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Stories and Stovies
Food from Flanders

Maria Van de Weghe

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders field.

When I was younger the only thought picture I had of my Belgian grandmother was built around the wartime poem, written I believe by a young man who later died in those elegiac fields in Flanders. The phrase 'poor little Belgium" was known to me because in both World Wars Belgium was hard hit by the invading armies in my century, just as it had been conquered and reconquered throughout its existence by the the French, and the Spanish. Belgium was also the place where my more well off friends took summer holidays on the Continent at Ostende and even went on to places I could only imagine, like Paris, Rome, Madrid.

Then I started to research my family history because of my need to know more about my father and his family. It was when I wanted to find them for reasons less selfish than my reassurance that perhaps my father might care, or at least be interested in knowing me, that I also found my answers to who the Alvoet's were and became acquainted with another heroic grandmother. Let me tell you about her.

Maria Van de Weghe said goodbye to her husband, Victor, who left Belgium in 1910 to come to America, with ten dollars, in his pocket to sail steerage class and begin a new life for the Alvoets in a new land. Maria stayed in Pitthem with her three children, Hieronymus, Adhemar, and Adriana.

I don't know what her life was like the six years her husband was gone. I can only imagine her working as a young farm woman, trying to keep her family together, probably attending Mass regularly, making the beautiful Mechelin lace my mother said she was skilled at, more than likely canning fruits and vegetables and developing the skills she would bring with her to Michigan.

Maybe she tried to learn a few words of English. Perhaps she cried at nights in her loneliness and anxiety for herself, her husband, and her children. I hope her twin sister, Edith, was nearby to help her and I hope the children were healthy and strong and happy in those fields in Flanders.

I do know, however, that her steerage passage with three children took place in 1916. I also know those were the years German submarines were patrolling the Atlantic. I think of my Grandfather's equally experimental submarine fleet protecting the Atlantic convoys, and I imagine my grandmother's fears that her ship not be destined to the fate of the Lusitania.

I flew west by Pan Am to Scotland in 1974 with three children. I can only imagine my grandmother's journey east to America across that same ocean at the beginning of the century. There could be no comparison.

I know enough about Ellis Island and have my own love for my children and my fears of losing them to death or physical or emotional separation that, once again, I can imagine my Grandmother's trepidation as she went through Ellis Island immigration procedures, even though she came in under my grandfather’s recently acquired US citizenship. I can imagine my Grandfather looking for his family as they successfully passed through those procedures.

I remember my travel over the Atlantic to America when John and I were married in 1965. I remember the long propeller airplane flight. I remember my suitcase full of special things from Scotland - my wedding dress, my Grandmother's crystal (which we later gave to my American "mother" as token of our appreciation for her), my Grandmother’s cameo brooch which she gave to John to give to his mother as a gift for taking me into her family in a foreign country, and the treasures of my life that I could not bear behind in Scotland.

I remember wondering if I would have trouble coming through immigration because my passport was American and I had never left Scotland before (except for 3 days once in England). I remember my heart pounding when the inspector asked 'How long have you been out of America?' and I answered, "Eighteen years!’ I remember waiting for his next move as he looked at my passport, peered at me, raised his eyebrows, and then, finally, marked my suitcase with his X and told me to go on through.

That doesn't compare with my Grandmother's entrance to America.

I had only been separated from John for, possibly 16 hours. I remember our joy to meet up again. I remember him waving to me and calling to me from the balcony where he, unknown to me, had had been watching my processing. I remember his hugs and kisses and his special words of "Welcome to America.

I hope that compares to my Grandparents' reunion.

And so, at this special Christime time of year, December 1998, as I write this little - rapidly becoming not so little - book for my family here is a heartfelt thanks to Victor, to Maria, to Jerome and Edmund and Adriana from your children, Kyle and Charlotte, (and I'll add in Jerry known as Victor still living in Scotland) and their children, Johnny, Tina, Stephanie, Elisabeth, Alys, Xochitl, Adriana, Jeremy and Zachary and Edie and Xylia and Nathan and Jobe and Deni and Parker and Mahre in Scotland and any other children our families may have for your courage and the life you have given us.

Ellis Island, New York, USA
Ellis Island, New York, USA

Applesauce from, get this: Everyone Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook

I bought this cookbook to have something in my family history eating section about Belgium since I never knew my father or my grandparents and so never learned anything about Flemish cooking. This is a great book, even just to read. This waffles recipe is really good and it’s fun to prepare.

Now I'm reminded when, in my dim and distant past I was in Belgium once, Brussels, for about 2 days. I met some really nice Walloons (French speaking Belgians) and didn't feel guilty at all (since Flemish and Walloons are like Scots and those other people) but just had a great time speaking a mixture of French and English with them. We were in the Hotel de Ville (which is Brussels' beautiful city square) and these were teachers planning a demonstration against the Flemish majority government in order to increase their pay and have more French language classes. I didn't care. I had never been in a demonstration before, and here I was almost 40 years old. So, I joined them in their march through town - banners, shouting, etc., and all very friendly.

After the march, we went back to the Square where the demonstrators (me, included) did a folk dance which was a lot like an Indian round dance) in the then repaired to one of the many fine establishments (cafes and bars, really) for refreshment. I had heard of Kriek before, which is a cherry based beer which to this non-drinker has a tremendous kick - I have no idea what the alcohol content is - made by Flemish monks and I had one of those. (This is where I assure the members of my Church and my family that I continue a teetotaller and upright citizen and Christian woman!) even though drinking kriek is a memory I cherish because I felt I was connecting with my Flemish ancestors. (Good excuse, I know, but it works for me.)

But, to the apples:


5-6 tart, juicy apples
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar or to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Optional pinch of ground cinnamon

Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Slice each quarter in half again. If you like a chunky applesauce, leave the apples in eighths; for a more pureed sauce, slice the apples still thinner.

Place the apples in a large havy saucepan and add the water and sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Cook, covered, until the apples are cooked to the desired texture, 15 to 25 minutes. Stir frequently while cooking and regulate the heat so that the applesauce does not erupt all over the stove.

Stir in the butter and the cinnamon, if using. Serve warm with roasted meats or alone as a cold dessert.

This seems just like my Granny's applesauce, right down to the cinnamon. I loved eating her applesauce with hot, thick Bird's custard - especially when my Granny made sure there was lots left in the pot for my to "clean out for her" with her cooking spoon - I loved the taste of custard out of that aluminium pot!

Speaking of custard, also from "Everyone Eats Well…"

Golden Rice Custard

If you like custard, this is a nice, easy recipe called Rystpap in Flemish. Rystpap is a dish served at weddings, birthdays, and other Flemish celebrations, I am told.

4 cups milk
1 cup long grain rice, rinsed and drained
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick (2 inches long)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch of saffron threads – and we know how special these are!
Dark brown sugar, for serving

Pour the milk into a large heavy saucepan and add the rice and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to separate the grains.

Add the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Cover and simmer gently over very low heat until the rice is tender and has absorbed the milk, about 30 minutes.

Do not stir the rice during this part of the cooking.

Add the saffron and cook 1 minute more, stirring with a wooden spoon to distribute the rich golden color of the saffron.

Discard the cinnamon and vanilla, pour the rystpap into 4 deep soup plates, and cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle with dark brown sugar and serve.

My mother and father feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, London, during World War II.
My mother and father feeding the pigeons
in Trafalgar Square, London, during World War II.
How much detail can you see, such as the sandbags,
my father’s uniform, the ad for Lyon’s Tea Room, and
even perhaps my mother’s pride in Scotland down there in England.

Belgian Waffles (from Everyone Eats Well, etc.)

This is a huge recipe, it makes about forty, so if you don't want to have some on hand to freeze, or to store and later warm up in the microwave or take to work to put in the toaster, or if you don't have a huge, hungry crowd at your house, you might want to cut this recipe in half. I really like messing around with the yeast and cooking up a feast of waffles like this.

4 pkgs active dry yeast
6 cups milk, warmed to 100 degrees - or just use the thumb method I've talked about before this
6 large egg yolks
12 tablespoons (1:1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
12 tablespoons (1:1/2 sticks) margarine, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (never buy imitation vanilla - stick with the real thing, there's nothing better in home cooking than the real, very best stuff, like real vanilla, butter, heavy whipped cream, etc.)
Pinch of salt

8 cups all purpose flour
6 large egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

Your favorite toppings:
Ice cream
Flavored syrups
Whipped cream
Sliced, fresh fruit

In other words, quite waffling around, make up your mind and put together a buffet - this makes such a great supper on a Sunday night!

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk.

In a large, deep mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the remaining milk and the melted butter and margarine. Add the yeast mixture, sugar and salt.

Gradually add the flour to the batter by sifting it in. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining 4:1/2 cups milk. Stir with a wooden spoon after each addition.

Fold in the beaten egg whites.

Cover with a clean towel and put in a warm place - but you've heard all of this in the bread section, right? Let rise for 1 hour. The batter should double or even triple in volume. (And that yeast, smells so good and homey). Check the batter from time to time to make sure it isn't about to erupt like an impatient volcano. Stir it down once or twice.

Add approximately 1 teaspoon cinnamon to the batter if you wish, or transfer some batter into a pitcher and flavor only that batch.

Heat your waffle iron to very hot.

Bake the waffles in the hot waffle iron. The easiest way to get the batter onto the waffle iron is to transfer the batter by batches into a pitcher and pour into the iron from the jug.

Serve the baked waffles with your favorite toppings. Allow any leftover waffles to cool on a rack before storing.

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