Oma’s Favourite Tipple

Advocaat BolsThe Christmas season brings back memories of visiting Oma where tiny little glasses of advocaat were served together with little “teelepels” (coffee spoons) to eat it with. For those of you who are not quite as old as me or born after Bols no longer exported the “good stuff”, advocaat is (or should I say was) a thick brandy laced custard which was the favourite drink among the postwar Oma set.   Whether it was because our Calvinist Oma didn’t want anyone weaving down the road on the way home or because it was so expensive that one had to be voordelig (sparingly frugal) this drink was always measured out in very small quantities. However, it usually made an appearance at Christmas and birthdays. That is, until Bols stopped sending the good stuff to Canada!

I am not the only one who gets reminiscent during this season. It doesn’t take much prodding and family Christmas memories are being shared by customers as they visit “The Pantry”.  Today an advocaat story surfaced because of a case of mistaken identity.  Our customer did a double take of our bottles of IMG_3786 Monari Federzoni Balsamic Vinegar because she thought we had started selling Baileys. Not surprising since the two bottles do share a resemblance.  Baileys bottleIt wasn’t much of a leap from there to Oma’s favourite tipple.  Back a few years, our customer and her brother Peter were beginning to feel a bit peakish as they waited in the kitchen for the grownups to finish visiting.  There was an attractive bottle of “vla” pudding on the counter so they decided a bowl of that would take the edge off their hunger. Surprisingly the bottle was not as big as the usual one that mom served dessert from but they carefully divided the rest of the bottle between the two of them. There is a Dutch expression, “Honger is de beste saus” that means hunger makes everything taste good so there was no need to add any bessensap (black or red currant sauce) for those bowls to be licked clean. It didn’t take long before Peter didn’t feel so well.  His sister ran into the sitting room with more than her usual energy and enthusiasm to tell the grown ups that Peter was sick and it probably was because the vla had gone bad. Peter’s stomach quickly did what stomachs do in these situations but his sister was “punch happy” for another 6 hours!

Well we don’t sell alcoholic beverages although if we could find a source for the “good stuff” and the LCBO didn’t notice, I am sure there would be many Omas lining up at the door for advocaat during this Christmas season.  However, we have discovered something that could become this Oma’s new favourite.  IMG_5060Yesterday I made rice pudding which I always serve swimming in cream but this time I added an extra special finishing touch by topping it with Cole’s Brandy Butter. John who has never been too keen on rice pudding actually declared with quite edible with the addition of the brandy butter.  I have been thinking of more things that might be so much better with a dab of Cole’s concoction: waffles, pancakes or Christmas pudding.  One customer was dreaming about floating some in a hot toddy!  If you want to introduce an Oma in your life to a new favourite stop by The European Pantry soon…Cole’s Brandy Butter is only available as long as our Christmas supply lasts!

Big Sample Days


Join us for one of our BIG SAMPLE DAYS Saturday, December 12, 2015.

IMG_5036Come taste some great holiday entertaining ideas & a variety of cheeses.IMG_5037

Scotts Lemon Curd & Campbell’s Shortbreads are a great “made in England”  taste combination. Or try Bella Casara ricotta cheese spread on an IMG_5035oat biscuit made by Nairn’s of Scotland topped off with one of our special preserves. Nairn’s Oat Crackers also make a great base for strong cheeses served at wine and cheese gatherings.IMG_5034





We have EXCEPTIONAL entertaining ideas here at The European Pantry! We also still have chocolate letters!

Christmas Tree Chocolates

IMG_5025Chocolate Christmas tree ornaments have been popular since 1880 when Woolworth sold the first chocolate ornaments in their department stores. In England you will find chocolate coins covered in gold foil paper. These coins are an echo of the generosity of St. Nicolas centuries before. Other chocolate ornaments also became popular. In Hungary, chocolate bonbons covered in shiny coloured papers called Szaloncukor will be found hanging in Christmas trees.  In The Netherlands trees will be adorned with kerstkransjes, chocolate wreaths .

IMG_5027The advent of chocolate production in Europe and England was in the 17th century, however, it remained a luxury product that only the rich could afford well into the late 18th century. Early factories only produced cocoa. The first edible chocolate confection did not appear until 1847, the brain child of Joseph Fry. The Fry family together with two other Quaker families, Cadbury and IMG_5024Rowntree, remained on the forefront of the chocolate industry for several centuries. When Cadbury announced in 2014 that they would no longer be making chocolate coins there was much protest. However, import stores like our store,The European Pantry here in Welland, Ontario source their chocolate coins from the European continent.

The most recent statistic that I could find, put chocolate consumption at 7.2 million tonnes IMG_5028in 2009 world wide. At that time it was estimated that consumption would increase to 8.5 million tonnes by 2020.  Without a doubt much of that chocolate is consumed during the ChristmasIMG_5023 season.  Our customers tell us that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without chocolates hanging from their trees. So it is always a joyous day when our Christmas chocolates arrive from Europe!

Forget About Black Peter?????

IMG_4922Tomorrow is St. Nicolas Eve.  In The Netherlands and around the world children of Dutch heritage will be setting out their wooden shoes.  They will be going to bed not with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads but rather of pepernoten, taai-taai and chocolate letters. Yet in the larger world the feast of St. Nicolas is not conjuring up images of innocent children snuggling into bed with excited anticipation of tomorrow’s festivities but rather accusations of racism centered on the character of Black Peter.  All this makes me wonder if in all the controversy we have forgotten whose feast it is.

It is interesting that the Dutch people so known for their tolerant ways are remaining stubbornly ethnocentric on this point. I myself come from a family that crossed racial lines a long time ago. My blue eyed, blond haired Aunt Elsie married Uncle Ak, a Japanese Canadian back in the 1960’s already. I also have cousins of Nigerian and Jamaican heritage. I anticipateIMG_4921 the arrival in March of a grand-daughter who I hope will be as proud of her father’s Iraqi heritage as her mother’s Dutch roots. Therefore, I suspect that behind all this resistance to change isn’t so much racist bigotry as the influence of several well-known Dutch characters known as kwajong, Meneer Woodenhead and Mevrouw Eigenwijs. Most of us have heard the phrase: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen.  It describes many old Dutchmen that we know who resist any argument that might precipitate change.  You have also probably met some kwajongen even if you didn’t realize.  A kwajong is a mischievous boy who likes to pull monkey tricks. But it also describes someone who acts contrary just for the fun of it.  I have been surrounded by wooden headed kwajongen all my life. I know the tricks they are usually up to. And not to deny Dutch women a place, how many of us haven’t been called “eigenwijs”? I certainly have been called that when I have acted like I knew better than anyone else. So given the Dutch character(s) I am not at all surprised about the “push back” that is happening about Black Peter not just in The Netherlands but also among Dutch Canadians. But in all of this I think we have forgotten what St. Nicolas Day is all about.

The veneration of St. Nicolas can be traced back for more than 1000 years. Christmas caroling door to door and the mysterious, mythical appearance of gifts all have their origin in the traditional celebration of St. Nicolas’s feast day. In The Netherlands the saint is known as Sinterklaas. When I was growing up it didn’t matter if you were from a Dutch Catholic, Protestant or atheist family…everyone celebrated Sinterklas. How that came to be is explored in our article “The Amazing Survival of St. Nick”.  Black Peter or Zwarte Piet as he is known in The Netherlands never showed up in print until 1850 when a poem by an Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman: Sint-Nikolaas en zijn knecht (“St. Nicholas and His Servant”)IMG_4929  was published. The Zwarte Piet tradition can be traced back to the early 19th century but doesn’t have the same old roots as St. Nicolas. One theory traces Black Peter to German myths. St. Nicolas’s white horse is not part of the original Christian tradition but is believed to have been derived from the myth of the German god Oden who traveled through the skies on a white stallion. In the Oden myth, the god is accompanied by several black ravens. In real life, St.Nicolas was a bishop of Turkey who never saw the shores of Spain, may never seen a Moor and was unlikely to have had a slave considering his compassion for the poor.

Today Sinterklaas’ popularity has extended beyond Christendom to people of other cultural and religious heritages.  In a Cafebabel article says:

Like many EU countries, the Netherlands has recently seen shifting demographics due to sustained immigration from countries such as Turkey and Morocco. To gauge the appeal of Sinterklaas among these newcomers, a number of Dutch-born high schoolers with one or more immigrant parent were asked for their thoughts. Of fifteen respondents living in the suburbs of Amsterdam and The Hagueten were raised muslimone was raisedhindu, and four grew up in non-religious households. Regardless of religion, the teenagers all confessed to believing in Sinterklaas as children, and all of them celebrated at school. Over half of the muslim-raised respondents even reported celebrating Sinterklaas with their families at home, in spite of islam’s prohibition against the observance of non-muslim holidays. Despite its roman catholic trappings, all but one of these students viewed Sinterklaas as a nonreligious cultural celebration.

Sinterklaas has become everyone’s saint. In spite of his “sectarian origins” he has universal appeal. I believe his survival of the Reformation and his appeal to so many people is rooted in the generosity that he represents. In a world reeling from news reports of terrorist attacks and sectarian war, we have this figure who reminds all of us to be a bit more gracious. I don’t think we should forget about Black Peter but perhaps in all the uproar about him we have forgotten what the feast of St. Nicolas celebrates:  the life of a man who gave generously to the poor without wanting any thanks. Black Peter is a fun character whose medieval page costume is bright and extravagant. He doesn’t need  blackface to maintain his appeal. A few smears of soot will do the job. Perhaps it is time we all gave a bit.