Monday, December 5, 2011

Dutch Salad

I call this Dutch Salad because this is the only salad my mother-in-law ever served.  I've never encountered it anywhere other than at her table.

Hard boil an egg for each person.  Shred lettuce onto a salad plate for each person.  To each plate add some chopped onions. Sprinkle some sugar over lettuce, drizzle with a little olive oil.  Grate one hard boiled egg over each plate of lettuce.  Add a little salt and pepper to taste.

That's it.  Simple but a nice change from our usual menu of salads.

My mother-in-law lived a rather hard life, with many difficulties to endure.  She was born in 1900 in a small village in North Holland (the Netherlands).  Before she was a year old her own mother died.  There had never been a photo taken of her, and as long as she lived Moe (pronounced Mooo--short for Moeder) felt that lack.  She never knew what her own mother looked like.  But I have the impression that her father kind of made a little pet out of her to make up for the lack of a mother.  Moe had seven older siblings, three girls and four boys.

A few years later her father married his housekeeper and they had three little girls together.  So I guess Moe was about three or at the most four when that happened.

She was a teenager during the First World War.  She never talked about that at all that I know of.

When she was twenty-four she married my father-in-law.  She became pregnant the first month she was married.  Her father-in-law was living with them until he died some years later.  There were four children in quite quick succession: first a boy, then a girl, then a boy, and three years later another girl.  Those were the years of the world wide Depression, and in a small Dutch village there was no money to spare.  They raised much of their own food, but when it came to luxuries there simply were none.

Then the Second World War started and Holland was invaded and occupied for the duration of the war.  That meant even more deprivation and having to try to make ends meet in the middle.  My Dear One was born in '37, before the war and his younger sister was born during the war in '40.  That made seven children to care for.

Also during those war years the family took care of several young men, called "onderdijkers" who had to hide from the Germans lest they be shot or shipped off to Germany to work in the war factories.  In retrospect those years seemed good because of the camaraderie of the young men, and some of the ingenious devices they rigged up to provide light--the electricity had been cut off.  If they received word that a raid was coming, the young fellows fled by boat along the canals.  My husband can recall cowering in bed as a helmeted soldier looked for these hidden boys.

One good thing during the war years: they always had enough to eat, mainly potatoes and brown beans (dried beans).  In contrast there was much starvation, especially the last year of the war, in the cities.  People from the cities would walk for miles to beg some food from those living in the country.  Moe would give them a sandwich, but require them to sit and eat it in front of her.  Otherwise, there was the possibility that they would turn around and sell it.

On one occasion they slaughtered a goat in the back entryway.  If the Germans knew they had it they would requisition the meat.  On another occasion my father-in-law walked for miles with a cow on a leash that he had bartered for.  A few time during that trek he had to dive into the ditch to avoid being strafed by enemy aircraft, and the cow ran away and had to be caught again.

The family all survived the war.  But soon after the war my father-in-law fell from the hayloft of the barn and impaled his leg on the wooden handle of a rake.  He spent almost a year in the hospital and forever after limped badly from that injury.

Even before the war Pa had in mind to emigrate to another country, but the war and his injury postponed those plans, until finally in 1949 the family emigrated to Canada.  Their oldest son was already there and their oldest daughter and her husband also came along.  So Moe was 49 when she moved to a completely strange country with a completely strange language.

For the first few months they lived on a doctor's estate and Pa was one of the gardeners.  But there was a German fellow living there, and Pa got into a fight with him.  The doctor said that Pa and his family had to leave.  So in the middle of the winter they bought a 40 acre farm near Hamilton, Ontario.  They raised the downpayment by selling a ten acre plot to another buyer.  They became flower growers who marketed their flowers in the Hamilton Farmers' Market and in the Toronto Wholesale Market.

Over the years, with lots of hard work from the whole family and typical immigrant frugality they made good on that stony little piece of ground.  Toward the end of their life they sold the old house on the highway and built a cozy brick home on the sideroad.  Their youngest daughter lived next door with her family and helped look after them in their last years.  I think that those last years of their lives were the most peaceful.

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