For Proust, it was madeleines. For me, Dutch cheese inspires writing. As the first fickle days of spring bring forth the tulips around town, I went to Eden Gourmet looking for the cheese I remembered eating at my Dutch grandmother’s house when I was a teenager. Sliced thinly, served on dark rye bread with pickled olives, this is the food I associate with stories the old folks told about the Dutch in New Jersey.
At Eden’s cheese counter, I learned that this yellow cheese with the red rind, studded with cumin seeds, is called Leyden or Leidse kaas. As I recall, Beppe, my grandmother, now in her nineties, served it on Sundays, along with a generous helping of gossip. She switched the conversation to Dutch when it became too “interesting” for a kid. As a result, I know only a few words of Dutch, and those would make old Peter Hudson blush to his eyebrows.
All this occurs to me because in 2009, Manhattan celebrates Captain Peter Hudson’s 1609 voyage up the river that would eventually bear his name. Nearly 10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Hudson and his crew established settlements in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania that formed the Dutch colony of New Netherland, or Nieuw Nederlandt. While the purchase of Manhattan for some $24 has become the stuff of legend, Hudson stopped first in New Jersey, near what is now Perth Amboy. Hudson’s first mate, Robert Juet, kept a journal of the voyage, which includes many observations the crew made about what we now know as “down the shore.” (According to what I was told as a child, the Dutch—knowing a good thing when they see it—claimed and named Cape May.)
After the establishment of trading posts in New Amsterdam, the Dutch government offered families free land in the new world. The Netherlands was then and is now a small country, and emigrants were drawn to New Amsterdam. By the end of the 17th century, however, all of New Netherland had become the possession of the British crown. This wasn’t a simple transfer of power, and New York was known as New Orange for some time, a tribute to the Dutch royal house of Orange, which gave our town its name. The document of surrender, The Articles of Capitulation on the Reduction of New Netherland, included provisions for freedom of worship, emigration to and from the Netherlands, and even a provision that the public houses “shall continue for the uses which they are now for.”
Newark, which then encompassed the Oranges, boasts a Holland Street, and the Ironbound was first known as Dutch Neck. The numerous “Reformed” churches in our area are also testament to the Dutch legacy. And the Newark censuses of 1670 and 1696 tell the story of Dutch settlement in our areas. But I’m convinced that the story of the Dutch in greater Newark remains untold. Perhaps it is the influence of the “old Hollanders” who told stories around Beppe’s kitchen table, but I’m looking hard for signs of the Dutch influence in South Orange and environs. If you know of a street name, a bit of local history, Dutch food, even a Dutch-influenced design in a local building, please post it here. I’ll follow up on any leads and post the results of my research. In the meantime, try the Leyden at Eden; it’s good on a bagel.