I love going back to my books on 17th C paintings time and time again: just looking at pictures provides such inspiration. I have a few books on paintings of food: while they show beautiful paintings they also provide great insight into the culture of the time and what people enjoyed eating. The other day I noticed that some paintings from the 1600s show a type of bread that looks like the present-day Yorkshire pudding, or American popover (a version of the Yorkshire pudding and was first mentioned in an American recipe book in 1850 [Wikipedia]).
I cannot remember seeing or eating bread shaped like this while growing up in The Netherlands, which makes me wonder if the Dutch were eating an English side dish 400 years ago. Wouldn’t this be remarkable considering they were looking East for much of that century?
Floris van Dijck , Still life with Cheeses, 1620, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Nicolaes Gillis, Still life with Cheeses and Fruit (detail), 1612, Private collection
Modern-day Yorkshire puddings in England (Wikipedia)
As explained in Slow Food: Dutch and Flemish Meal Still Lifes 1600-1640, bread and salt were the first items that were put on a table when preparing to sit down for a meal: bread was a side dish in the 1600s and was placed on a tin plate or by itself on the table. The luxurious light-coloured bread (the type often shown in paintings) was made using wheat, while the majority of people ate the heavier rye bread. This description however does not seem to explain the Yorkshire pudding-type items seen in some paintings.
Now, there is something called the ‘Dutch baby pancake’ (Wikipedia): sometimes called “a German pancake, a Bismarck, a Dutch puff, Hooligan, or a Hootenanny’s, and is similar to a large American popover.” They are thicker than the classic pancake and baked in the oven. The Dutch Baby was first served in the early 1900s, or so a cafe in Seattle claimed. They were apparently derived from a German pancake dish. It is thought that the cafe owner’s daughter (it’s always the women..) mispronounced the word Deutsch (“German”).
Dutch Baby pancake (Wikipedia), which is based on a type of German pancake.
Without an extensive dive into the history of German bread/pancakes and its popularity in the surrounding regions, it would make sense that food of German origin would be found on the 17th century Dutch table: The Netherlands and at least western Germany as we know them today have long shared similar cultures due to their close proximity. Indeed, they were both part of the Holy Roman Empire until the abdication of the Habsburg Charles V in the 1550s, with the Burgundian-Habsburg court shaping and enriching the cuisine of the Low Countries’ elite in the 15th and 16th centuries (Wikipedia, Wikipedia).
Even today our neighbour’s culture is ever present in ours: for example, the local dialect near the border sounds a lot like German and farmers’ produce is the same. Now sadly gone out of fashion, until about 80 years ago my grandparents used glazed earthenware from Cologne to preserve food, some pots having a decorative function (a small Cologne vase belonging to my grandmother features in one of my paintings).
So, .. no offence to the Yorkshire pudding, but that delicious-looking ‘bread’ in 17th century Dutch paintings is probably just a German side dish: landed there after a few centuries of wonderful culinary enrichment.
Slow Food: Dutch and Flemish meal Still Lifes 1600-1640. Quentin Buvelot, Mauritshuis
American popovers: Wikipedia
Dutch baby pancakes: Wikipedia
Holy Roman Empire and Charles V: Wikipedia
Dutch cuisine: Wikipedia