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Why the Dutch eat hotchpotch on October 3

On October 3, many Dutch eat carrot hotchpotch known as "hutspot". This is mashed potato with carrot and onions, served with smoked sausage. Some add little bacon strips and/or cheese dice to it. Why? To commemorate that on October 3, 1574 the siege of the city of Leiden by the Spanish troops finally came to an end.

In 1568, Dutch rebels had taken up arms against the rule of the Spaniards. A few years later, in 1573, the Spaniards besieged the rebel city of Leiden. Although the rebels defended themselves well, even after fighting a whole year, they had been unable to lift the siege. Finally, in September 1754, they broke the dikes to let the seawater pour into the low, reclaimed land around the city and literally flush the enemy out. Unfortunately, it took until October 3, 1754 for a big storm to finally push the water far enough through the dikes to make the Spaniards flee.

"Noaberschap" or the value of good neighbors

When our first son was born, the neighbors treated us to a huge stork, balloons and other baby decorations that they put up in our garden as a surprise. A week later, all the ladies came to see the little guy at an event specific to the Twente region, called "kroamschudden", which is pretty much like a baby shower. Since I am not from this part of the country, all this was new to me. Later I learned that this tradition is a remnant of what is called "noaberschap".

"Noaberschap" was used to refer to a tight community of neighbors, mostly in the rural areas of the Northeastern part of the country. The members of such a community were called "naobers" and they all shared a community commitment called "noaberplicht" (neighbor duty). This "noaberplicht" obliged you to help other members of the community when they were in need. "Noabers" would help out at births, weddings and deaths, for example. They would report a death or a birth to the authorities, arrange festivities for the married couple, take care of each others' home when someone had to leave town for a while, etcetera.

Using Family Myths To Break Through Brick Walls

Almost every genealogist has stumbled upon them at a certain point of their research: the family myths. The most common myth is that of having royal blood, but every family has its own particular myths that are so detailed that they are hard to dismiss right away. What to do with grandma insisting that her grandfather was an African prince although her family does not look African at all? And what about grandpa claiming that the old gun in his cabinet once belonged to Thomas Jefferson?

We tend to put those myths aside because we cannot prove them or because they simply sound to far-fetched to be true. However, I think you should always take these stories seriously; they may even help you break through some of your "brick walls"! To see how that can be, let's have a look first at what family myths are.

Forgotten Crafts: Milkman

Once he was a common sight in every town and city: the milkman with his dogcart filled with milk churns. He would call at each door and fill your cup or pan with fresh, non-pasteurized milk. During hot summers, a white blanket was put over the churns to keep most of the heat out. Nonetheless, the milk was not fit for drinking right out of the churn. It had to be cooked first to kill the germs. Choosing the right milkman was no easy task since many of them tended to dilute the milk with water. In the worst case with not-so-clean water.

In the mid 1900s, a bottle system was introduced. Housewives would leave the empty bottles at the door and the milkman would replace them with new filled ones. Once a week he would come by to collect his money.

Vlaai: Fruit Pie From Limburg

Ask any Dutch person to name a typical food from the province of Limburg and they will most probably answer: "vlaai"! Vlaai is a pie made of a flat spongy base that is then topped with fruit and whipped cream. It is said that vlaai originally was a Germanic dish.

Germanic tribes would bake flat breads on hot stones and top them with honey or fruit. They called this bread "vladel". In the early Middle Ages German monks baked similar cakes to offer at Easter, which they called "vlade". From there the custom spread to Belgium and the Southern Dutch province of Limburg.

Vlaai used to be a luxury bread baked only at special occasions such as Easter, weddings, local fairs, birthdays and the like. Nowadays you can buy it at any time of the year at bakeries in Limburg or at the nationwide vlaai shop Multivlaai. They come in all kinds of varieties and not only with fruit. To give you an idea: Multivlaai offers over 50 different tastes! Making a home baked vlaai is easy and very tasty:

Dutch Sayings: Water And Sea

The Dutch are famous because of their relationship with the sea and water in general. We reclaimed land from the sea, used water to drive our economy, sailed the seven seas, and conquered nations far away. Nowadays, we are still fighting the flood every day by keeping our dikes up-to-date. A people that intertwined with the sea and water cannot but reveal that special bond in its language. Today I'll share with you some of the literally hundreds of Dutch sayings involving water.

Water bij de wijn doen (to add water to the wine): lowering demands to accomplish a compromise.

Een storm in een glas water (a storm in a glass of water): much to do about nothing, not as severe as it seemed at first.

Stille wateren hebben diepe gronden (still waters have deep grounds): he who does not talk much often has deep thoughts, there is more to this person than meets the eye.

Devil's Cake At Easter

"Duivekater" is a sweet bread that is very popular in the so-called Zaanstreek, the area North of Amsterdam. It is a luxury bread that is only eaten at Christmas and Easter. The odd name "Duivekater", if taken literally, means something like "pigeon cat".  Actually, it is a corruption of the old Dutch "deuvels kakor" meaning  "devil's cake".

It is said that the bread has its roots in the old Germanic custom of offering a piece of meat to the gods at the end and beginning of the crop season. Over time, the meat became a femur-shaped bread. Nowadays nobody offers bread to the gods anymore, but we still bake the femur-shaped bread and enjoy it at Easter. Baking Duivekater is very easy and you should really try it. It tastes best with just a little butter. Enjoy!

The Tale Of The Mirror: Looking For Facts Behind Family Myths

When I got married my dear mother had arranged for a very special bridal gift: a large antique mirror that had been passed on from mother to daughter for generations. The mirror came with a family myth. It had once belonged to my great grandmother Anne–Co who received it as a bridal gift from her father who was a carpenter.

The marriage between Anne–Co and Frederic was said to be a bit unusual. It was a marriage "by proxy", meaning that the groom was not present at the ceremony. This was common practice with soldiers and other government officials stationed in one of the Dutch colonies, as was the groom. After the marriage in 1909 she sailed for Atjeh, Indonesia, on her own taking the mirror with her.

"It Giet Oan": Eleven Cities Fever

Ever since unexpectedly, after a very mild December and dreary gray Christmas, Jack Frost decided to pay us an extended visit, there is a buzz of excitement going through the Netherlands. Now that the ice has reached a thickness of about 10 centimeters (4 inches) some even dare whispering "it giet oan". "It giet oan" is Frisian for "it's on" and they are the magical words that announce that the infamous "Elfstedentocht" (Eleven Cities Tour) is on.

Once the words are officially spoken by the chairman of the Eleven Cities Tour organization it seems all Dutch go mad (even those not really into the event, can't help making comments about it). They collectively pack up some warm clothing and skates and head for the north, to the city of Leeuwarden. Shops manage to get all things orange and Frisian on the shelves within a day and skate sharpeners make over hours.

The Quest For The Perfect Clock

As I was watching the countdown towards the New Year on my TV my thoughts wandered off to my ancestors who did not have (nor needed, perhaps) such exact timing available to them. In fact, for centuries the only way to tell the time more or less accurately was using a sundial. The only problem with sundials is that you need, well, the sun. So what to do on cloudy days and at night?

To solve this issue people used water clocks. This is a system that uses a regulated flow of water from one basin to another to measure time. During the Middle Ages church bells were used to communicate time measured by the church with sundials and water clocks to the congregation. In a time where the pace of life did not require any time measuring more accurate than telling the hours, this sufficed. After all, what medieval peasant would worry about milking her cows at 6:00 or 6:10 in the morning?