Hutspot—the Taste of Dutch Freedom

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When I think of Dutch food, what comes to mind are wheels of wax-covered cheese—Gouda and Edam—and the giant pancakes I tasted when I visited the Netherlands during college. For my husband, whose oma (grandmother) is Dutch, the one dish that represents that side of his heritage is hutspot—a mash of carrots, potatoes, onions and usually meat that Oma Tineke would make whenever she came to visit.

In the five and a half years since we met, my husband has waxed nostalgic numerous times about what he always called "hotspot." When we were first dating I thought he was talking about his other grandmother, who grew up in the Bronx, and I wondered about the funny name—it sounds more like the latest Manhattan nightclub than something to eat.

It turns out, according to Dutch Ancestry Magazine, that hutspot derives from the Dutch words hutsen, meaning "to mix" (though I only found one online Dutch-English dictionary that had that word in it, so it might be an uncommon usage), and pot, meaning, well, pot. It may also be related to hotchpotch, a variant of the English word hodgepodge, a mixture. It is one kind of stamppot, the general term for a mashed dish of potatoes and other vegetables. (The above link mentions a spring version with an even funnier name; it translates to "bare buttocks in the grass.")

Tineke said hutspot is a favorite winter comfort food in Holland. She boils the carrots, potatoes (slightly more carrots than potatoes) and onions until soft, then adds chunks of cooked beef chuck for a while to let the flavor seep in. When it's done, she mashes the vegetables with butter, salt and pepper, reserving the meat to be served with it. Other recipes use bacon or sausage rather than beef, or it can be prepared without meat altogether.

For such a simple dish, hutspot has an interesting backstory. According to Dutch lore, it originated in the 16th century, at the end of the Siege of Leiden during the Eighty Years' War. The siege, during which Dutch rebels battled the Spanish occupiers, lasted for months, and many people starved. Part of the Dutch strategy to recapture Leiden was to breach the dikes, allowing the low-lying land to flood and permit the resistance to attack by ship.

It worked to a point, until the water became too shallow and the ships ran aground. But when the wind shifted and sent the water in the other direction, the Dutch were able to repel the Spaniards, and by October 3, 1574, the city was finally freed. The hastily departing Spanish soldiers left behind pots of an unfamiliar stew of carrots, parsnips, meat and onions, which the hungry Leideners ate. They named the dish hutspot, and it became a symbol of their victory. Potatoes, which didn't become common in the Netherlands until the 1800s, eventually replaced parsnips as the root vegetable of choice.

Nearly four centuries later, the Dutch suffered under another occupation, this time by Nazi Germany. Hutspot came to represent freedom from oppression, in part because of its history and for its orange tint—the Dutch national color—but also because the ingredients could be grown underground, mostly hidden from view. Although Tineke was born after World War II, she remembers her father's stories of the occupation. The German soldiers slashed his bicycle tires when he tried to ride to his greenhouse, she says, and some nights he slept in his garden to guard the vegetables that he needed to feed his family.

Hutspot is still eaten every October 3—this Sunday—to commemorate the Dutch victory in the Siege of Leiden.

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