I was discussing Vegemite with some online friends recently. It’s quintessentially Australian, an icon which I’m delighted to say after having been purchased by an American company some years back, has now reverted to an Australian company. Unlike the happy little Australian Vegemites of my generation, I didn’t like the stuff at all. It had the colour and consistency of axle grease and tasted worse. We didn’t grow up with it, you see. I’ve acquired a taste for it, but it took a long time.
The spread’s origins are explained in the link above, but I reckon Terry Pratchett’s theory that failed wizard, Rincewind, invented the stuff by boiling copious quantities of beer in a billy is much better fun. As well as pretty close to true. In fact, if you want to know how most of Australia’s icons originated, you can’t go past his book, The Last Continent. It’s actually about Forex (XXXX), not Australia, but that’s close enough. After all, XXX is Queenslandish for beer. Here’s a spoiler-filled article all about the book.
Anyhow, back to food tastes.
Mind you, the Australians had their doubts about what we Clogs ate, too. You eat raw fish? Yes, yum, roll mops. And as for salted liquorice… at least if I had that with me on school excursions, I had it all to myself. I remember one friend asking to try it. I told her she wouldn’t like it, but she insisted. The look of dawning revulsion on her face was a picture.
Mum, of course, cooked the meals she and Dad were used to in Holland at home. She got a job as a cook at a school for nurses not all that long after we moved to Shenton Park and she had to learn a whole different cuisine. But we ate Dutch food, or at least, food prepared in a Dutch way. Potatoes formed an absolute staple and some of my favourites were variations on ‘stamppot’ – basically potatoes mashed with other vegetables, with some added bacon or some such. I loved hutspot, which is potatoes, onions, carrots mixed with chopped fried bacon. But really, stamppot can be made from potatoes and anything – sauerkraut, leeks, cabbage, whatever. Served with Dutch smoked sausage and mustard. Or there was hashee, which is basically a cheap cut of beef cooked slowly with lots of onions and served with potatoes and veg. Soup was another staple, often made with little or no meat, such as bruine bonen soep (brown bean soup) or Dutch pea and ham soup, thick enough to stand a spoon in.
Then there were the cakes. The Dutch used marzipan for chocolate letters or filled pastry during Sinterklas (their pre-Christmas celebration)but it also had pride of place in lots of every day cakes like gevulde koek. The first time I went back to Holland for a brief visit I walked along a street past a few patisseries – I don’t know what else you’d call them – and they were just putting out the freshly made cakes. The smells were incredible. You don’t get that from packets of imported cakes bought from the supermarket. Find out more about what floats the culinary boat in the Netherlands from this article. It has pictures.
Mum always used to make soesjes for birthdays. They’re profiteroles, not specially Dutch but quite delicious. I used to watch her make up the choux pastry, half cooking it on the stove top. Then she plopped shapeless lumps onto a baking sheet and after half an hour in the oven out would come these golden brown shells of nothing, ready to be filled. I got to smother the tops with chocolate icing and spoon cream (whipped with a smidgen of sugar and a hint of vanilla) into their middles. And then… and then I got to lick the cream off the beaters, and use my fingers to wipe off the mixing bowl for the chocolate icing.
Dutch apple tart was another all-time favourite. I made this just a week or so ago. Note the cinnamon. It gives the apples and raisins a lovely flavour. The lattice isn’t perfect – but what the hey – it just gets eaten. Best served warm with a dollop of cream or ice cream. This is the recipe I used.