It was a curious passing. Not because it was unexpected, but because I was left with such mixed feelings about it. First the obvious- sadness, a swift kick to the gut, regret that I hadn’t flown out to visit more recently, more sadness. And then… happiness?
A warmness filled me that I was not expecting. My paternal Grandmother- Baba, to me- was sweet, loving and patient. She put up with a lot of junk during her years on this planet, but she did it all while keeping her sense of humour intact, never wavering in her love for her family.
Baba passed away peacefully at home at age 91, surrounded by her family. She lived to see multiple great-grandchildren and spent her last few years laughing and smiling more than we had ever seen, proof that loosing one’s marbles isn’t always a bad thing.
I mean, to be so lucky. I can be sad she is gone, but happy at how she went out.
My Baba was not a cook. She was a woman who enjoyed a great many things, but cooking was never one of them. I wrote about her, and my good Ukrainian heritage, in this recipe for Borscht. It was not her recipe… but it was from her family, and a soup she enjoyed many times. So, in tribute to my Baba, I will not share a Ukrainian recipe- I will go home and hug everyone in my family so tightly they’ll all think I’ve gone slightly mad. It’s what she would have wanted.
Instead, I will share a recipe from my other Grandmother, my Dutch Oma. It’s pure comfort food for me, and exactly what I need on this drizzly, funny-feeling week. I like to think Oma and Baba are somewhere in the nether, respectively sipping their Pernod and vodka. Neither spoke the other’s language in life, but I imagine when you’re part of the great nevernever, language barriers aren’t really an issue. They’re probably doing the good (grand)mother thing, still- wondering why I spend so much time on the internet, thinking it would be nice if I worked a little more colour into my wardrobe, and generally looking over me to make sure I don’t almost choke to death on an hors d’oeuvres again (that story will come in a later post, I promise).
Holland is interesting because, despite its rather small land mass, it hosts roughly 40 dialects of the Dutch language. My Oma, who was from Geldrop (close to Eindhoven) in the south of Holland, spoke the Brabants dialect. This dialect is so close to Belgian Flemish that my Oma had difficulty distinguishing the two languages. So, it is not surprising that the cuisine of Flanders and of Nord Brabant are also remarkably similar (ahem, the same): frites with mayo, herring, braised rabbit, chervil soup, etc.
Oma’s “grass soup,” as we called it growing up, is a variation of traditional Belgian chervil soup. My Oma emigrated to Canada in 1956 with just a suitcase in her hand. She came for a year, to work as a nurse. Following that, she rather promptly met her husband-to-be, my Opa (also from Holland but from the north – his Frisian dialect was totally incomprehensible to my Oma’s Brabants, to say nothing of his unwavering predilection for potatoes)… and never again returned to live in Holland.
Oma’s Dutch recipes were based on memories of how things looked and tasted, and the limitations of finding specific ingredients in Canada- Dutch cuisine is not widely spread here. So, she made due. The recipe below is for a soup that I associate with comfort and warmth on a cold and rainy westcoast day. A Dutch or Belgian cook would be horrified to see that we used canned chervil growing up, since we couldn’t get fresh chervil, and rice (what about the potatoes?!?!).
It’s for this reason that her daughter, my own mother, informed me when preparing this post that I could not in good conscience call this ‘Belgian Chervil Soup.’ It will forever be Oma’s Grass Soup to me, but for the blog I will just call it ‘Chervil Soup.’
Note: Growing up, my mum used to tell my sister and I that Oma put actual lawn clippings in the soup and we 100% believed her. It’s very similar to how my mum used to call Oma’s braised rabbit “Dutch Chicken” so that my sister and I wouldn’t be horrified at eating rabbit. Clever kid that she was, my sister Megan commented that Dutch chicken appeared to have a lot more bones in it that Canadian Chicken. It sure does, Megan. It sure does. My parents were big on deception if it meant we ate our dinner. 😉
|Chervil Soup with Meatballs|| |
- 6-8 cups beef stock
- 1 large onion, chopped
- Olive oil
- ~3 cups of fresh chervil, finely chopped*
- ~1/3 cup uncooked long grain white rice
- 400 g of ground beef
- A dash each of salt, pepper, nutmeg and cloves
- 1 egg
- Mix meatball ingredients together. Form into small cocktail-sized balls. In a large pot, brown meatballs over medium heat in olive oil or butter. When brown, add chopped onion and saute until soft and golden. Add chervil and stir in over low heat. If using fresh chervil, let it cook down a bit over low heat. Add uncooked rice stir and cook for 2-3 minutes over med-low heat.
- Add beef stock and turn heat up to medium to allow the rice to cook. You may be tempted to add even more rice after a few minutes, but I recommend you wait until the rice is completely cooked because it does expand and you aren’t making congee here. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!