinse potatoes. If using large potatoes, cut in quarters.

- Place the potatoes in salted water, just barely covering the potatoes.

- Lay the washed and trimmed endives on top of the potatoes, so that they will be steamed as the potatoes boil.

Boiling potatoes with endive

- Cook until potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

- Drain so that there is about a half inch of water in the bottom of the pan.

- Mash the potatoes and endive together, with a tablespoon or two of butter or margarine.

Stamppot with endive

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