Dutch treats

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Dull thuds, resounding crashes and metallic clangs pierce the early morning air. Men shout as tractors alternately chug and roar on our usually quiet street. It’s time to get up. Things to do. A little later, I make my way downstairs and peer bleary-eyed out of the kitchen window. Ah! It has arrived! It’s going to be a long, exhausting day, but not a word of complaint will be heard – unless it’s about our collective pet gripe: the weather. But even that will only be half-hearted as the atmosphere will ooze benevolence, cheer and camaraderie.

Don’t be fooled. Our idyllic riverside village has its share of discord, bickering and feuds, some of which have become so hazy over the years that the feuders only vaguely remember the cause. It doesn’t deter them in the least from keeping it going, though. We even have a village feud with the neighbouring village, centring around the respective brass bands and a boundary and etiquette dispute . But this special day lowers most barriers.

As a posse of energetic men and boys build the stalls on the street outside, I quickly make a large pot of tea for any droppers-in who may be parking their bikes in our yard. I have a quick one myself, just to wet my throat, like, because I will be more than usually vocal today, hailing prospective customers as they saunter by.

Oh, wait. You still don’t know what’s going on. It’s the day of the village Bring & Buy sale, our annual Big Event. The day the village pulls together as one man, to collect lots of cash for the church fabric fund. We all donate generously, man the stalls willingly and buy extravagantly from fellow stallholders. Usefulness and desirability are not real considerations. It can always be re-donated next year.

Usually aided by my friend and fellow committee member Thea, I man my stall in my capacity as chairperson of the local old folks’ club. (A position for which a kind friend volunteered me years ago, fearing that time might be hanging too heavily on my hands.) This means that we get to use part of the takings for our club activities. The stall is stocked with appealing items, such as a doll with hand-stitched wardrobe; all you have to do to win is to guess her name correctly. Believe it or not, the same lady won three years running. I’m thinking of just handing it over when she comes this year. It will save me the drive to deliver it later. Or you might prefer to guess how many sweets are in the jar. Hand-knitted socks, comfy cushions or crocheted pot holders, anyone? And don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets. You could go home with a butcher’s gift voucher, or one for an enormous amount of cheese, or our well-filled super-deluxe grocery hamper.

But pride of place is reserved for the large fruit loaf or krentenwegge – the one that the baker deposited by my back door as the birds awoke. Guess its weight and it’s yours. No prodding, poking or lifting, please. Almond paste filling? (We have a serious contestant here; almond paste will make it heavier.) No, this one is ‘plain’. Yes, it’s absolutely fine to look at the other entrants’ guesses. And no, we don’t know the weight either. It’s in this sealed envelope the baker left this morning.

Krentenwegge 2014

In Warm Bread and Honey Cake I told the story of this bread in detail and gave a recipe for a typical Dutch fruit loaf, which cannot rightly be called a krentenwegge because it simply does not measure up – quite literally. Even the one on my stall is modest, compared with the traditional ones from Twente, where it originated. Although the region was plagued by poverty, there were ways to provide hospitality. In the really poor parts, when a baby was born neighbours clubbed together to provide a fruit loaf to be shared with visitors, calling it a ‘kraamschudderswegge‘ or ‘cradle-shaking loaf’. The money was then taken to a local baker who was asked to do what he could with the amount, so the actual size was always a bit of a surprise. In wealthier households the loaves could be far more than a metre in length and they were often delivered with great pomp and ceremony. The English-speaking world has given a derogatory slant to the expression, emphasising miserliness; the true meaning of ‘Dutch treat’ conveys far more positive notes: reciprocality, solidarity and community spirit, even under the most challenging circumstances.

Last year, a lovely lady with a large family won our krentenwegge, guessing the weight almost to the gram. Shortly after 8 p.m. the doorbell rang. Her husband and one of their daughters were doing a bicycle round with a few stops around the village, to share their bounty. That’s village life on a good day.

May baking challenge

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A few months ago, I had a little poll among the readers on my Facebook page and they enthusiastically accepted my idea of a baking/cooking challenge each month. The first challenge was to make either the cake from the cover of Warm Bread and Honey Cake, or the Lamingtons from the same book, in whatever form they liked. Some were so enthusiastic that they made both! The second challenge was from Sugar & Spice, to make two Creamy Creations and/or Nice and Nutty treats. The way it works is that you bake/cook from your own copy of the books. Then you send in a photo to my Facebook page so that we can all admire, like, comment and compliment. Drooling is also permitted. After the new challenge is posted, I compile the previous one into a Facebook album on my page.

Griddle Pasties (Photo Vanessa Courtier)

Griddle Pasties (Photo Vanessa Courtier)

The challenge for May is once again from Warm Bread and Honey Cake as there seems to be a marked preference for this book and it’s the one most of you have. Here’s the deal: make a savoury item from Warm Bread and Honey Cake. There are several items to choose from: griddled meat or vegetarian pasties, chicken or prawn patties, cheese rolls, steamed buns, quick cheese and parsley buns …. And don’t forget to send your entry in to my Author page!

What makes food memorable?

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Market in Turkey

What makes food memorable? Often it is the food itself, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the food was wonderful, either. A ghastly experience is sure to stick in your mind forever, however much you try to erase it. I’ve eaten a lot of food, and some it has been truly memorable: magnificent meals shared with friends, simple meals prepared with love and care, experimental disasters in my own kitchen.

A few months ago, a blogger asked me to write a piece about a memorable meal for her blog. I pondered. What should I write about? The Roman banquet? The lotus leaf vegetarian meal at a Hindu wedding? Or should it be the lavish 10-course Turkish wedding feast? Perhaps my first brush with salt-of-the-earth Dutch country cooking? There was enough to choose from. But at the back of my mind lurked an experience that I have never forgotten. It happened in Turkey, during a research trip. Read about it on Sarah Scott’s blog The View from the Table.



New job opportunity

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Recently I was given a new job opportunity. Just like that. Handed to me on a plate. I was invited to be a guest columnist. And when I say ‘invited’, I use the word loosely. Here’s how it went…. My daughter has also gone into the food business. When she is not busy at her day job, she cooks and writes for her food blog. A few weeks ago, she informed me that I was being given a chance to make myself useful as her guest columnist, to answer her readers’ baking questions. A slight sense of déjà vu creeps in here, except that the roles have changed. When she was a child, I struggled to keep her constructively occupied. Now she’s returning the favour. Isn’t that kind of her?

My first column appeared on her blog today. The small snag for many of you is that it’s in Dutch, but I’m sure you already know the answer. The question was ‘What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?’ Read about it here http://myfoodblog.nl/weetjes/verschil-tussen-baksoda-en-bakpoeder/

Books and childhood ambitions

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GP keuken met boeken

I love books. Not only cookbooks, almost any book will do: a beautifully produced book with thick paper and gorgeous pictures, a yellowing shoddily glued-together one that is falling to pieces as you look at it (but full of the most interesting, if obscure, information imaginable), a well-told children’s story that can be read on several levels, a novel that grips you from the first sentence, and so on. There is almost always something to enjoy in a book.

Read more…