European Peasant Cookery
by Elisabeth Luard
Hete bliksem (Holland)
The Dutch were as slow as the rest of Europe to grasp the potential of the potato. Although the tuber had been championed vigorously as a miracle food by botanists throughout the 16th century - particularly in Vienna, Frankfurt, and Leyden - it was not until the 18th century that it began to be planted widely in the countryside. By the 1750s, potatoes were being grown in all the United Provinces of Holland, and they rapidly replaced grain products and bread in the diet of the rural poor, particularly after the disastrous grain shortages of 1770-71. Although town dwellers sometimes ate potatoes - particularly with fish - the aristocrats hardly touched them. By the mid- nineteenth century they were a staple, at least in rural areas; EH. Hough, student of peasant life in Holland in the 1890s, was served them as part of the main course at a Dutch country wedding:
"When all the invited guests are assembled and have partaken of hot gin mixed with currants, handed round in two-handled pewter cups, kept especially for these occasions, the whole party goes about at 11 o'clock, to the Stadhuis, or Town Hall, where the couple are married before the Burgomeister .. . On returning home the mid-day meal is ready, and on this festive occasion consists of ham and potatoes."
Quantity: Serves 4
Time: Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking: 30 minutes
• 2 lb small new potatoes
• 1 lb gammon or ham from the brine pot, soaked to de-salt
• A generous nut of butter
• 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
• Pepper and salt
• 2 Ib apples or pears (dried and soaked will do but then halve the weight)
• Utensils: An earthenware casserole or a heavy iron pot, with lid
Scrub the potatoes and cube the gammon or ham into bite-sized pieces. Put both into the pot with the butter and 2 tablespoons water (the soaking water, from the dried fruit, if using). Add a hide pepper - you shouldn't need extra salt - and dribble of honey or brown sugar. Lid tightly and put to cook gently on top of the stove, shaking the pan regularly to avoid sticking. Or bake in a moderate oven at 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
Meanwhile, quarter and core the fruit, if fresh; if dried and soaked, drain. Add the fruit to the casserole after 15 minutes, when the potatoes are nearly tender. Continue to cook until all is soft - 20-25 minutes in all - you may need a little more water. Serve the bacon on top of the potatoes and fruit, which should still hold their shape.
• Sausages or fresh pork can replace the gammon.