Of course, all that tramping around in snow taking risks makes you quite hungry, and luckily there were plenty of traditional Dutch foods to try, all of which you could watch being made, or even get involved in making, including pannekoeken (pancakes), oliebollen, and poffertjes. If they’re not familiar to you, poffertjes are tiny Dutch pancakes made with a buckwheat yeast batter, and fried in special poffertje pans with little scooped indentations. The poffertje house at the openlucht museum was cooking at a cracking pace to deal with the ravenous crowds, making about fifty poffertje a minute, and still struggling to keep up with demand. Their poffertje cooker was the biggest one I have ever seen, and could cook 240 at once.
Arnhem, in The Netherlands, is known to most English speakers as the site of an important battle in World War II, and the setting for the war movie a Bridge Too Far. These days it’s also famous for the Openlucht Museum (open air museum), a place where you can see life as it was lived in Holland over the last hundred or so years. Set up like a small village within a forest, with windmills, a dairy, an old church, cottages, stables, a school, and a village green with an ice rink, the snow had managed to transform the whole potentially very cheesy concept into something like an old-fashioned winter wonderland, circa 1920. A little tram took you from place to place, to see the cows being milked, or cakes being baked at the bakery, or a look at the old printing press.
The nostalgia even extended to a delightful and refreshing lack of rules about every little thing. Anyone, for instance, could ice-skate, and skates were free to use with no disclaimers, deposits, insurance papers to sign or age restrictions. Toddlers and old people were all out there skating together in one big happy mess. Falls were frequent, collisions occasional, but who cares? Everyone was having a ball. Open fires burnt in steel drums everywhere on which to warm your hands. No signs told you to keep children away, children just knew that fire is hot and you shouldn’t touch it. I wonder that the Dutch aren’t just much more sensible about everything. There was even a frozen lake to walk across, without fence, barrier or heed for safety. OK, OK, perhaps not so sensible, and few people were taking that particular risk, but it did just make me think back to when we were all a little less warned, cautioned and risk-averse in our daily lives.
Poffertje masters man the giant poffertje cooker..
One pours the batter……the other deftly flips them over with a tiny bone-handled fork..
Ten to a plate, a pat of fresh Dutch butter melting on top, a sprinkle of sugar and a dash of syrup….ready to eat. Very, very delicious.