“New Year is the greatest day in New Amsterdam,” stated Charles Burr Todd in his 1888 book, The Story of the City of New York.
Why so great? It probably had to do with the incredible feast served by each household, as citizens went door to door visiting one another that day.
“[In] the centre of the table, spread in the middle of the room, a mighty punch-bowl well reinforced by haunches of cold venison and turkeys roasted whole, and ornamented with cakes, comfits, confectionery, silver tankards, and bekers filled with rare Medeira and foaming ale.”
One type of cake regularly served on New Year’s Day was the olykoek, kind of a doughnut. Try making that on January 1 and see if your New York guests appreciate your effort, as well as the colonial backstory:
“The Dutch olykoeks as described in books about old New York are evidently a mouth-watering concoction,” writes The New York Times in a 1937 article about lost New Years traditions.
“First the yeast of the olykoeks was set to lighten after a noonday dinner. Just before supper this was made into a rich dough [with] the addition of many eggs, much butter, and a flavoring of nutmeg.
At bedtime the dough was kneaded down. Next morning it was shaped into small balls, stuffed with a mixture of chopped apple, raisins, and [sic] peel. These were left to rise until after dinner, when the patient maker set about cooking them in hot fat. The finishing touch was to roll the round balls generously in sugar.”
By the 19th century, calling was a more refined, but no less popular New Year’s activity.
[Top image: "New Year's Day Among the Ancient Knickerbockers," from the NYPL Digital Collection; bottom, "Party for New Year's Day in New Amsterdam" by George Henry Boughton]