It’s time to have a little more fun with the 2nd installment of America’s Food Secrets – as you may, or may not, remember, this is where we take a good look at a few selected community cookbooks, in the ultimate quest for America’s developing food culture. My theory is that, perhaps more than any academic study, these little spiral bound books contain the documented trail of this nation’s emerging food culture, and certainly, in the process, many of our nation’s most treasured family secret recipes.
I will admit to all readers right up front, that I have a bias – and that bias is that the American South is easily the most fascinating region of our nation, food wise – having said that, I also fear that that bias may get in my way as I attempt to conduct this survey in an objective manner – and so I will work hard to find proper candidates from other regions of our country, which is what I’ve done today – in this case, Michigan.
For those of you who are thinking that Michigan would provide a weak sister for our purposes, I say Nay – for our mid-west became a melting pot of immigration during the 19th century, and we speak specifically of Holland, Michigan – a still small city settled, established, and until quite recently, home to over 90% residents of direct immigrant Dutch ancestry. And so we know without a doubt that this is a true enclave of Dutch culture in America. This is not the Pennsylvania Dutch.
A word about the Pennsylvania Dutch – they were of course not Dutch, but German – the “Dutch” being a slurring of Deutsche. Yes, there is some similarity of cultures, if only because of geographic proximity – both countries developed a fondness for heavy, rich dishes, but Holland, being on the sea, had a greater dependence on fish than did Germany.
And the community cookbook we review is a true classic – “Eet Smakelijk” (meaning, “Eat well and with taste”, in Dutch) was first put together in 1964 by the Junior League of Holland, Michigan, and since has been reprinted and re-edited many times. In fact, the English edition of Eet Smakelijk has been accepted in The Netherlands as the official Dutch cookbook because it contains so many true classic Dutch dishes. (You do know that almost every Dutch citizen speaks, reads, and writes both Dutch and English, right?)
My task here is a simple one – in reviewing this book (590 pages, 1000+ recipes), all I need to do is to note those Dutch dishes which have influenced our own national food – only problem is in identifying those typical Dutch foods that the immigrants brought with them, and the fact that Holland isn’t exactly world renowned for its food culture. What I remember from a personal visit to Holland is wonderful cheese, wonderful fresh french fries (served with mayonnaise!), and herring and eels, sold from sidewalk stalls everywhere!
But I’ll make my surprise case here with a food I don’t even remember having during my visit – pancakes! No, pancakes were not invented in America, but there is no argument that they have become one of America’s most popular foods. And although it may be said that many nations have a pancake tradition, there again is little argument that the Dutch have always made the simple pancake one of the mainstays of their food culture. And we know that those early Dutch immigrants not only brought those recipes with them, but depended on such simple dishes during those difficult early years in a new land.
And so we thank the Dutch for their sharing of the pancake, which in its simplicity became a staple of the pioneers and a comfort food of the masses. I’ll share two Dutch versions from Eet Smakelijk here, both because they are so different from each other, and because they differ so much from what we know in America as the pancake. Still, due to the sheer volume and diversity of pancakes in Dutch food culture, the linkage to American hotcakes cannot be denied.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
(Eet Smakelijk, page 340)
Mrs. Willis Diekema
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
Combine all ingredients. Fry until light brown. Turn and brown other side. Serve with butter and syrup.
(Eet Smakelijk, page 342)
Alice V. Althuis
- 12 eggs
- 1 quart milk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup flour
Beat eggs to a froth – add milk and salt. Slowly mix in flour – cook on buttered griddle. Roll up with butter and brown sugar, or serve with maple syrup.
Note: Pancakes are almost always used for dessert in the Netherlands.
(My note: this recipe makes a lot of pancakes! Invite the neighbors.)
I cannot close without also noting that the donut, a close relative to the pancake (cook the batter in deep fat, and you have a donut), was also a favorite Dutch treat – known as Bollen or Ballen, these yeast or baking powder cakes almost certainly inspired the development of the fried donut in America .
And what would America be without the donut?