Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Battle of Oriskany Commemoration

Last month, I had the privilege of speaking briefly at the annual commemoration of the Battle of Oriskany. This decisive Revolutionary War battle was fought on August 6, 1777. My ancestor, Nicholas Van Slyke, was a young fifer who survived this bloody battle; in fact, there were several Van Slykes present at the battle, including Nicholas's father Gerrit.

My short talk, pasted below, gives a brief description of the battle scene, but you can find out more about the site and the battle at the Oriskany Battlefield Web site , or at the National Park Service Web page about the battlefield.

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are considered equal.”

I’m sure you are all familiar with the opening lines of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But we are not here to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place 87 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, but instead of course the Battle of Oriskany, which took place a mere one year, one month, and two days after the Declaration was signed.

The outcome of this earlier conflict was of course by no means assured at that time. But in more ways than one, it was also a form of civil war. First of all, here in what is now central New York, it pitted neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, those we now call Patriots against the Loyalists or Tories who were loyal to the British crown. Secondly, the battle here at Oriskany represented a break within the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois confederacy, where for the first time, Mohawk and Seneca warriors fought against their Oneida brothers, who were loyal to the Patriots.

You’re probably familiar with the historical context here, with British Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger and his troops on the move through the Mohawk Valley to lay siege to Fort Stanwix, which was an American occupied garrison in what is now Rome, NY; and Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer mustering the Tryon County Militia at Fort Dayton, the present-day village of Herkimer, with the intention of relieving the siege of Fort Stanwix.

But, as you know, General Herkimer and his troops never made it to the Fort in time. They were ambushed right here in this marshy ravine, by British and Loyalist troops under Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler, and Mohawk forces led by Joseph Brant. Loaded down by supply wagons that could neither advance nor retreat in the crush, Gen. Herkimer and his men were caught in the bloody hand-to-hand combat that was the typical way to wage war in those days.

The site is so peaceful now, with the sounds of crickets and bird calls, that it is difficult to imagine the chaos and din of the battle on that day: the militia and British forces calling back and forth to each other in English, Dutch, and German, and their Iroquois allies in the Mohawk, Seneca, and Oneida languages. Against that backdrop, could also be heard the war cries, the moans of the dying, and the sounds of gunshots and cannon.

A couple of vignettes from the chaotic battle scene stand out in my mind’s eye: I’m sure you’re all familiar with the painting of General Herkimer directing the actions of his men from his location seated on the battleground, after being wounded in the leg, insisting that he would still face the enemy.

I picture also the Oneida war chief, Han Yerry Doxtater, who while wounded could not reload his gun, he remained on horseback while his young wife, Senagena (“Two Kettles”), repeatedly loaded the musket for him, and fired her own pistols as well.

I also cannot resist mentioning my own ancestor, Nicholas Van Slyke, who was present at the battle along with his father Gerrit. Nicholas was a teenaged fifer, whose task it was to signal, along with the drummers, troop movements or to load and fire muskets. The fife was, of course a high-pitched flute whose sound could be heard for quite a distance, even through the sounds of battle.

There is apparently no definitive list of those present at the Battle of Oriskany, including a definitive listing of survivors and casualties. So you may have seen a list that indicated that one Nicholas Van Slyke was killed at Oriskany. There were in fact, two Nicholas Van Slykes present here, since according to the Dutch naming customs of the day, children were often named after aunts, uncles, or grandparents.

But my family knows that we are descended from the Nicholas who did survive, because we have in our possession a daguerreotype from the mid-19th century that portrays Nicholas’s son David Van Slyke, born in 1787, thus the first Van Slyke in our line who was born after the Revolution.

I began my remarks by quoting from the Gettysburg address, but I’m sure I’ve gone on longer than President Lincoln did in 1863. But consistent with Lincoln’s closing sentence, it is appropriate to state here as well that those who gave their all on this battlefield also did not die in vain. The Battle of Oriskany was indeed one of the decisive battles of the American Revolution, so we owe our thanks to the brave men (and women) who fought here on our behalf.

Our democracy may not be perfect, but when we feel that it is not, we have the right, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, to speak up and speak out, and to assemble peacefully in order to make our opinions heard, in part due to the actions of those who gave their lives here on this hallowed ground 238 years ago.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Index to Recipes

Well, after almost five years, I've decided to retire from this blog to move on to other projects! It's been fun trying out hundred-year-old recipes from my grandmothers. I hope readers have enjoyed reading the stories and recipes as much as I have enjoyed writing and cooking.

(Well, that is, I'm pretty much retiring from the blog. I may post something again from time to time, but no longer as regularly as I have been doing up to now. Unless of course, I come across yet another heirloom cookbook that I can't resist trying out . . . who knows?!)

For anyone who would like to go back and find any of the recipes, I've added an index below.

Grandma Vanden Bergh's Recipes:

Aardappel croquetjes met ham 3/13/2011
Aardappelsla: Dutch Potato Salad 6/23/2013
Assorted Fruit Compote 6/20/2012
Beef Top Round Steak 6/5/2011
Bietensla: Dutch Beet Salad 8/24/2014
Bloemkool au gratin 4/24/2011
Bloemkoolsoep: Cauliflower Soup 11/23/2014
Cucumber and Egg Salad 6/19/2011
Drie in de Pan 1/22/2012
Dutch Apple Cake 5/29/2011
Dutch Apple Fritters 10/28/2012
Dutch Sand Cookies 3/24/2011
Fruit Soups 6/24/2012
Gebakken Vis: Fried Fish 11/2/2013
Gestoofde Kabeljauw: Baked Codfish 10/26/2014
Gezeefde Witte Boonensoep: White Bean & Leek Soup 10/27/2013
Hutspot met Klapstuk: Stew with beef rib 5/22/2011
Kerrysoep van Bruine Boonen: Curry Soup with Brown Beans 1/26/2014
Kerrysoep van witte boonen: White Bean Curry Soup 3/10/2013
Kippenkerrysoep:  Chicken curry soup 2/6/2011
Kippensoep 2/5/2012
Koffiepudding: Coffee Pudding 3/22/2015
Macaroni with Ham and Cheese 1/29/2012
Oliebollen: Dutch Doughnuts 1/1/2013
Preisoep: Leek Soup 11/23/2014
Simple White Bean Soup 5/15/2011
Snijbonen met aardappelen en rookworst 2/3/2011
Stamppot with Apples and Bacon 10/30/2011
Stamppot with Endive 11/13/2011
Steamed Pears 6/3/2012
Varkenskarbonaden: Pork Chops 4/1/2012
White Asparagus 11/18/2012
Winterwortelen: Winter Carrots 2/20/2011
Worteltjes en Spruitjes: Carrots and Sprouts 1/27/2013

Grandma Minnie's Recipes: (includes recipes from other relatives on Minnie's side of the family)

Ambrosia 4/8/2012
Apple Fritters 2/27/2011
Apple Upside Down Cake 5/29/2011
Applesauce Cake  2/9/2014
Baked Salmon Loaf 4/20/2014
Beulah's Apple Betty 4/27/2014
Blueberry Tea Cake 8/21/2011
Blueberry Tea Cake 8/26/2012
Cherry Cake 2/20/2012
Christmas Plum Pudding 12/31/2014
Cocoanut Cake 3/4/2012
Coconut Drop Cookies 2/10/2013
Coffee Cake 5/8/2011
Corn Pudding 5/26/2011
Eccles Cakes 11/30/2014
Economical Sponge Cake 9/8/2013
Escalloped Potatoes 3/6/2011
Farley's Dutch Cake 4/3/2011
Fruit and Nut Conserves 11/6/2011
Ginger Pear 6/10/2012
Grandma Minnie's Dandelion Wine 7/21/2013
Johnny Cake 2/12/2012
Kittie's Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies 5/12/2013
Meatloaf (from Vrooman) 5/1/2011
Minnie's Bran Muffins 4/7/2013
Molasses Cookies (from Vrooman) 12/24/2011
Nut Cake 1/8/2012
Oatmeal Cookies 8/5/2012
Pennsylvania Fruitcake 12/9/2012
Raspberry Cake 9/18/2011
Rose Jar 6/10/2013
Snickerdoodles 4/29/2012
Sour Milk Cake 1/15/2012
Sugar Cookies (Minnie) 5/12/2013
Tip-Top Cake 2/10/2011
White Fruitcake 12/9/2012

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Search Of . . . A Van Den Bergh Coat of Arms

During a recent trip to the genealogy section of the New York State Library, I came upon a large volume with the Dutch title, Wapenboek van den Nederlandschen Adel, which I translate as "Coats of Arms of the Dutch Nobility." The huge book was compiled by J. B. Rietstap, and published in Groningen in 1883.

On a partially damaged page 18, I found a drawing of a coat of arms labeled as Van Den Bergh. The drawing appears to be an authentic coat of arms, with the usual shield and plumes. Page 21 included a description of the Van Den Bergh genealogy, part of which indicates that a certain Arnold Joseph Theodore Hubert van den Bergh had the title of "procureur generaal" (comparable to the district attorney in a U.S. jurisdiction) at the court of law in s'Gravenhage (The Hague) in 1867, for which position he was granted a "diploma" which named him as a member of the nobility.

As Van Den Bergh was a fairly common surname in the Netherlands, only further research can help me ascertain whether this Van Den Bergh was an ancestor of my maternal grandfather, who was definitely not a member of the gentry or nobility, but rather a gardener on the estate of a wealthy family.

Stay tuned for more details when they arise! In the meantime, you may wish to take a look at the following earlier posts that tell more about the Van Den Bergh side of my family:

What's In a (Dutch) Name?

Excursion to Ellis Island

Scrubbing Day in s'Graveland

And a post about other coats of arms of other branches of my family:

Some Ancestral Heraldry

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Koffiepudding -- From Scratch

Our modern supermarkets make it easy to prepare and consume a large variety of sweet treats  --  too many for our own good, it seems: instant puddings and pie fillings, cake mixes, tubes of gooey cookie dough (that some of us eat without baking, I'm sure!). But our grandmothers most likely had to make their desserts from scratch, even puddings.

Earlier on in this blog, I have included dessert recipes from Grandma Vanden Bergh's old Dutch cookbook, such as fruit compote, Dutch apple cake, Dutch sand cookies, and steamed pears. From Grandma Minnie's notebook, we had molasses cookies, chocolate cookies, and a wide variety of tasty cakes. This week I would like to share a recipe from Grandma Vanden Bergh's book, for a coffee-flavored pudding. I chose this because one can easily find instant pudding packages for vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, or even coconut pudding in the local supermarket, but instant mixes for coffee pudding are not so easy to find:

Koffiepudding  (Coffee Pudding)

8 dL. milk (3 1/3 cups)
2 dL. strong coffee (cold)  (3/4 cup)
100 grams cornstarch  (2/3 cup  --  I used 1/2 cup)
100 grams granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
1/2  - 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

- Bring the milk to boil with the sugar.
- In the meantime, dissolve the cornstarch in the cold coffee, and stir this mixture into the boiling milk.
- Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).
- Pour the mixture into a mold, or into pudding cups.
- Let cool before serving; garnish with a vanilla sauce (or whipped cream).

I recall as a small child, I helped my mother make cooked chocolate pudding from a mix. I must have been about four years old, and she asked me to carefully stir the pudding on the stove while she went to answer the doorbell. Of course, I stirred it much too vigorously, pretending to be a real cook, and splattered the hot liquid all over the stove top. I was more careful this time, and didn't make a mess. I poured the pudding mixture into a ready-made Graham cracker crust:

Koffiepudding pie

I had enough left over for a small bowl or two, which I garnished with whipped cream (from a can, of course  --  I had to use at least one shortcut after all!)

Koffiepudding with whipped cream

Eet smakelijk!

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Another chilly and snowy weekend in Upstate New York: temperatures have been mostly below freezing, some mornings below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, for several weeks now, and following last week's foot of snow, we are expecting another foot or so over the next day and a half. When the temperature gets to be -3 or -4 Fahrenheit, it is difficult to breathe because the frigid air makes your chest hurt.

With weather like this, it is time for some serious comfort food. Last weekend I made bruine boonen soep (brown bean soup) from Grandma Vanden Bergh's old Dutch cookbook, and right now I have a big pot of kerrysoep van witte boonen (curry and white bean soup) "prutteling" in the stove. "Pruttelen" is indeed a Dutch word for "simmer," but Mom Anglicized it by adding an English suffix.  Both of these recipes are hearty, savory soups that I have prepared before.

Bruine boonen soep

Although we occasionally have milder winters in this part of the northeastern United States, temperatures below freezing are typical of this time of the year, and even temps below zero, from time to time: witness Joel Munsell's 1854 Annals of Albany, referencing winter temperatures in Albany in 1807:

Notes from the Newspapers: 1807

Feb. 9. The mercury in the thermometer, at sunrise, stood at 52 degrees below freezing point, or 20 degrees below zero, in the central part of the city. Seventeen years previous  the mercury fell four degrees lower in an exposed situation on the hill; but it was thought that this was the coldest day ever experienced in the city since correct notice of the weather had been taken. (Vol. 5, page 12)

The weather "app" on my tablet cites a record low of -3 F. for February 9 (in 1985) and a record low of -15 F. for February 10 (in 1994). Apparently, the records referenced by the weather app do not go back as far as the mid-19th century! In any case, I was snowbound last Monday, and may very well be so again tomorrow, since the forecast is for the current snowstorm to last through until Tuesday morning. Luckily, I'll have plenty of savory soup to keep me warm. It should be finished "prutteling" very shortly.

Kerrysoep van witte boonen

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Turtle Soup!

I found an interesting recipe for Mock Turtle Soup in Grandma VandenBergh's old Dutch cookbook. I haven't tried this one out yet, but when I do, I'll post a photo:

Nagemaakte Schildpadsoep  (Mock Turtle Soup)

250 gr. (1/4 lb.) beef for soup (You can use ground beef, and roll it into small meatballs.)
1 liter (about 1 quart) beef bouillon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bay leaf
a pinch of red pepper
1 onion
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/2 cup grated carrot
30 grams (1/4 cup) flour
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

- Add the seasonings to the bouillon and simmer.
- Fry the  onion in a bit of butter, with the flour, taking care that it does not turn too dark.
- Stir the bouillon into the butter and flour mixture and simmer for ten minutes with the meatballs.
- Season with the Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.
- Remove the bay leaf before serving.

A copy of Volume 5 of Joel Munsell's Annals of Albany, published in 1854, recently came into my possession. There is an interesting anecdote about turtle soup recounted on pages 276-277. Munsell indicates that the source is "a newspaper scrap, on which there was nothing by which to identify the title of the paper from which it was cut."  Below is a slightly abridged version of the story:

"Turtle Soup in Olden Times":

The early history of the first attempt at tickling the palates of Albany eipcures with that delectable chaos of flavors, known as turtle soup, was made, we believe, by the celebrated Andrew Jackson Allen, better known as Dummy Allen [. . . ]. At the time we speak of, he kept a restaurant in the vicinity of the old Green Street Theater [ . . . ], and was a prime favorite among the bloods of the day, who made his place a customary resort. Albany was then, as now, a very nice village, but still, there were some things in Dummy Allen's cookery book not dreamed of in our philosophy. He therefore resolved to afford our ancient epicures a taste of bliss in a guise hitherto unknown to them, to wit: turtle soup. [ . . . ] For a few days before the acceptable time, a sizeable green turtle was allowed to promenade at the end of a long string, upon the sidewalk in front of Allen's establishment. In due time the repast came off, and proved a complete triumph of kitchen art. The new and delicious gift to appetite became the town talk, and showered upon the immortal Dummy vast reputation and much gold. 

Once more, and while the mouths of epicures were still watering with memories of recent bliss, the potent announcement was reiterated; once more a decent-looking turtle, very like the other, divulged his ample neck on Andrew Allen's premises, to the great admiration of beholders; once more fastidious palates enjoyed select morsels of Paradise from Allen's marvelous boilers. 

Turtle soup became all the rage, and week after week it was eagerly devoured. At length, some sharp and perhaps envious observers thought they remarked a striking similarity in all of Dummy Allen's turtles. One very suspicious individual, struck with their strong coincidence of aspect, quietly took the trouble of putting his sign manual on the back of one announced for that day's slaughter. The ill-fated criminal duly disappeared, and was commented upon that day, in the form of soup, as unusually excellent. But, amazement! when next week's customary announcement of turtle soup was made, [. . . ] that same turtle, the identical, supposed-to-be-slaughtered victim of the week before, bearing the deeply cut private mark of our suspicious friend, turned up, and resumed its sidewalk promenade, apparently in capital condition for a defunct animal. The secret was out. The game was up. Dummy Allen was done for. With a regular, cheap supply of calves' heads, and one specimen turtle, Allen had been doing the Albanian epicures for a whole season. At little or no expense and with the sole aid of their imaginative powers, he had regaled them with unheard-of delicacies, and at the same time put a golden lining in his pocket. 

Source: Annals of Albany, Volume 5. Joel Munsell, 1854.