Beautiful, isn’t it? And to think it’s been only a few weeks since I discovered the Stroopwafel was a biscuit! (If you don’t believe me, visit Holland’s leading tourism site which describes it as a ‘combination of two cookies with a caramel centre’). With its rounded shape and syrupy goodness, it’s the closest thing I can think of to a pancake in biscuit form so this seems like a good day to catalogue it here…
I’ve been a dedicated consumer of Stroopwafels for years now and they’re about the only food I might be tempted to stockpile in the event of a no-deal Brexit. You can find them in coffee shops, but for my money the best – and best value – ones are made by the Dutch company Daelmans and available to buy in supermarkets in larger packs. The recommended way to eat them is to balance them on a mug of hot tea or coffee for a minute until the outer waffle warms through and the caramel becomes soft and gooey. Alas, these delightful creatures are pretty much spun from sugar, but arguably this makes them the perfect indulgence for Pancake Day.
Shrove Tuesday is known as Vastenavond in the Netherlands, and, as the name suggests, marks the final evening before Lent’s 40-day fast. As in many other parts of Europe, Lent was preceded by three days of Carnival in medieval Holland: a season of license and celebration where music, entertainment and civic processions – and even uproar in the streets on occasion – was the order of the day (and night). In the medieval imagination, Lent and Carnival were often depicted as slugging it out in an imaginary battle, as in this famous painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in which you can see King Carnival (with a pie on his head) brandishing a spit of meat at Lady Lent (in a habit and bee-hive):
I’m afraid any honied waffles in the vicinity would almost certainly be rooting for King Carnival as it’s hard to imagine many biscuits being eaten on Ash Wednesday except charcoal ones. For medieval Christians, Carnival probably represented a welcome letting off of steam before the fast began, or, more philosophically, a counterbalance to Lent’s mood of contrition and renunciation. Both the Dutch Vastenavond and the English word Shrove carry the suggestion of preparation for Lent more than Mardi Gras, although Shrovetide in England was also a season of license. As the final day before the long fast, Shrove Tuesday combined elements of both as Christians prepared by being shriven (making confession) and using up any sweet food in the cupboard.
But what has all this to do with Stroopwafels, you may ask? Particularly when the point of Lent – and of fasting in general – is to focus on things that are more important than material satisfactions, since people cannot live on bread (or even biscuits) alone? As a season of renunciation and reflection, Lent offers us a sober but ultimately healing space to sift our goals and priorities, to humble ourselves where we need humbling, and soften our hearts where they are stiff and cold.
And this is where the example of the Stroopwafel comes in, for just as the caramel needs to be softened by the warmth of the tea below it, so our hearts can’t be changed except by the work of the holy spirit in our lives. ‘I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart,’ says the famous passage in Ezekiel – a promise I’ve grown to treasure as I’ve watched it working in my own life, little by little, in ways I never thought it could.
Show the Bake-off contestants how it’s done and make your own Stroopwafels for Shrove Tuesday.
Celebrate the last night of Carnival with a dance from medieval Gelderland (or something) with bonus glowering from Rufus Sewell:
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