Why Dutch People Give Chocolate Letters

IMG_2859Why do Dutch people give chocolate letters? When we receive our initial on “Pakjesavond” December 5 or at Christmas most of us just eat the delicious chocolate without wondering why this unique tradition is still practiced. The history of receiving a “letter” dates back centuries but originally letters were made of pastry. This is why almond pastry rings are still called “banket letter” by some people. I still remember my mother receiving a banket “C” for her birthday from a friend who was an excellent baker. In the days before gift

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Still life with Letter Pastries by Peter Binoit, ca. 1615 Museum Amstelkring on loan from the Groninger Museum. Photo: C Myers

wrapping, parents would spread a bed sheet over the gifts for “Sinterklaas”. They would then mark the place of each child’s gift with the child’s initial. Still life paintings of old Dutch masters from the 16th & 17th centuries show these pastry initials.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch chocolate industry began to make letters in chocolate. The shift to chocolate letters was quick and enthusiastic. During World War II, supply shortages meant no chocolate letters but even then letters were made of gingerbread. Once rationing ended chocolate letter manufacturing was quick to resume.

IMG_2862For the Dutch emigres and us, their descendants, the tradition provides a strong connection to our roots. Opas and Omas of large families can give a personalized gift to each grandchild…there is something very special about getting one’s own letter. Of course, the children who got a M or a W always thought they got more chocolate than the poor child whose name started with I. But an I for Ingrid was still better than not getting your letter if your name started with a Q, X, Y or Z. Today, however, all the letters of the alphabet are available…for a limited time, of course. We have already bagged up about 170 pre-orders for our customers on our Chocolate Letter Registry but there are still lots of letters to pick from!

IMG_4884IMG_4883Here at The European Pantry where we have customers that reflect a wide variety of heritages, we find that the idea of giving a letter is catching on with the non-Dutch customer, too. It is such a simple way to give a small personalized thank you to a hair dresser or delivery person. They also can be used as an innovative way to mark place settings at a holiday gathering. Other people use them in the historical way as name tags for gifts.

The chocolate that our letters are made of is all UTZ certified to guarantee ethical production conditions for the chocolate bean farmers and their families. Learn more about UTZ certifications here.

What’s your coffee footprint?

IMG_3648According to research, coffee is the number one beverage in Canada. Anyone waiting in line for their favourite java is probably not surprised by that. Fast food outlets and single serve coffee machines have shouldered their way in front of the old fashioned drip coffee maker in the quest to fill our coffee mugs each day.

But more and more people are starting to wonder about the effect all this convenience is having on the environment. A truly environmentally friendly option are the Senseo coffee pods that we import from The Netherlands.  At one time the Senseo machines were difficult to find in North America but we have been able to source them for several years now. These machines will give you a frothy espresso style cup of coffee. Customers have told me that you can use the pods in other machines, too.  Senseo coffee pods will compost in a regular backyard unit like a teabag. Senseo is UTZ Certified…a European fairtrade programme.  Click here for information about UTZ.

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And then there is the old fashioned drip coffee maker or instant coffee options.  We carry a number of excellent imported coffees and can source many more.

Unfortunately, coffee cannot be grown in Canada. So every cup of coffee has a trail of footprints behind it already.  We can, however, try to limit the impact of those footprints on the local environment and try to ensure that our coffee enjoyment is not at the expense of coffee workers in other countries.