The tasty food of a colonial Dutch New Year’s Day

“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.

Here’s an example, according to Todd:

“[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]

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8 Responses to “The tasty food of a colonial Dutch New Year’s Day”

  1. fivepointsguy Says:

    Olykoek, literally translated, means “oily cake”. And from the descriptions I’ve read and illustrations I’ve seen, look a little like the deep-fried Italian zeppoles (which came a couple of centuries later). We get the word cake from the Dutch “koek”. From the Dutch word for small cake, “koekje”, we get cookie. Okay, gotta go. My sweet tooth is acting up!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Zeppoles–the redeeming factor in all city summer street fairs!

  3. Roger T Says:

    They are indeed close to the zeppoles. This tradition still exists in the Netherlands, where both the ‘Oliebol’ and the “Appelflap’ (variation on the apple turnover) are served on December 31st. This is what olykoek/oliebol looks like nowadays

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the images! I remember these zeppole-like treats from a wonderful visit to Amsterdam last year.

  5. All the ways New York celebrated the New Year | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] It all started with the early Dutch settlers, who began the tradition of New Year’s calling: going around the colony “calling” on their friends and neighbors to wish them well in the coming year (and pipe-smoking and partying too). […]

  6. A little girl’s very busy New Year’s Day in 1850 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] come together and don’t stay more than a minute; but some go into the back room and take some oysters and coffee and cake, and stay and […]

  7. A boy remembers New Year’s calling in the 1860s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] tradition—a carryover from colonial New Amsterdam—died out with gaslights and elevated […]

  8. ktkittentoes Says:

    New Years Cookies! I make them every year! And my non-German Mennonite friends are only too happy to help eat them.

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