Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Victorian Holiday Menu

My Christmas dinner this year was a simple and low-key affair. But after the gifts were unwrapped and the guests departed, I began to wonder how my ancestors may have celebrated the holiday along the Erie Canal years ago, and what they may have prepared and eaten.

Queen of the Household - Title Page
I found a sample Christmas dinner menu in Great-Grandma Nan's 1891 book of household hints, Queen of the Household:

- Clam or Oyster Soup
- Celery
- Baked Fish with Hollandaise Sauce
- Roast Turkey with Oyster Dressing
- Roast Duck with Onion Sauce

- Baked Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
- Baked Squash
- Mashed Turnips
- Canned Corn (This was a surprise; presumably home-canned.)
- Stewed Tomatoes
- Graham Bread; Rolls
- Salmon or other Salad

- Plum Pudding
- Peach Pie
- Fruit and Nuts

- Coffee and Chocolate

Queen of the Household - Frontispiece
I don't know how many guests this elaborate menu was intended to serve, but I surmise that it must have taken a kitchen full of helpers to prepare and serve such a repast, with three different meat and fish dishes (no, four if you count the salmon salad!), two kinds of potatoes, four vegetables, and three desserts.

Our modern hosts and hostesses may typically simplify this menu to perhaps serve only the following: turkey with dressing, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, squash or another favorite vegetable, dinner rolls, a green salad, and a pumpkin or mincemeat pie, followed by coffee or tea.

Perhaps next year, if I am ambitious, I'll try out the recipe for plum pudding as a surprise treat for my family:

Christmas Plum Pudding:

"Shred finely 3/4 pound beef suet, and add to it a pinch of salt, 1 1/2 pounds bread crumbs, 1/2 pound flour, 3/4 pound raisins, 3/4 pound currants, picked and dried, 2 ounces candied lemon and citron together, and 1/2 a large nutmeg; mix these thoroughly, then add 4 eggs and milk enough to moisten it, but not too much or the pudding will be heavy; tie in a pudding-cloth, well floured, and boil for 5 or 6 hours [!]; or, we think better when boiled in a mold, which should be well buttered before the mixture is put in.  The mold should not be quite full, and should be covered with 1 or 2 folds of paper, buttered and floured, and then with a floured pudding-cloth."

I find it curious that in five different recipes for "plum pudding," none of the recipes actually includes plums. They list other fruits, such as tart apples, raisins, currants, and citron. Some also include nutmeg, brandy or sherry, and as in the Christmas Plum Pudding, chopped beef suet.

As I wondered about why a "plum pudding" would not contain plums, I checked the definition of "plum" in my American Heritage Dictionary, and found a less-well-known meaning: "A raisin, when added to a pudding or cake." That answered my question about "why no plums in a plum pudding."

Rather than attempt such an elaborate dessert for my next holiday dinner, I might try a simpler recipe from Grandma Nan's cookbook: Poor Man's Pudding  --  "Take 1 quart milk, 6 eggs, 6 tablespoons flour, and a little salt; bake 1/2 hour; use butter and sugar dip." Or better yet - an instant chocolate pudding from the supermarket . . . !

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Short Days, Long Nights

The shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, is only a week away. In a frenzy of consumerism, Americans are frantically shopping for gifts. I got ahead of the game this year, and mine are already wrapped and hidden away until the big day on Christmas.

But the Dutch and many Dutch-Americans have already had a fun- and goodie-filled celebration  --  Sinterklaasavond, or Saint Nicholas Eve.

As Saint Nicholas Eve (December 5) coincides with my birthday, my childhood memories of the day are a blurred combination of birthday cake, and wooden shoes filled with chocolates, nuts, and oranges.

Dutch Settlers Society Celebration:

This year, as for the past five years or so, I attended the annual Saint Nicholas Eve dinner of the Dutch Settlers Society of Albany. There was good food, music, and much gezelligheid (a Dutch word that connotes comfort, coziness, and camaraderie), a talk by Albany's Mayor about the city's rich history  --  and to top off the evening, the traditional visit by Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, as he is known in Dutch.

Sweet Treats:

I also had an opportunity this week to attend a talk by Dutch food historian Peter Rose about the history and origin of Saint Nicholas lore, and the traditions connected with the celebration of this feast day, including the many recipes for tasty treats prepared for the fete.

If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you will want to try out such dainty delicacies as speculaas, most often known in the United States as "windmill cookies."

Family Mystery Solved:

Years ago, my Mom had a pair of bas-relief wooden carvings that we knew were of Dutch origin. I had a vague memory of these artifacts being displayed in the house I grew up in. And so it happened that my sister unearthed the pair, "hidden in plain sight," in the basement of the house.

The red-painted carved boards, about 13 inches by 4 1/2 inches, represent a quaintly dressed young man and woman. It was obvious to me that they were similar to the cookie boards representing Saint Nicholas and other Dutch symbols used to mold cookie dough around the holiday. But why a boy and girl? Was there a particular significance to the pair?

I learned during the talk that the paired figures are known as vrijers, or "lovers," based on the legend of the Saint's anonymous gift of dowries to three sisters whose father was too poor to provide them with the requisite sum. In this fashion, Saint Nicholas made it possible for the young women to marry.

How old are the pair of vrijers that turned up in the basement? I have  no idea, but I don't dare to try filling them with sticky cookie dough. They will, however, be a unique piece of holiday decoration this year, and a great conversation starter.

My shoes are waiting for Sinterklaas's visit!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Guests Raved About Her Dinner!"

Spry Cookbook - Front cover
"What Shall I Cook Today?" is the title of yet another vintage cookbook that I found in the kitchen at the old homestead. This one is a collection of recipes using the brand of vegetable shortening Spry, which was available in grocery stores between the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. According to the brightly colored drawings that decorate the booklet's covers, "Guests raved" about dinners prepared with this canned shortening.

Published by Lever Brothers Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the booklet is undated, but judging from the clothing styles depicted on its colorful front and back covers, I would date it either late 1940s or early 1950s. The book contains 124 "thrifty healthful tested recipes"  --  consistent (health and thrift) in appealing to homemakers returning to the hearth after working in factories and offices while their men were fighting in World War II; consistent also with post-WW II ideals of the feminine mystique.

Deep-fried Fritters
The section on deep frying begins with a recipe for Apple Fritters, reminiscent of either Grandma VandenBergh's or Grandma Minnie's recipe; this one describes dipping apple slices in a batter of flour, baking powder, salt, egg, milk, and of course frying them in Spry. These fritters are seasoned with sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

A recipe for Corn Fritters fried in a similar fashion is described thus: "Make plenty  --  everyone will surely want seconds."

Other sections in the booklet include shallow frying, sauteing, cakes, frostings, cookies, and breads, but the longest section in the book is devoted to all sorts of pies and fruit tarts. There are both two-crust pies and one-crust pies. A sticky note on the page with the recipe for Blueberry Nectar Pie indicates that our Aunt Doris used this recipe to concoct the delicious blueberry pie that was always served at our traditional family dinner on Thanksgiving, made with berries harvested from Doris's blueberry bushes in the summer and frozen until the big day in November.

Mom also always made her own pie crust dough from scratch, cutting the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives as described in this booklet: "Do not handle dough anymore than necessary"  --  to keep it light and flaky.

Spry Cookbook - Back cover
The booklet include instructions for making a Spry Pastry Mix, so that the homemaker "can have oven-fresh pies at a moment's notice." The mixture contains one pound of Spry, two pounds of flour and one tablespoon of salt; it will keep in a covered container "for an indefinite length of time." This mixture is described as "The greatest 'shortcut' in the history of pie-making. Pie crust enough for a month  --  and all in a single mixing job!" (How many pies was the 1950's-era homemaker expected to make in a month?)

Today's busy homemaker has an even greater shortcut  --  ready-made pie crust from the dairy section of the local supermarket. I suspect that many more Thanksgiving pies are made by using this commercial dough than entirely from scratch. I confess that I used it myself to try out a recipe from this booklet:

"Eccles": When I saw this word at the bottom of a page, I had no idea what it meant. This type of pastry is described as, "Titbits [sic] from your left-over pastry":

"Roll pie crust thin and cut in small circles. Place a spoonful of mincemeat or jam or fruit in center. Wet edges. Place another circle on top and press edges together. Crease three marks across top, turn, and repeat. Bake in hot oven (425 F.) 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown."

I was curious about the origin of this pastry treat, as well as its name. It is apparently named after the English town where it originated, Eccles in Lancashire, where a baker named James Birch began selling small, flat, raisin-filled cakes in 1793. Birch's recipe was similar to one that was included in an earlier cookbook, by Elizabeth Raffald, "The Experienced English Housekeeper."

I baked a batch of Eccles cakes and shared them with friends. The pastries were filled variously with raspberry, blueberry, and mango jam. My friends didn't exactly rave about them, but they did have seconds. (At least, I did!)

Eccles Cakes  -- fresh from the oven

                                                     *        *        *

Learn more about the origin of Eccles cakes at:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two Dutch Soup Recipes

Once again, chilly temperatures have put me in a soup-making mood. I searched through Grandma VandenBergh's old Dutch cookbook and found two recipes to try out:

Cauliflower Soup   (Bloemkoolsoep)

1 L. water (about 1 qt.), in which cauliflower has been cooked, with pieces of cauliflower in it
40 gr. (1/4 cup) whole wheat flour
40 gr. (2 tablespoons) butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten

- Use the water in which the cauliflower has been cooked, leaving a few chunks of cauliflower in it.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- In the meantime, heat while stirring the butter with the flour to form a smooth paste ("een gladde massa" in Dutch)
- Stir the boiling water and cauliflower into the butter and flour paste and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Beat the egg in a soup tureen and carefully stir the soup into this mixture.
- Garnish with croutons or serve with whole wheat toast.

My first experiment with this recipe entailed using an unusual variety of purple cauliflower that I came across in a local farmers' market:

Purple cauliflower

This soup turned out with a pleasant shade of pink, but somehow it didn't seem very appealing to me!

Purple cauliflower soup

But ordinary while cauliflower worked out just fine:

Cauliflower Soup

Leek Soup (Preisoep)

The ingredients and preparation of this soup are quite similar, except for the leeks, of course:

Chopped leeks
1 L. (about 1 qt.) water
7 1/2 gr. salt (1 1/2 teaspoons; I used only 1 teaspoon)
4 large or 6 small leeks
35 gr. (about 1/4 cup) flour
40 gr. (2 tablespoons) butter or margarine
2 teaspoons Arome Maggi or soy sauce
1 egg, beaten

- Chop the leeks into one-inch or half-inch pieces and cook in the salted water.
- In the meantime, melt the butter and stir in the flour, forming a paste.
- Slowly pour the liquid with the leeks into the flour and butter mixture, stirring to prevent lumps from forming.
- Let the soup simmer for about 10 more minutes until cooked through.
- In a soup tureen, beat the egg with the soy sauce.
- Stir in the liquid mixture and serve with croutons or toasted bread.

I altered the recipe a bit to add chunks of potato, to make it a bit more substantial. If you add a few bacon crumbles and consume it with whole wheat or rye toast, you'll have a whole meal:

Potato and leek soup

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

K is for "Kabeljauw"

Grandma Vanden Bergh's Dutch cookbook contains a chapter of recipes on how to prepare a variety of fish. That's not surprising, since the Netherlands has always been a seafaring nation, and freshwater fish also abound in its rivers.

I have tried cooking codfish from my local supermarket, but it most often tastes bland and unappetizing. I decided to try out this 1920's recipe, and found it a tastier dish than the earlier attempts I made on my own:

Baked Codfish    (Gestoofde Kabeljauw)

2 codfish fillets (about 1 kg; 2 pounds)
60 grams butter (That is 1/4 lb. I used about half that amount - of margarine.)
1/2 lemon
salt to taste

- Clean the fish in the usual way, salt the fillets and place in an ovenproof dish.
- Pour about 1 cm. (1/2 inch) of water into the dish, into which a "Cube Maggi" is dissolved, if you wish. [If "Cube Maggi" is not available, use a vegetable-flavored bouillon cube.]
- Squeeze the juice of 1/4 of a lemon over the fish and dot with butter.
- Sprinkle with breadcrumbs; lay 2 slices of lemon over the fish.
- Bake at 350 F. (175 C.) covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered an additional 10 minutes.

I served the cod with potatoes and green beans, which made a balanced meal.

Baked codfish

Eet smakelijk!  --  Enjoy your meal.

                                                              *        *        *

For another fish recipe from Grandma Vanden Bergh's cookbook, see the earlier post, "The Way of All Fish."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More History Events

Schenectady Stockade District
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend two more history events. On Saturday I went to a Genealogy workshop at the Schenectady County Historical Society. There were four presentations.

The first was about using university archives and special collections for doing genealogical research. It hadn't occurred to me that there may be a great deal of information, for example, about the daily life of my relatives who attended college in the 1920s or 1940s in the records of the institutions they attended. A rich resource to be explored on a rainy afternoon!

The second presentation gave the attendees some tips for searching ; always a useful refresher for those who have tried this on their own.

The most useful presentation for me showed us how to browse through the wealth of historical information posted at a Web site developed by a research librarian at the Schenectady County Public Library. The library hosts a digital history archive which truly a cornucopia of resources that have been posted online. You can find this at .

The last presentation walked the participants through the resources available in the Grems-Doolittle Library of the historical association, which includes a collection of print and digital resources, including an historic manuscripts collection. The Society is located in the historic stockade district near the Mohawk River in Schenectady.

Half Moon Replica Ship on the Hudson
On Sunday, I went to the shore of the Hudson River in Albany, to tour the replica of Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon (Halve Maen in Dutch). The replica was constructed about 25 years ago, and is a full-scale, working model of the type of sailing vessel used by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. While touring the ship dockside, it was difficult to imagine how such a tiny, cramped vessel crossed the Atlantic Ocean safely.

The replica operates as a floating museum, with a crew of volunteers who welcome student sailors from local middle schools and exchange students from the Netherlands  --  a wonderful opportunity for a living history lesson!

The tour guides showed us the forecastle, where the cooking stove was located; the crew's quarters; and the area where trade goods were stored.

Stove and food samples

Storage for trade goods in the ship's hold 
Crew's quarters

                                                               *        *        *

To learn more about Henry Hudson and the Half Moon, here are a couple of books that look at the voyage from different perspectives:

Henry Hudson and the Algonquins of New York, by Evan T. Pritchard. This volume attempts to recreate the Half Moon's voyage up the Hudson river from the perspective of the Native Americans with whom the ship came into contact.

Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of the New World, by Douglas Hunter. This book focuses on the history behind the quest for a water route through North America to the Pacific Ocean, and the economics and politics of the era.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Month of History Events

This month there have been quite a few history events here in New York's Capital District. Here's a list of the ones I have attended:

- Sunday, September 14, 2014: 90th Anniversary Celebration of the Dutch Settlers Society of Albany. The DSSA was founded in 1924, in connection with the celebration of the tercentenary of the settlement of the City of Albany. Its mission is to: perpetuate the memory of the individuals who resided here during the time it was a Dutch colony; collect and preserve records and information concerning the history and settlement of Albany and its vicinity, including genealogical records of the settlers and their descendants; and to foster the study of the early history of the City of Albany.

The anniversary luncheon took place at the Stockade Inn in the city of Schenectady, with fifty members and friends in attendance. The Mayor of Albany, the Honorable Kathy Sheehan, was an honored guest.  A speaker from the Historic Albany Foundation gave an illustrated talk on what the city of Albany was like in 1924, when the Society was founded. Attendees found the table of DSSA memorabilia an interesting trip through the Society's history. An album of photos taken at the celebration can be found here.

Friday, September 19, 2014: Talk and book-signing by Professor Susannah Shaw Romney, at the Albany Institute of History and Art, about her recently published volume, New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America. I found a brief mention of my ancestor Cornelis van Slijck in her book, so I could not resist purchasing it!

Saturday, September 20, 2014: New Netherland Institute Seminar, at the New York State Museum. The Seminar featured speakers from several universities in the United States as well as from the Netherlands. There were 150 attendees this year, who filled the auditorium with their enthusiasm. Following the seminar, attendees enjoyed a dinner at Albany's historic Fort Orange Club.

Indian Statue in Schenectady Stockade Area
Saturday, September 27, 2014: 54th Annual "Stockade Walkabout" in Schenectady, NY's historic stockade district, sponsored by the Stockade Association and the Schenectady County Historical Society. The buildings on the self-guided walking tour represent three centuries of local architecture and history. Of course, there are few, if any, buildings that date from the 17th century left, but there are indeed several that were originally built during the early 18th century. In contrast with nearby Albany, Schenectady's business sector moved away from the area of the original settlement, leaving the oldest part of the city mostly residential, which surely saved many old homes from being torn down to set up businesses.

I was particularly interested and intrigued to see the names of a couple of my ancestors on historical plaques adorning homes along one street. The plaques indicate where the original homes were, but are on structures that were built later than those inhabited earlier by the original settlers:

And another plaque indicated the location of Jacques van Slijck's early tavern, near a narrow street known as Cucumber Alley:

One of the oldest houses in the city of Schenectady is the Yates house; it dates from the early 18th century:

Abraham Yates House

Halve Maen Replica Ship
Sunday, September 28, 2014: Early Albany Hudson River Festival. At this day-long festival and encampment, the replica ship of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage of exploration, the Half Moon, or "Halve Maen" in Dutch, lay at anchor in the river. We also saw demonstrations of 17th-century handcrafts and technology, such as a cooper, blacksmith, and broom-maker. Members of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Native Americans were also present to interpret current and past practices of their tribe.

It was right around the third week of September 1609 that Hudson's ship reached the area near present-day Albany, in the heart of what was then the main population area of the Mahican Indians. As the replica ship floated near the riverside park, it was tempting to try to visualize what the scene may have looked like four hundred years ago. The replica ship is a floating museum, with a multinational crew of volunteers and student sailors.

Mahican Wigwam Replica at Hudson River Encampment

The Half Moon will still be docked in Albany for the next couple of weekends. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity to tour the ship to get an idea of what it must have been like aboard for Hudson and his crew. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Excursion to Ellis Island

Grandma and Grandpa with baby Jacob, 1912
I spent last weekend in New York City, during which time I had an opportunity to take a trip via ferry to Ellis Island. Although my grandparents did not enter the United States through Ellis Island in 1911, visiting the museum there gave me a good idea of how it was for the twelve million other immigrants who were processed through that point of entry between 1892 and 1954.

Grandma and Grandpa Vanden Bergh left the Netherlands in May 1911, the day after their wedding. In later years, Grandma was always quick to tell people that they did not travel "steerage," but rather had saved enough money to purchase second-class tickets aboard the SS Potsdam. Thus, they apparently went through the customs and immigration formalities at Hoboken, New Jersey, instead of Ellis Island.

It was a thrill, though, to stand on the deck of the ferry crossing New York Harbor, and glide past the Statue of Liberty, and try to imagine what their thoughts might have been as they caught sight of the statue for the first time.

Liberty Island, from ferry

Coincidentally, as I stood on the deck of the ferry taking pictures, I heard the sound of Dutch being spoken next to me. I couldn't resist telling the family of Dutch tourists about my grandparents' passage to the United States through that very same harbor a hundred years ago. Of course, they politely corrected my pronunciation of our grandparents' hometowns, Loosdrecht and s'Graveland. The Dutch family disembarked at Liberty Island, while I continued on to Ellis Island.

The main building on Ellis Island, which now houses the museum, was opened in 1900.

Ellis Island - Museum

As I clambered up the stairs to the great hall on the second floor to the main room where the arriving immigrants were interviewed, once again I heard Dutch spoken by more tourists. It was an almost eerie echo reminding me of past generations.

Exhibits along the walls and in adjoining rooms gave a vivid idea of what it was like to pass through the medical exams, background checks, and interviews. Immigrants were scanned for contagious diseases in a six-second preliminary check-up even while they snaked up the stairs. This check consisted partly of an eye examination for trachoma, when a button hook was used to turn back the person's eyelid to check for inflammation.

Those with contagious diseases, which they may have contracted aboard ship, were sent to be cared for at the hospital that was part of the island's complex of buildings. Staff at the facility included nurses, doctors, inspectors, clerks, and interpreters for the myriad languages spoken by the newcomers.

Because of the vast numbers of people who passed through the doors, it is easy to get the idea that the process was necessarily a very impersonal one. But various details included in the exhibits do paint a picture that includes a more personal touch, for example the note that children staying at the complex were served an evening snack of warm milk; or the instruction to nurses caring for sick children "not to kiss the children" for fear of catching whatever ailment the sick child had.

After visiting the museum, I went outside to study the Immigrant Wall of Honor, in hopes of locating my grandparents' names. Although they had not come through Ellis Island, but arrived during the era that the point of entry was active, my mother had registered their names for addition to the wall. After consulting the alphabetical chart, and walking twice along the perimeter of the monument, I found them, among a number of other Dutch names: Barend and Elizabeth Daams Van den Bergh.

It would soon be time to catch the ferry back to Manhattan, but I couldn't resist taking one last photo of the skyline, in which I was able to capture the old and the new: a three-masted sailing ship in the shadow of the skyscrapers, including the new World Trade Center:

Manhattan skyline with sailing ship

And aboard the ferry on the return trip, one more photo of the Statue of Liberty against the Manhattan skyline:

                                                           *        *        *

For much more information about Ellis Island, go to the National Park Services Web site at:  

To learn more details about my grandparents' early lives and voyage to America in 1911, you may wish to take a look at these earlier posts:

Starched Caps and Aprons

Making Plans

Arrival at Last

Settling In

A Home of Their Own

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bientensla -- Dutch Beet Salad

Two "flinke" beets
Two "flinke" beets  --  thus begins the recipe in Grandma Vanden Bergh's 1920's Dutch cookbook for Beet Salad  -- Bientensla. The adjective can be translated here as "extra large," or "of substantial size."

The rest of the recipe calls for:

3 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 teaspoon sugar
chopped onion or leek
salt and pepper to taste

I used beets that I purchased at a local farmers' market. The preparation is described as follows:

- Wash the beets thoroughly.
- Cook them in ample water, with salt for about three hours [!]
- Remove the skin; let them cool, and cut in slices or cubes.
- Mix with the oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and if desired, the chopped onion or leek.
- Serve the salad with cold meat or cold cooked fish.

Beet Salad - 1922 Recipe

This is the simplest of the recipes for beet salad in my three Dutch cookbooks. I found that the huge beets cooked for a lengthy time (I only boiled them for half the time indicated in the recipe) did not have much flavor on their own, and a larger number of smaller beets may have produced a tastier dish.

Mom's 1961 cookbook included a slightly different recipe for beet salad, which called for six beets, six boiled potatoes, four hard-cooked eggs, two apples, and three large sour pickles. The dressing was either mayonnaise or oil and vinegar, "if [the mayonnaise] is considered to be too nourishing."

This version was also suggested to be served alongside cold meat.

In good frugal Dutch fashion, I used the leftovers from the first recipe to try this one out as well, although I omitted the apples and pickles. Of course, the potatoes and egg turned a pleasing shade of pink when they came into contact with the beet juice.

Beet Salad  -  1961 Recipe

My modern Dutch cookbook adds even more ingredients to the mix  --  300 grams of corned beef. In this version, the beets and apples are grated, and the mixture is served on a bed of lettuce leaves, with a slice of white bread to round out the meal.

I think I like the oldest recipe best, and would prefer to have the meat and potatoes separately. Whichever way you prefer your bietensla, eet smakelijk  --  enjoy your meal!

                                                  *          *          *

Language note:  My Essential Dutch Dictionary translates the Dutch word flink(e) as "tough, capable, considerable."

Mom's 1967 Cassell's Dutch-English Dictionary (first copyrighted in 1923, a year after Grandma's cookbook was published) gives a range of meanings for different contexts. Here are a few:

For objects:
     good (walk, number, size)
     considerable (sum)
     substantial (progress)
     thorough (overhaul)

For people:
     sturdy, stout, lusty, robust, strapping, stalwart, hardy, energetic

I love this versatile Dutch word flink(e) --  so useful for describing people or things!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Three Generations of Dutch Cookbooks

Another Dutch cookbook has turned up in the family archives! It belonged to my mother, and is entitled "The Art of Dutch Cooking, or How the Dutch Treat." It was published in 1961, forty years after my grandmother's old Dutch cookbook.

The book bears an inscription by my sister: "To Mom - in the year of her European travels, 1971." Indeed, that was the year that Mom and two of her sisters traveled to France and the Netherlands, where they were able to meet up with a number of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was quite a thrill for my mother to see the very neighborhood where her own mother grew up.

I have added the book to my collection alongside Grandma's 1920's "Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten" and my modern "Deliciously Dutch," by Marijke Sterk, which I purchased in the Netherlands three years ago.

"The Art of Dutch Cooking" was written by Cornelia, Countess van Limburg Stirum. A black-and-white photograph on the endflap shows her in profile  --  a woman of a certain age, with a slight Mona Lisa-like smile, demurely glancing downward, with wavy hair and a stylishly-tied scarf (for 1960) around her neck.

Information about the author indicates that the Countess "learned to cook entirely on her own, when she was stranded on a houseboat during the war [World War II] with her three young sons. A widow, she enjoys surprising her guests with new recipes, and has published three highly successful cookbooks in Dutch."

The volume is illustrated with drawings done by the Countess herself, including a charming watercolor on the cover, which shows a typical Dutch scene of canal houses and people enjoying a treat of fresh herring.

I am curious to learn more about this mysterious Countess, and to try out some of her recipes and compare them with the older and newer ones. Did the Countess possibly have a copy of "Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten" with her on that houseboat? What perennial recipes have come down since earlier times, and how may they have been adapted to meet more modern tastes? Another phase of my research is about to begin!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Albany Tulip Festival 2014

Mother's Day weekend in May marked the 66th Albany Tulip Festival, when over 100,000 tulips bloomed in the downtown area, in particular in the city's Washington Park:

There are pink tulips:

Yellow tulips:

Purple tulips:

Double tulips:

A yellow tulip got lost here:

There are even upside-down tulips:

All kinds of people from all over the country come to the festival to photograph the tulips:

There are vendors selling all kinds of gadgets and artistic decorations; and food for a variety of palates.

But the highlight of the festival is the crowing of the Tulip Queen, who will represent the city at a variety of cultural events during the coming year, along with her "court" of runners-up. These five young women will volunteer in activities that promote literacy, civic spirit, and Albany's cultural history.

A contingent of motorcycle-riding and mounted policemen lead a procession through the park, with a bagpipe vanguard and the local "Dutch Settlers Society of Albany" ahead of a horse-drawn carriage in which ride the city's Mayor and the previous year's Tulip Queen. The procession ends at the Washington Park Lake House, where the new Queen will be crowned.

Plans for the current version of Albany's Tulip Festival began in 1948, when then-Mayor Erastus Corning II declared the tulip the official flower of the city, in honor of Albany's Dutch heritage. The first tulip festival was held the following year.

But the festival has roots in a late 18th- and early 19th-century festival in Albany, known as Pinksterfest. (See last post for details.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Albany's Early Pinksterfest

The tulips are fading, but lilacs and azaleas are blooming furiously in Upstate New York. Azaleas played a prominent part in the late 18th-early 19th century precursor to Albany's Tulip Festival -- the Pinksterfest. Pinksters are a variety of azalea that bloom in late spring. My pinkster or azalea looks like this:

Azalea, also known as Pinkster

The pinkster festival began as a Dutch religious celebration to celebrate Pentecost, but later became a more secular and multicultural event, with dancing, music and food, attended by local Native Americans and in particular by the African-American population of the capital city and its environs.

Today I can look out of my office window onto Albany's Academy Park, where the festivities took place: booths were set up where sweets and cider were sold; drumming and dancing went on into the night, and for a whole week the Master of Ceremonies, Adam Blake, a servant of the Patroon Van Rensselaer's family presided over the fun and games. The occasion was an opportunity for enslaved Africans to taste a few days of independence.

Unfortunately for the revelers, in April 1811, the Common Council of the City of Albany passed an ordinance banning the festival, supposedly because of the excesses of rowdiness and drunkenness associated with it. However, some researchers today believe that it is more likely that those who still owned slaves felt that the Pinksterfest was an opportunity for large numbers of slaves to congregate, with the possible risk that that may have represented.

The prohibition was symbolically annulled by the Albany Common Council in 2011, two hundred years after its banning.

I love the view from my office window, looking down over Academy Park and farther away to the Hudson River, but I did not know until now that this historic park is where this festival was held. The view will be even more meaningful for me now.


Hess, Peter, People of Albany: The First 200 Years. Albany Steel, Inc., Albany, NY; 2009

Pinkster Resource Page, New York State Museum:

Pinkster Celebration, Historic Hudson Valley Web site:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Mystery Notebook

Among the notebooks and cookbooks that I received along with Grandma Minnie's handwritten book of recipes was a second manuscript in a handwriting that I did not recognize. This mystery notebook's elaborate script was not easy to decipher:

It was not until I came across a signed letter in the same hand in the family archives that I discovered the author of the calligraphed notebook: it was Grandma Minnie's second cousin, Beulah Van Slyke Bailey.

Beulah was born in 1892 (two years after Minnie), the grand-daughter of Jonas Van Slyke's brother David H. Van Slyke. She was born in Indian Castle, New York, in Herkimer County, where she lived for most of her life. I have a vague memory of visiting her home as a young child with other relatives. A profusion of pink and purple Jacob's Coat flowering plants bloomed in the woods behind the house. Beulah shared a cutting with Minnie, which Minnie's girls planted on the hill behind their homestead.

Beulah was active in the restoration of the Indian Castle church originally built in 1769 by Sir William Johnson, as a mission church for the Mohawks, whose palisaded village, or "castle," gave the modern village its name. The little white church still stands on a hillside above the Mohawk River. It is the oldest Indian mission church in New York State.

Beulah was President of the Indian Castle Restoration Society. When she passed away in May 1965, her memorial service was held in the church that she had helped restore. I have not tried Beulah's Angel Food Cake recipe, but I did try another recipe that she had clipped out of a newspaper, probably sometime in the 1940's. The apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar make a tasty treat. 

Apple Betty

- One cup dried bread crumbs (rolled); 1/4 cup melted butter; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 3 cups tart apples, finely chopped; 1 cup brown sugar.

- Blend the bread crumbs with the melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Butter a baking dish and line it with the crumbs. Place a layer of chopped apples in bottom of dish, add a layer of crumbs and repeat until all are used. Bake for 40 minutes in a moderate oven (375 degrees Fahrenheit). Serve warm with cream.

Beulah's Apple Betty

Although Beulah has been gone for almost fifty years now, the Jacob's Coat that she gave Minnie is sprouting along the path up the hill. Soon its pink and purple blossoms will open in the spring sunshine, part of Beulah's legacy along with her tasty recipes.

Beulah's Jacob's Coat