by Lady Elska á Fjárfelli
As fairly new residents to our fair Dominion of Myrkfaelinn (though not so new to this side of the pond), for our War Practice dayboard I drew my inspiration from foods of my Dutch heritage… which does tend to mean lots of dairy and potatoes.
While serving the lunch, my husband Hrolfr and I were asked what these different foods were — were they Dutch, and were they period? And while most of what you tasted would be perfectly at home at a Dutch event in modern times (with exception to the processed snack cheese and fake french bread, obviously), a lot of what I choose to serve also has its place in our history.
Take for instance hutspot, our main dish of mashed potato, carrot, onion, and bacon. According to legend, the recipe came from the cooked bits of potato left behind by hastily departing Spanish soldiers in the night of the 2nd to 3rd of October, 1574 on the downtown Lammenschans during their Siege of Leiden as part of the Eighty Years’ War. When the liberators breached the dikes of the lower lying polders surrounding the city, they flooded all the fields around the city with about a foot of water. And as there were few, if any, high points, the Spanish soldiers camping in the fields were essentially flushed out. Hutspot is normally cooked together with “klapstuk” in the same vessel. Klapstuk is a cut of beef from the rib section, is marbled with fat and responds well to slow cooking as part of the hutspot. If klapstuk is not available, then smoked bacon is commonly substituted. The carrots used are generally of the type known as winterpeen (winter carrots), which give the dish its distinctive flavor ordinary carrots cannot match but unfortunately are not available in the New World (as far as I know). The first European record of the potato is as early as 1537, but its consumption spread quite slowly throughout Europe from thereon. It was not until the 18th century that potatoes became a staple food in Europe. The original legend likely refers to what the Dutch call a ‘sweet potato’ or pastinaak, which is a parsnip; this vegetable played a similar role in Dutch cuisine prior to the use of the potato.
Soups, of course, are ubiquitous throughout history, as are lentils. On the other hand, nettle soup has a distinct European flair as stinging nettle tends to grow everywhere in northern and eastern Europe. Nettle soup is a cream soup made with the leaves of stinging nettle, mostly the Large Nettle or Urtica dioica (I have starts, if interested). Especially in Sweden, Iran, and Ireland the soup is rather popular; in Sweden, it is often served with a cooked egg. Archaeologists found traces in Stone Age England of the consumption of nettle as early as 3000 years ago.
Goat cheese had its start several thousand of years before Christ, and the Greek and Romans especially were enthusiastic goat cheese connoisseurs. In modern times, the Dutch are known for their cheese-making abilities, especially hard cheeses, and bred for this specific purpose the Dutch White Goat (Nederlandse witte geit) by crossing the high-production Saanen (from Switzerland) with the local Dutch Landgoat (landgeit), a heritage breed that can be traced back to the 16th century. Our small Ithacan flock is also based on Saanen, with the occasional Boer or Nubian crossbred, which we keep using traditional homesteading techniques (which often are surprisingly medieval). For instance, the use of the deep litter system (by cleaning once or twice a year the raising floor self composts, generating heat and thus keeping the goats warm in winter) and by keeping the kids with the does during the day but not at night, to milk in the morning, and have healthy large kids for the family come fall. My cheese is made with raw milk, as it should be.
My personal favorite was the coarse farmers pate, a perfect blend of meat, bacon, and liver slow baked in the oven. Growing up in the Netherlands, pates in many shapes and tastes are a general part of life, and I missed the availability and choices when moving to this side of the pond. Luckily, I brought my trusty Dutch Grandmothers Cook Book (Grootmoeders kook boek) with me, a book which pretty much every kid receives a copy when leaving home (it explains in detail how to boil potatoes, for instance) and which has a wonderful coarse pate recipe. I had more trouble finding period examples of Dutch pate, or even French pate, as it appears like its name is a fairly recent adoption (from France), and the way of eating it (cold, in the shape of a loaf). I have several Dutch recipes that with a little creative interpretation could be considered a pate, but only one English recipe will also look like one: the 14th century collection Curye on Inglysch has one recipe for meat & liver mortrew that should be standing (“loke that it be stondyng”) when done. I figured that was the end of it, until I recently received my modern Nordic Cook Book by mail, and found Norse culture has many different pate recipes. Pate might be more of a Northern European food culture than I thought!
My families’ favorite, and the one most dayboard tasters remember, is the vla. This is another modern Dutch staple, with a surprising history – and is available in every Dutch grocery store in multiple flavors so it can be poured into your bowl straight out of a carton. I vaguely wondered while living in the Netherlands why vla (custard) and vlaai (pie) sound so similar; in tracking down the history of vla, I stumbled right into vlaai. It turns out that vla (as a thick custard) could historically have been the filling of the pie vlaai. The medieval Dutch cookbooks on http://www.Coquinaria.com list several types of vla, or vlade as it is called in middle Dutch. It is not clear to me, since these recipes do not list to use a crust, if these vlades are meant to be eaten as a pudding or should be part of a pie – or maybe both – but then, the apple pie recipes do not list using a crust either, as everyone had their favorite crust recipes, and using a crust would be seen as kinda obvious to the experienced medieval cook! I did find, in the same book as the pate, a 14th century English recipe for a milk, egg, and sugar pudding cooked with wheat that would be eaten as a pudding, so it is conceivable vlade would be as well. It is also possible that medieval vlade underwent a regional change, as in one part of the country, vlade became to mean vla, and in another, vlade became to mean vlaai… As a side note, English custard and Dutch vla, even though made similarly with similar ingredients, do not taste the same – as the lunchers at my dayboard can attest!
I was surprised to find that rhubarb compote also is not really well known here. But then again, I’d never heard of strawberry rhubarb pie!
I enjoy the historic aspect of SCA dayboard cooking and had a lot of fun sharing yummy food examples from our Dutch heritage! Thank you for coming to eat with me, and I hope we’ll see you at the next Myrkfaelinn event – with vla, and possibly pate!
General information on vla, see here (use the translate button for the Dutch language sites).