You can spend an entire life in London, but there always comes a time for the great get away! This time it’s off to Holland for a week. One of the great things about London is within a few hours you can leave the world of tea, red pillar boxes, for anything possible in Europe. My next stop is the Hague.
The Hague is one of those places that has more than one name, it calls itself, Den Haag, s’- Gravenhage and of course The Hague. Names fascinate me and The Hague is believed to have derived from ‘des Graven hage’ meaning the count’s wood. It makes one wonder just how wooded the country was before time and man changed the face of the land. I get turned around in Holland and am never sure which way is up, and to confuse me even more, The Hague is the capital of South Holland. I always feel that I am in the North and perhaps since London is the center of my world, from there I have indeed travelled north. I know it’s not logical but that’s how it feels. I’m in the west of the Netherlands in the largest city on the North Sea, not quite close enough to wink at Great Britain, but the thought is there.
Sometime in 1230 Floris IV Count of Holland wanted a hunting residence, so he bought the land alongside a pond now called the Hofijver. So from a hunting ground to another sort of hunting ground, I am off. Can I still find the amazing Sticky Dutch Honey cakes that were once sold in brick like slabs? It doesn’t take me long to discover that answer as bicycle whizz by, and the friendly Dutch just smile at my feeble attempts to sound Dutch. (Not sure who slipped that dictionary into my shopping cart, but Bedankt! ) I now have some carefully wrapped slices of the gingery honey cake! Some things don’t change and that’s a good thing!
I was very confused as a child as to the Dutchness of me and about my Dutch Cousins. I heard stories about my Dutch Uncle, and I glazed over as I thought it was just a saying like Dutch Courage, Double Dutch, just another name and another grownup lecture coming on, but my father was talking about our real Dutch cousins! I was too young to realize that I had a Dutch Family. It wasn’t until later in life I was able to reconnect with that branch of the family, and they have become very dear to my heart. It’s in the Hague that I was able to spend hours with my partner in crime as we searched the archives for family traces. We got back as far as the sixteen hundreds, and I have to say, that’s not too shabby.
I have a hard time learning Dutch. I would like to speak the tongue of my ancestors, but I stumble, and I just can’t seam to take it in. I think my brain is too full with French, smatterings of German, Spanish, and expressions from various other languages. When it comes to Dutch, my Dutch has too much of a German twang to it. I imagine that if I lived there, I would eventually get the hang of it, but from afar I can only wonder.
My grandmother, Miep, used to send us Hagelslag, tiny Dutch Chocolate sprinkles, apparently first invented in 1936. The year of its birth mattered little to us. We devoured the Hagelslag on white bread with butter. There is nothing better than toasted white bread, the butter melting and dark chocolate sprinkles slowly melting into the ooze. You absolutely must have real butter, how else will you keep the sprinkles from falling off? It’s fabulous!
Another favourite food from my Dutch past, is herring. We used to eat herring as daily snacks. I loved the sour cream and onions herrings, and how I loved the Roll Mops. I even like how the word sounds! Little herrings wrapped into little round parcels stuck with a toothpick to hold it all together. These pickled herrings were a staple in Europe since medieval times, it was an easy way to store and transport fish. Herring would arrive in big oak barrels. Thankfully I can buy it in little glass jars!
We used to get little parcels of tiny black diamonds in the post. Oh the challenge to keep the Salmiak Diamonds, Platte salmiakjes, in our mouths without making a sour scrunched up face! Why we kept trying I don’t know. The licorice is sharp and very salty, and apparently it’s ammonium chloride that gives it the salt taste. Doesn’t that sound so wonderful? It’s an acquired taste, and I think might be better with a few diamonds dropped in a cool class of vodka, shaken not stirred. A more adult version of the whole salty affair!
I did try another Dutch Treat this trip, Dutch School Chalks, which indeed do look like little bits of school chalk, but when you bite into them, you discover the soft sweet licorice middle and the white chalk bit? Well, that’s just lovely and minty. It’s a good combination guaranteed not to wrinkle any noses! That’s all very lekker! Dutch for tasty!
I love the canals in Holland, I could spend hours wandering them and happily end up in a coffee shop. I want to go to Holland one winter and skate on the frozen canals. I think this crazy idea comes from reading too much of Hans Brinker and his skates when I was a child. Apparently, it doesn’t get that cold anymore, well at least not to plan on skating on the canals.
My people came from s’ Gravenhague, Leiden, Amsterdam, and Sneek. Sneek’s a funny sort of word, it wants to read like–to sneak up on someone, but you pronounce it Snake, either way a tricky word. And if I am reading it as sneek- sneak up on– then are people from Sneak, sneakers? Lots of fun to be had with this place name! So Hallo Hague, in a way it’s good to be back home, even though you won’t understand my version of Dutch.