TND – “The Dutch” (now with added rebuttals)

August 17, 2011

My roommate and I were up in Stowe, Vermont this past weekend for the annual antique car show – her father has a 1942 fully restored Cadillac (which won best in its class for the second year running this year – full web album of the car parade here. We go up every year for this and while her parents are showing off the car to other antique car enthusiasts we tool around Stowe poking into the various arts & crafts stores, buying chocolates to take home with us, and sampling copious varieties of jam at the awesome Stowe Farmer’s Market. We managed to spend entirely too much money on clothing, jewelry and a seriously awesome tray (we got the square elephant one – it was on sale!). What we did not get to do, sadly, was go to the Dutch Pancake House for brunch on Sunday morning.

Dutch pancakes are something that I grew up eating (unsurprisingly), and unexpectedly ran across in Stowe. Traditionally they are eaten for dinner, they are dinner plate sized, and fairly thin (sort of halfway between a crepe and an American pancake), While you can order them/make them just plain, typically they come with either sweet or savory fillings cooked into the batter. The classic is spek pannekoeken (spek being more or less like bacon – it’s a little leaner, but bacon is close enough for government work), but my favorite was, and still is, appel pannekoeken in which thin slices of apple are laid into the batter and cooked into the pancake. The Dutch Pancake House in Stowe has the traditional varieties, and then catering to American audiences also has a range of untraditional fillings some of which seem tasty (candied ginger) and many of which seem to my eyes like serious overkill (The Rembrandt – apple, shredded potato, pineapple, raisins, ham and cheddar cheese seasoned with curry).

If you get taken out to dinner in the Netherlands by someone looking to give you a traditional meal experience the odds are good you’re either going to end up at an Indonesian restaurant having rijsttafel or you’re going to find yourself at a pancake house eating pannekoeken. You can‘t go wrong either way.

We were talking about our great dismay at having missed out on having them this year, which led to someone suggesting we should have them for Dinner (which was a notion I firmly vetoed since I refuse to spend Dinner in the kitchen cooking pancakes while everyone else gets to eat), and thence to me pulling out the Dutch cookbook that my mother always used when she wanted to make Dutch food for dinner (I was given my own copy upon leaving the family homestead) to find a recipe.

Here’s the thing though. I had never actually looked at the cookbook beyond the two or three recipes that we always made from it – vla (pudding), pannekoeken, gehakt ballen (the Dutch variation on meatballs – because every nationality has their own version), blinde vinke (err, literally blind finches, in practice thinly pounded and then rolled up veal braised in a sauce), and runderlappen (a pickled beef stew – kind of). The cookbook, as it turns out, is bizarre. The recipes that it contains are in fact fairly representative of Dutch cooking, but the translations of the names of the recipes from Dutch to English are like old school babelfish translations.

[my father’s rebuttal]  Granted, Moeder’s variations to the time-hallowed Dutch recipes have produced interesting, nay enhanced cultural blends; but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the originals.  And when you do read carefully through the cookbook you’ll get the true measure of how deprived I have been all these decades; but did I ever protest – not me. Bruine bonen met spek en stroop; hutspot; erwtensoep; rode kool; rabarber; witte asperges; beschuit met bessensap; poffertjes; and on and on – all those wholesome dishes and delicacies that can bring tears to my eyes. 

Drie in de pan (literally three-in-the-pan – the Dutch version of silver dollar pancakes) gets translated as Holland Drop-scones.

Wentelteefjes which in ingredients and cooking method is revealed to be what American’s would call French Toast gets translated as Cinnamon Turnovers.

Oliebollen is rendered as Dutch Donuts. Now, this may be technically accurate in that they are deep fried balls of dough, but anyone who picked one up expecting something on the order of a munchkin would be wildly surprised by the dense texture of the thing they’d just bitten in to. Literally oliebollen can be translated as oil balls, and my mother’s somewhat acerbic comment is that oil bombs might be a more accurate description.

[my father’s rebuttal] I agree that oliebollen are best made either at home or at a specialised street vendor; and imperatively they must be made while you wait. In any other format they are indigestible. 

What really got us last night, however, was the Introduction which is jaw droppingly, giggle inducingly weird. I particularly love the use of quotation marks around “Hollanders” (not a description I’ve ever heard, but okay), and “the Dutch”.

“In this little book you will find some of our traditional dishes, which you probably liked when dining out or at the home of Dutch friends.  We “Hollanders” as we are mostly called in the States (in England they call us “the Dutch”) are great lovers of nice food.  And we like to eat them at home in the company of our family, seated at a well-set table, – covered in the Dutch way with a tablecloth of white or colored linen -, may be under a big lamp fixed in the middle of the ceiling of our diningroom.”

At this point in the reading we all paused and looked up at the lamp hanging over the dinner table, and then down at the (blue) tablecloth (although it wasn’t linen). I don’t know that I would have quantified either of these things are particularly specifically Dutch, so much as standard dining room equipment, but maybe that’s just because it’s what I grew up seeing?

I think my favorite part of this was the response I got when I emailed my mother to ask for clarification on the pancake recipe, and if she’d ever read the Introduction to the cookbook.

“I question the “great lovers of nice food”. I have had good food in the
Netherlands, just not very often. [ . . . .] The first time I had gehakt ballen in Holland they were made by [name redacted to protect the innocent – although, for the record, it’s not someone related to me]. They were the size of large tennis balls and the consistency of cannonballs. I manfully ate half of it and begged off the other half which was very gratefully taken by [my cousin – who granted was a teenage boy at the time and so would have probably eaten anything]. But that is apparently what they are like to the Dutch as Dad likes mine but says they are not gehakt ballen.

[my father’s rebuttal] Gehaktballen – well yes of course, they are meant to be sturdy and filling. Follow the Dutch recipe and two will suffice per person. Moeder makes delicious gehaktballetjes but that’s what they are, balletjes [a ‘tjes’ suffix on a word in Dutch renders it as a diminutive – so, for example, a lam is a lamb, a lammetje is a small lamb, and a hele kleine lammetje is a very very small lamb – the Dutch are fond of their diminutives – hence a gehaktballetje is a small meatball]; the Leiden citizenry would never have chased Alva with shrapnel like that. 

[ . . . .] Now here I agree fully with the intro. I can remember remarking on the lamps over the tables after several trips to Holland. (N.B. I will leave Dad to add the story of Oom Jan in Veen and the round lamp with the bowl under it that hung in their dining area.*) Every Dutch house I have been in has a dining table with a big round lamp hanging from the ceiling over it. If you walk up and down the canals in A’dam or any other place and look in through the windows, you will see the dining area with the table and big round hanging lamp (of course, you can look in, if there were curtains it would imply you had something to hide). Usually there will be sheers hanging but normally one can see the outlines of stuff and there it is.”

Since the only Dutch cooking I’ve ever really experienced is my mother’s, at the homes of relatives (not touching that) or rijsttafel/pannekoeken, I feel unqualified to mount a defense. I open the floor to my father to present an argument for the home team.

Edited to now include my father’s rebuttals.

* It involves the precision throwing of chicken bones, and apparently on one memorable occasion a particularly wobbly bowl of pudding – I’m unclear as to whether this actually ever happened, or is family apocrypha, but it’s a good story either way.

For posterity, here’s the recipe for traditional Dutch Pannekoeken.

(makes six 9” pancakes – enough for two people for dinner)

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
2-3 eggs (American eggs are larger than European eggs, so probably 2 is plenty)
Pinch of salt
Butter to grease the pan

Whisk the eggs until lightly beaten then add the flour, milk, and pinch of salt and continue to whisk until well combined. Heat a 9-10” skillet and lightly grease with a little butter (or bacon fat – that’d be good too). Pour enough batter into the skillet to coat the bottom (about ¼ – 1/3 cup of batter). Lay pieces of cooked bacon, or thinly sliced apple on top of the batter (or put them in the pan first and pour the batter over the top). Cook until the underside is lightly browned and then flip and cook until lightly browned/done. Serve with butter and maple syrup (or butter and powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice).

* The cookbook says that this quantity of ingredients will make one 12” pancake. This is crazy talk because that much batter would make a pancake so thick it would never cook, and also would bear no resemblance to anything you’d get in an actual Dutch pancake house.

Moroccan Roast Chicken
Corn on the Cob
Watermelon/Seasonal Fruit

Moroccan Roast Chicken
We didn’t get home on Sunday until almost 10pm (my loathing for I-93 continues unabated). However, I had planned for this and the only thing that needed to be done in advance for this meal was making the coating for the chicken and that took all of approximately 5 minutes (10 minutes if you count the time it took to wash the food processor).

Recipe previously given: Paean to Summer Vegetables


Watermelon/Seasonal Fruit

With flowers! Because it’s just too too pretty to resist.


One comment

  1. Glad to see you’re spreading Dutch culture among the ignorami. Do try some of the other wholesome dishes, say “hutspot” on Oct. 3.


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