Sunday, January 27, 2013

Worteltjes en Spruitjes

This week two vegetable dishes from Grandma VandenBergh's 1922 Dutch cookbook:

The Dutch word wortel means root or carrot; add the diminutive suffix -tje -- worteltje, and we would translate this into English as "baby carrots."

Wortel has an English cousin  --  wort, in Middle English, which also means root or plant, as in St. John's wort or liverwort. If you are not familiar with these plant names, you will certainly recognize another English language cousin: try repeating the words "wort yard" rapidly ten times in a row, and you will probably end up saying "orchard," which means literally, "plant yard."*

Likewise, the Dutch word spruit is easily identified with its English language cousin "sprout" ; add the diminutive suffix -tje again and you have "little sprout," or what we call in English Brussels sprouts. As the name indicates, this leafy green vegetable may have originated in Belgium, from whence it spread of course to the Netherlands. It is related to cabbage and broccoli, and in fact, the little green spheres do look like baby cabbages. I have to confess that as I child I particularly detested Brussels sprouts, but now I do like the nutty flavor of fresh (and freshly steamed) sprouts. Fresh is definitely better than canned!

The two recipes require few ingredients and little fuss:

Worteltjes (Baby Carrots)

- 1 large bunch small carrots
- 30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter or margarine
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 3 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt

Scrape the carrots, wash them, and set them in a small amount of boiling water (The cookbook says an amount that will boil away in about 30 minutes, but I would say that 15- to 20 minutes is sufficient).
Toss the carrots a few times to brown them. Stir in the butter or margarine and simmer a few more minutes.
Add the finely chopped parsley and stir before serving.


Spruitjes (Brussels sprouts)

- 1 kilogram (2 pounds) Brussels sprouts
- 5 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
- 40 grams (3 tablespoons) butter

Wash the sprouts and set them in salted boiling water (or steam in a steamer).
Simmer (or steam) for about half an hour, and then drain and stir in the butter.

If I would change this recipe at all, I would use half the salt called for, and cook the sprouts for no longer than 20 minutes. Boiling them for too long will not only destroy the delicate nutty flavor, but also some of the vitamins (Vitamins A and C, and folic acid).

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Dutch vocabulary:

worteltjes (n.)  =  baby carrots
spruitjes (n.)  =  Brussels sprouts
boter (n.)  = butter
peterselie (n.)  =  parsley
zout (n.)  =  salt
schrapen (v.)  =  to scrape
stoven (v.)  =  to simmer, stew

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*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition; Houghton-Mifflin, 2006.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Yearning To Know

"Some people flee their ancestors, while others yearn for them, almost viscerally," says a character in Eduardo Halfon's recently translated work, The Polish Boxer.

I've been writing this blog about my ancestors and the foods they ate for two years now, and have completed 101 posts. There is still much I yearn to know about my forebears. When I peer at old photographs or tintypes, I yearn to know what they were thinking and feeling. What were their hopes and desires, their aspirations and their fears? Would they be similar to mine? If I were able to travel back in time and meet my ancestors on the street, would I recognize them? Would they care to meet me? If so, what would we say to each other?

An 1895 class photo shows my grandmother Elizabeth as a scowling nine-year-old (top row, center) in the village of Loosdrecht in the Netherlands: I yearn to know what made her frown like that. Was it merely the sun in her eyes, or a scolding from the schoolmeester? What other Daams siblings and cousins pose along with Grandma?

Loosdrecht school photo, ca. 1895

Five years later, as a domestic servant for a wealthy family, Elizabeth posed with her sister Hendrina. How did they get along? Did they gossip about their employers?
Hendrina and Elizabeth ca. 1900

When Elizabeth married in 1911, did her family know that she and her bridegroom Barend were planning to leave for America the next day?

Listing of marriage in family booklet

On the other side of the family, I yearn to know more about my great-grandmother Kittie Van Slyke, the canal locktender's eldest daughter, in Mindenville, NY in the 1870's: Did she go to school? Until what grade? She married my great-grandfather when she was only sixteen years old. Was it a love match? What did her parents think?

Kittie and Fred - damaged tintype

How large a town was Mindenville in those days? It is only a handful of houses now, as the old canal lock tended by my great-great-grandfather Jonas Van Slyke is long gone; a few feet away is an old cemetery, no longer used, where many Van Slyke ancestors are buried.

How was the family prosperous enough in those days 140 years ago to be able to afford periodic trips to a photographer's studio to have tintype portraits made of so many family members?

Nancy Fineour Smith (Kittie's sister-in-law?)

What happened to Kittie's youngest sister Mary (called Matie), that she died before she turned fifteen?

Kittie's sisters - Matie and Minnie

Who arranged Kittie's hair so elaborately in the various portraits she had taken during her young adulthood?

Great-grandma Kittie - undated photograph

One tintype shows her with a decidedly modern Dutch bob that predates the 1920's  --  when this "helmet hair" was popularized by silent movie star Louise Brooks  --  by several decades.

Kittie - with "helmet hair"

Who was Alix Van Slyke, and how was he related to my direct ancestors? (Notice how his tintype was hand-colored by the photographer. I think he looks like Edgar Allan Poe in this picture.)

Alix Van Slyke (Kittie's uncle?)

I could go on  --  there is still so much I would like to know. Some questions can be answered with further research, but I may never know what the people portrayed in these old photos were thinking and feeling . . .unless some day I discover an old diary . . . !

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


"What's in these?" asked my son as I set the plate of fried dough balls on the table.

"Raisins, chopped apple, brown sugar, cinnamon, and whole wheat flour," I answered. "It's an old recipe from my Grandma's Dutch cookbook."

The oil balls, as the Dutch word is literally translated, were a tasty but doughy snack, and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar, they quickly disappeared from the plate. Here's a translation of the original recipe from Grandma Vanden Bergh's 1922 copy of Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten:


- 250 grams (2 cups) whole wheat flour
- 20 grams yeast (1 packet)
- about 2 1/2 dL. (1 cup) warm milk
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) currants
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) raisins
25 grams (scant 1/4 cup) candied fruit peel
- 2 grams (1/3 teaspoon) salt
- juice of half a lemon
- vegetable oil for frying

Dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm milk.
Make a stiff batter (thicker than for "Three in the Pan") with the flour, the rest of the warm milk, currants, raisins, and candied fruit peel, the lemon juice, salt and yeast mixture.
Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise for an hour.

Heat enough oil in a wok or deep-fryer pot to deep-fry the balls of dough. Using two spoons, form the dough into balls and carefully drop into the hot oil.
Fry until light brown; the dough balls are done when a toothpick poked into the center of the pastry comes out clean.

Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

My modern Dutch cookbook, Deliciously Dutch, has a similar recipe, which adds orange zest, sugar, cinnamon, and a chopped apple to Grandma's basic recipe, and notes that these round doughnuts are a traditional Dutch treat for New Year's Eve celebrations.

These fried dough balls are also the precursor of modern American doughnuts. In fact, the recipe goes back several centuries. Food historian Peter G. Rose has traced a similar recipe from the Hudson Valley area in what was once part of New Netherland (now Albany in Upstate New York) back to the seventeenth century Dutch cookbook De Verstandige Kock ("The Sensible Cook"), noting also that the "Albany method" of preparing this tasty treat is the typical New Netherland preparation: "four pounds flour, one pound sugar, one pound butter and 12 eggs, a teacup of yeast and as much milk as you please say near or quite three pints."*

In 17th century New Netherland, this delicacy was called olie-koecken. Later descendants of the early Dutch immigrants would soak the raisins in brandy overnight to give the snack a festive flavor. Whether you use the "Albany method" of preparing this snack, or your own traditional recipe, it does make a New Year's Eve party festive. Chances are my early Dutch ancestors in New Netherland enjoyed the treat as much as my modern family did.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Dutch vocabulary:

tarwebloem (n.)  =  whole wheat flour
gist (n.)  =  yeast
melk (n.)  =  milk
krenten (n.)  =  currants
rozijnen (n.)  =  raisins
sucade (n.)  =  candied fruit peel
zout (n.)  =  salt

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* Rose, Peter G., Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch. The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2009; p. 75.