By Maynard van der Galien
One of the wonderful things about Christmas, and winter, is enjoying some of the favourite traditional foods we grew up on, and trying new ones. Many of the popular foods we eat on occasions began as peasant food — food our ancestors lived on.
Last December, while in northern Quebec, a group of us outdoorsy folks enjoyed a dinner that consisted of wild game meat. It was different and certainly not for everyone’s taste buds. The bear balls were not what I thought they’d be. They were ground-up bear meat mixed with hamburger and were still rather strong tasting. I also tried small portions of caribou, venison, moose and fish. Caribou was my favourite.
I was invited to a Robbie Burns Day Scottish evening and dinner last January and had haggis for the first time. It was a very delicious dish and I went for seconds. Haggis, Scotland’s national dish began as a peasant food. Folks back then couldn’t afford to let any part of the sheep go to waste, so they made a hearty meal by boiling scraps of heart, liver, and lungs in stomach lining. It’s somewhat similar to making headcheese from a pig’s head.
Sauerkraut, bratwurst and schnitzels are popular German foods and if you’ve been to an Oktoberfest celebration, you’re sure to enjoy these foods, the beer, and the entertainment.
Pierogi or perogies was considered peasant food in eastern European countries (Poland, Ukraine, Russia) going back to the 17th century. Made of unleavened dough, usually shaped in a semi-circle, most commonly filled with mashed potatoes, it is popular now and served at many festivals, playing an important role as a cultural dish. At one Polish festival, 30,000 pierogi were consumed daily.
If your family came from The Netherlands, you’ll remember the Dutch foods that the immigrants ate. The old favourites like Stamppot are still eaten by the Dutch Canadians. Stamppot, which is boiled potatoes mashed with vegetables and served with a meat or sausage, comes in a number of varieties, such as:
–Hutspot, made with potatoes, carrots, and onions served with meats like rookworst (smoked sausage), slow-cooked meat, or bacon.
–Andijviestamppot, raw endive mashed with hot potatoes, served with diced fried spek (a kind of bacon).
–Zuurkoolstamppot, sauerkraut mashed with potatoes. Served with fried bacon or a sausage. My favourite and I still love it.
–Boerenkoolstamppot, curly kale mixed with potatoes, and rookworst sausage. It is one of the oldest and most popular Dutch dishes.
–Boerenkool (farmer’s kale) was mentioned in cookbooks going back centuries. Mashed potatoes were not used in this dish yet, although the sausage was already served with the cabbage in this dish. Boerenkool is high in carbohydrates, which makes it a popular meal for cold winter days.
The Dutch are also famous for Snert (pea soup), a very thick pea soup that is traditionally eaten during the winter. Snert has a very thick consistency and often includes pieces of pork (pork hocks) and rookworst and is almost a stew rather than a soup. The thick consistency of the Dutch pea soup is often described as that “…you should be able to stand a spoon upright in a good pea soup”
Gehaktballen, (big meatballs) are usually made of half pork, half beef and are a big favourite with folks at Christmas celebrations. And on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the Dutch are known to eat oliebollen (a kind of doughnut minus the hole), advocaat (a kind of eggnog loaded with brandy), and pickled herring.
Herring has been a staple food source for centuries. There are numerous ways the fish is served and many regional recipes: eaten raw, fermented, pickled, or cured by other techniques. I’m a big fan of pickled herring and always have a jar of the store-bought variety in the refrigerator. I buy salted herring in the winter months.
Pickled herrings are part of Scandinavian, Nordic, Dutch, German, Polish, Baltic, Eastern Slavic and Jewish cuisine. Most cured herrings uses a two-step process. Initially, the herrings are cured with salt to extract water. The second stage involves removing the salt and adding flavorings, typically a vinegar, salt, sugar solution to which ingredients like peppercorn, bay leaves and raw onions are added. The tradition is strong in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Iceland and Germany.
Isn’t it wonderful being able to eat all the great traditional foods? What is your favourite?
Prettige Kerstdagen. Have a blessed Christmas!
Maynard van der Galien enjoys all those great foods. He farms near Renfrew, Ont.