Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Family Bible

Grandma VandenBergh used to chant the Psalms in Dutch. Her children did not like it, because it sounded so mournful. She had probably learned the Psalms from the family Bible, which she brought from the Netherlands when she and Grandpa emigrated as newlyweds in 1911.

In earlier eras, a family Bible was often the first textbook from which children learned to read. It was also used to record births, marriages, and deaths before copies of legal documents were widely available. My siblings and I now share the family Bible that once belonged to our grandparents. To say it is a "hefty tome" is a gross understatement.  It is a two-volume set, bound in bright red leather, with gold lettering, each massive volume weighing eighteen pounds. It is a Dutch Bible, published in Arnhem, Netherlands in 1870, with a dedication to the Dutch royal family. (King Willem III, who reigned from 1849 to 1890, and his first wife Queen Sophie, who died in 1877)

Old Testament volume

The fact that my grandparents made the effort to bring this voluminous Bible when they left Loosdrecht is evidence of how important their Dutch Reformed faith was to them. One volume in the set, the New Testament, stored too long in leaky attic in my aunt's house, shows evidence of water damage.

Its companion Old Testament has fared better. The red leather binding is still as bright as it was a hundred years ago, and the engravings by French artist Gustave Dore still impress with their detail and artistry. In fact, my mother remembered being frightened as a child by the graphic images of the drowned in the story of the flood in Genesis. In one engraving, writhing bodies are draped all over the landscape, with the ark perched on a mountaintop in the background.

The world destroyed by water

With my rudimentary Dutch and the help of a bilingual dictionary, I can decipher a few phrases here and there, but I am not fluent in Dutch. However, the copious illustrations are detailed enough for me to recall my long ago times in Sunday school.

The finding of Moses

Perhaps upon returning from church, Grandma and Grandpa and their children enjoyed a Sunday dinner with a menu similar to the following dishes from her 1922 cookbook:

Varkenskarbonaden (Pork Chops)

- 4 medium pork chops
- 3 1/2 tablespoons margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon salt; dash black pepper

Heat margarine in frying pan.
Wash the meat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook on both sides until brown and well done (about 20 minutes)

Up to now, this is just what I would have done. But the recipe continues:

Let thick pork chops simmer in meat juices for up to an hour in a closed frying pan or enamel pan. (My chops were thin enough that I didn't have to cook them that long.)

Optional: Garnish with a few thin slices of lemon, without the seeds:

Pork chops

Serve the pork chops with potatoes cooked as below.

Gesmoorde aardappelen (Steamed potatoes; literally "stifled," "strangled")

- 2 pounds potatoes
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon minced or chopped parsley or grated nutmeg

Use small potatoes, or larger ones cut into quarters.
Put the peeled potatoes, butter and salt in a saucepan with a small amount of boiling water.
Cover and cook until done, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent potatoes from sticking.
Add more water if necessary, so that the butter and water form a sauce when done.
Sprinkle with parsley or nutmeg before serving.

Steamed potatoes with parsley

To make the meal complete, you may wish to serve with cooked carrots.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Note: Portions of this post were previously published in the Altamont Enterprise on May 22, 2008. 

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