There is a significant Dutch influence in Yorkshire, ever since Dutch engineers in the 17th century came across to build the dykes to drain the flood water from the fields in the Vale of York and on the banks of the Humber. Cornelius Vermuyden (1590–1677) was probably the most famous of these.
Memories of a Dutch grandma
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed sharing Christmas recipes with my Dutch friend, Cobi, who has lived in Yorkshire for over 35 years. She remembers her own Grandma’s baking:
“My Grandma was born in a small village, in the North of Holland, in a county called Friesland and lived there all her life until she died. She was married to a fisherman and they had their own fish shop. Grandma only baked on birthdays and special days like Christmas and Easter because there was very little money and baking was classed as a luxury.
“Grandma was always busy in the fish shop selling the fish Grandad had caught. Friesland had its own language. In Dutch the word for ‘Grandma’ is ‘Oma’ but the Fries word for ‘Oma’ is ‘Beppe’ and that is what my brother and I called her.”
A very Dutch Christmas tradition
I was chatting to her about how we celebrated Christmas in the past. I told her how I remember mince pies and carol singing. She recalls that her Christmas began when St Nicholas (Sinterklass) arrived bringing presents and sweets for the children. She recounts how her family wrapped their presents up in an imaginative way for family and friends, rather like our tradition of secret Santa presents.
She said that they had to be creative and write a short poem – it could be humorous but not unkind – to highlight the characteristics of the person receiving the gift. Sometimes they organised a treasure hunt around the house with succinct messages to lead you to your gift. Christmas Day was usually a quieter time with a church service and family meal.
She tells me that she is busy making her delicious celebration Christmas wreath to her grandma’s (Oma’s) special recipe.
Dutch celebration Christmas wreath
Marzipan (almond) filling:
125g ground almonds
Finely grated rind of a lemon
1 egg (beaten) or juice of a lemon and a little water
1 pkt readymade Puffpastry
And if you wish:
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until it forms a paste. Cover and leave to stand for an hour or so.
- Roll out the pastry thinly, about ½ cm thick, into an oblong shape about 35-40 cm long and 12-15 cm wide. Roll the almond mixture into a long sausage shape and place it on the pastry. Brush the edges with beaten egg. Fold the pastry over the mixture to stick it together and shape it into a circle. Place the wreath on a baking tray. If you have any remaining pastry, cut out some holly shapes, stars or bells and lay them on the top of the wreath. Brush with the remaining beaten egg. Place in a hot oven, about 220C, 200C (Fan) for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
- Warm 4-5 tbsps of apricot jam in a pan until it’s runny. Spread the jam over the baked wreath.
- To finish use glazed cherries and orange peel strips as you wish.
Meryl’s Tip: Since this dish is cooked in the oven, I’m happy to use raw egg in the almond paste filling. Otherwise, if you prefer, use my version of Grandma Abson’s almond paste recipe and bind the mixture with lemon juice and a little water.
And – a safety warning – please be careful with this recipe if any of your friends and family have a nut allergy.
I love trying out different Christmas recipes and this has become one of our family favourites. What’s your favourite food for this time of year?