Donna R. Barnes and Peter Rose
Shortly after explorer Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage to the upper Hudson, tales of abundant furs and other riches encouraged Dutch traders, under the auspices of the West India Company, to establish a trading post near Albany. Although the Dutch controlled this area for less than fifty years, there is still a Dutch presence in Albany today.
Matters of taste, drawn exclusively from American museums, art galleries and private collections features pictures by Dutch and Flemish masters such as Jan Steen, Clara Peeters, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Pieter Claesz, and Gerret Willemsz. Heda. These paintings portray epicurean delights against backdrops of taverns, open markets, kitchens, and tabletops, in the presence of cooks, scullery maids, brewers, bakers, fishmongers and pancake makers and document the bounty of the land and its presentation during the Netherlands ‘Golden Age’ when New Netherland was in its infancy.
They are reminiscent of the paintings owned by New Netherland settlers like Hendrick Kip, a public official who arrived in 1637 with his art collection, including a landscape by Vincent Leckerbetien. And the New Amsterdam surgeon and barber Jacob De Lange whose estate inventory listed six banquet scenes, two still lifes, a genre scene of a cobbler, two rustic views and a picture of a ‘plucked cock.’
To enhance the exhibition, guest curators Donna Barnes and Peter Rose have assembled a selection of seventeenth century Dutch utility ware, pewter plates and tankards, a silver standing salt and brandywine bowl, roemers, flutes and beer glasses; all items depicted in the paintings. An important group of historic Dutch cookbooks and advice manuals on food and drink complement the culinary delights of the paintings.
Guest curator Dr. Donna R. Barnes, professor at Hofstra University, has focused on Dutch art as it relates to images of food and drink and the symbolism found in the paintings. Guest curator Peter G. Rose, a culinary historian, presents Dutch and Dutch-American culinary history with insights into ingredients, preparation and cooking. Included as a special supplement to Matters of taste is a cookbook that features recipes from the 1683 edition of De Verstandige Kock translated and adapted for today’s kitchen by Ms. Rose. The guest curators both introduce new perspectives on each of the artworks, offering a feast for the eyes, food for thought and a sampling of Dutch foodways. Jointly, they serve up a delicious Dutch treat that focuses on the artistic and culinary traditions of the Netherlands and the consequent impact on New Netherland.
Peter Rose’s vivid descriptions of the foodstuffs available to the first Dutch settlers are drawn from a number of colonial accounts. Specific references to Beverwijck and Albany abound. Adriaen van der Donck, Sheriff of Rensselaerswijck, in his 1655 Description of New Netherlands proclaimed Beverwijck, then a trading outpost, to be “A land of Abundance,” with Ávenison [which] digests easily and is good food [and] the wild turkey large, heavy, fat and fine’ adding that rivers were teeming with fish, especially pike and sturgeon, and native fruits and vegetables grew in profusion along their embankments and in woodlands.
Van der Donck also listed the produce in Beverwijck’s gardens where cabbages, parsnips, carrots, beets, endive, succory, finckel, sorrel, dill, spinach, radishes, parsley, chervil, cresses, onions and leeks were cultivated for salad, a Dutch specialty, introduced into England by Dutch immigrants in the time of Shakespeare. He mentions indigenous crops like pumpkins, and the “three sisters:” squash, corn, and beans, which were raised and traded by Native Americans. Sapaen, (corn meal mush), a staple of the Indian diet, was a favorite food in both communities, and an example of the colonists’ adaptation of New World foods in the absence of traditional Dutch products.
The Dutch diet emphasized dairy products and bread. Most settlers kept “Milch cows”, like the small herd of five mentioned in the 1648 inventory of the estate of the Widow Bronck of Emaus. The cultivation of grains like wheat and oats on the arable flood plains of the Hudson River, were used as the chief ingredients in two food staples: beer and bread and by 1650, there were already six or seven bakers and a host of brewers situated in Beverwijck. Hogs, also mentioned in the Widow Bronck’s estate as “running [wild] in the woods” were the favorite meat.
Charles Wooley, an English chaplain stationed in New York City from 1678-80 noted, “The [Dutch] feast freely at the Funeral of any Friend, [and] eat and drink very plentifully at the Feasts. referring to their consumption of brandy wine, a mixture of brandy and raisins served in brandewijnkom, (a two-handled silver paneled bowl) that were passed at weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage.
In the early 1740s Alexander Hamilton, a Maryland physician, observed in his Itinerarium, “the [Albany] Dutch here keep their houses very neat” and their kitchens are likewise very clean. They hang earthen or delft plates and dishes all round the walls “[and] set out their cabinets and bouffetts much with china.” He refers to their “constant diet of salt provisions in the winter.” Hamilton also enjoyed “good viands and wine” in the company of the patroon, Jeremias Van Rensselaer (1705-1745).
During the mid eighteenth century, Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm, reported on Albany’s persistently Dutch palate mentioning the introduction of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, also popular in the Netherlands. Kalm noted: “Their food and its preparation is very different from the English” breakfast is tea, commonly without milk. Dinner is buttermilk and bread with a large salad, prepared with an abundance of vinegar and very little or no oil. They commonly drink very weak beer or pure water. He was impressed that thrifty Dutch housewives prepared just enough food for the meal but paid close attention to housecleaning and good cooking, which were considered important traits.
The young Ann Grant, a Scot, observed in the late 1760s that Dutch-American households in Albany were somewhat Anglicized. Noting that “Tea was a perfect regale, being served up with various sorts of cakes ? cold pastry, and great quantities of sweetmeats and preserved fruits of various kinds, and plates of hickory and other nuts ready cracked. In all manner of confectionery and pastry these people excelled; and having fruit in great plenty, which cost them nothing, and getting sugar home at an easy rate, in return for their exports to the West Indies, the quantity of these articles used in families otherwise plain and frugal was astonishing.”
On the eve of the American Revolution, in 1771, Abraham Lott, Treasurer of the Colony, recorded his summer “Voyage to Albany”. Although he drank tea daily with Dutch-Americans like Doctor Van Dyke, Lady Westerlo, Colonel Van Rensselaer, Mr. Beekman, Mr. Douw, and Mr. Banyar, he also ate meals of “Salad & Parsley, and Milk” at the home of Anthony Ten Eyck, “Bread & Butter, with Soft Eggs and fried Bacon,” near East Greenbush, “Snock, that is Pike” at Albany, a “Supper of Milk & Rusks” at Lebanon, and “Venison and Tea with Mrs. Bronck” at the McCarty’s in Coeymans.
All things change as the Dutch character of Albany began to fade by the late eighteenth century when influxes of immigrants from New England, Ireland, Germany and Italy moved into upstate New York. They brought their own foods and ethnic traditions with them. During the twentieth century arrivals from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Asia introduced diverse cuisines to the region. However, Dutch traditions continue to reappear especially during holidays such as Saint Nicholas Day and New Year as well as cultural events like Albany’s Tulip Festival, Pinksterfest and exhibitions such as Matters of taste.
Matters of taste: food and drink in seventeenth-century Dutch art and life
Donna R. Barnes and Peter G. Rose, with essays by Charles T. Gehring and Nancy T. Minty
Syracuse (Syracuse University Press) 2002