I have seen St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in Holland, arriving by boat with zwarte pieten, his helpers, in downtown Amsterdam. It is quite a sight, and throngs of people line the canals to watch the arrival. After disembarking, the good saint got on a white horse while small gifts for the children, such as cookies and candy, were tossed into the crowds by his helpers—much to the delight of all the youngsters.
There really was a St. Nicholas. He is believed to have been born in Asia Minor and was bishop of Myra in the 4th century A.D. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, sailors, and merchants, and is the forerunner of the North American Santa Claus.
This year the good saint arrived in Amsterdam on Nov. 17, but it is not until Dec. 5 that children put out their shoes, with a carrot and hay for the horse and some water or wine they hope will be exchanged for gifts and treats such as black licorice, chocolate letters (of their names), and marzipan.
The next day, the Feast of St. Nicholas, is when families gather and gifts are exchanged. Special foods are eaten on Dec. 6.
Dutch Holiday Treats
1.125 to 2 L (4 1/2 to 8 cups) beef or veal stock
130 g (7 cups) chestnuts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Warm the stock in a large pot. In a second pot boil the chestnuts in salted water, covering them well with the water. After 7 or 8 minutes, remove the chestnuts, allow to cool, then peel and mash well or process in a food processor. Press through a sieve and mix with the broth. Serve with a sprig of fresh parsley on top.
Peperkoek (Dutch Spiced Bread)
75 ml (1/3 cup) butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) brown sugar
75 ml (1/3 cup) honey
25 ml (2 tbsp) molasses
250 ml (l cup) each all-purpose and rye flours
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) ginger
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
1 ml (1/4 tsp) each cloves and nutmeg
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk
Grease a loaf pan and set aside. Beat softened butter with sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add honey and molasses. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, spices and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir into butter mixture alternating with the milk. Scrape into the pan and bake in a 180º C (350º F) oven for an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack, then turn out to cool completely. Makes 12 slices and freezes beautifully.
Makes approximately 40 cookies
1 L (4 cups) flour
20 ml (4 tsp) baking powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) powdered aniseed
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
15 ml (1 tbsp) cinnamon
5 ml (1 tsp) grated lemon rind
5 ml (1 tsp) each cloves and nutmeg
2 ml (1/2 tsp) white pepper
250 ml (1 cup) butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) brown sugar
75 to 125 ml (1/3 to 1/2 cup) milk
125 ml (1/2 cup) blanched almonds, slivered
Sift flour with all dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar, then mix with seasoned flour and lemon rind. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out on a lightly floured board into a square shape about 1 cm (1/2-inch) thick. Cut into 8 cm (3-inch) squares. Place on buttered cookie sheets and sprinkle with almonds, pressing them in lightly. Bake in a preheated 180º C (350º F) oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until light brown.
Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: email@example.com