Sunday, November 25, 2012

Over the River

It is 6:30 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning. The sun is coming up over the village of Fort Plain, with a wide wedge of bright pink high in a robin’s-egg-blue sky. It is 28 ยบ Fahrenheit outside, and quiet except for the barking of a dog down the street. As the sky grows lighter, the town clock rings seven times, as it has for over a hundred years.

As far back as I can remember, we used to come over the river and through the woods to feast on turkey and stuffing with four generations of Grandma Minnie’s extended family. This year, those of us who have inherited the old homestead  --  the younger generation that has now become the older generation  --  have decided to revive the family tradition of Thanksgiving at the family home. Brother and Sister are bringing the stuffing and other trimmings, Daughter is bringing pie, and yours truly is cooking the turkey.

Path up the hill
While the turkey sizzles in the oven, I take a walk up the winding path to the top of the hill at the edge of the cemetery. With most of the leaves gone from the trees, I can see over the river to the other side of the wide valley. Thousands of years ago, the spot where I am standing was the bank of the mighty Iro-Mohawk River formed from the melting of the glaciers. Now it is a steep terrace that affords a panoramic view of the neighborhood and the ridge across the river:

View across the river from the cemetery ridge
Along that ridge, Native Americans built their palisaded villages, later Palatine Germans spread their farms, and yet later an early 20th century aviator landed his plane.

Great-Grandpa Fred and horse Maud
I look down at the house and see in my mind’s eye the barn where Great-Grandpa Fred kept his horse a hundred years ago, and the woodshed where fifty years ago my childhood self shed her boots when we arrived for the Thanksgiving feast. The barn and the woodshed are both gone now. Gone as well are most of the people who gathered around the table that half-century ago, buried only a few feet from where I stand as I look down at the house and over the river.

The house seems smaller than it did to me as a child, but of course everything seemed larger when I was small. This home and its earlier inhabitants shaped some of my most vivid childhood memories. Now, coming home to another Thanksgiving has given our family an opportunity to shape some new memories with today’s younger generation. 

The table laid with this year's feast

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Asparagus Dutch Style

Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook, "Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten," has a recipe for a vegetable dish with white asparagus. We don't see this delicacy much in our part of the United States  --  it's considered a gourmet version of the more usual green asparagus. But the white variety is more common in western Europe, including the Netherlands. Although very bitter when sampled raw, it has a delicate flavor when steamed or boiled.

White Asparagus Recipe

- 2 bunches of white asparagus
- 2 hard-cooked eggs
- 75 grams (1/3 cup) butter or margarine
- grated nutmeg to taste

Cut or break off the hard ends of the asparagus stalks. Scrape or peel the remaining parts (do not peel the tips).

White asparagus

Tie the asparagus stalks into bunches of 10 or 12 pieces and cook thoroughly in boiling water with a pinch of salt (about 30 minutes).
Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon and place on a serving plate with the tips all pointing in the same direction.
Snip off the string. Granish with slices of hard-cooked egg.
Drizzle with melted butter or margarine and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Asparagus garnished with butter and nutmeg

As the Dutch don't like to waste anything, the recipe also suggests using the cooking water and the cut-off ends to make soup. I had run out of eggs, so my version was egg-less. Incidentally, I found a very similar recipe in the bilingual (Dutch & English) cookbook I had bought in the Netherlands last year, which included ham and potatoes to round out the meal. So the Dutch have been eating this white asparagus for at least a hundred years, probably much longer!

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Ceremony in Loosdrecht -- 1949

Some time ago I came across a series of old photos of a military ceremony in my grandmother's hometown, Loosdrecht, Netherlands. Although they were not in attendance, this was a very personal ceremony for Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh  --  the reburial of their son Jasper, born in Albany, and who with his elder brother Jacob, fought as an American soldier during World War II.

Unlike his elder brother, Jasper never came home. He was killed at the Battle of the Bulge and originally buried near there. After the war, the family decided that it would be more appropriate for his remains to be repatriated  -- not to America, but to Grandma's hometown of Loosdrecht. In a somber ceremony attended by local dignitaries, members of both Grandma and Grandpa's extended families, and other villagers, Jasper was laid to rest in the Loosdrecht-Rading Cemetery. Mom carefully preserved the photos, along with Jasper's Purple Heart. I thought it appropriate to post the photos today, which is Veterans Day in the United States.

Led by the Dutch Commandant, the cortege enters the cemetery

The cortege approaches the grave site

The Dutch Officer Speaks

The Dominie (Pastor) reads from the Bible

Jasper's cousins, aunts, and uncles gathered around the grave site

An official lays flowers at the grave

An official of the Dutch War Cemetery Committee lays a wreath

A salute by the Dutch Navy honor guard

The casket is lowered into the grave

Jasper's uncle (also named Jasper) thanks the attendees for coming

During my trip to the Netherlands last year, I made a point to visit Jasper's grave site  --  the uncle I never knew. Read more about that occasion at the earlier post entitled "Uncle Jasper."