CHILDHOOD BIRTHDAY DINNER REMAINS KATHELIJNE KEEREN’S FAVOURITE
THE NETHERLANDS: BOERENKOOL
Kathelijne Keeren was fourteen when she and her family moved from Son, a town in southern Netherlands to Oakville, Ontario. “People thought my Dutch accent was interesting and they wanted to show me off. But it was a hard age to move. The hardest part was being a teenager and having to make new friends,” said Keeren, now 50 and a project coordinator for a perinatal research study.
Back in Oakville, it was evident to teenaged Keeren that she and her family didn’t eat the same kinds of food as other families in her neighbourhood. “They had cereal for breakfast; we had bread with chocolate sprinkles, or bread with cheese. We had lots of cheese. And at Christmas, we never had turkey,” she said.
Keeren also remembers that every year on her birthday, her mother let her choose whatever she wanted for supper. For Keeren, the answer was always boerenkool, Dutch for farmers’ kale. “I really like the flavour and you can add things to it – like meat, mustard and gravy,” said Keeren. Boerenkool is a kind of Dutch comfort food, usually served in fall or winter. But Keeren has a fond memory of her mother preparing the dish when the family was vacationing in Spain. “I don’t know how she got the ingredients. But I remember thinking, ‘This is heaven,’” said Keeren.
Keeren only started cooking her own boerenkool when she was studying at Carleton University. “I called my mom for the recipe and she talked me through it. I probably called her a few more times before I could do it alone,” Keeren recalled.
It’s thanks to Keeren’s husband Dan that she ended up in Montreal. The couple met on a rock-climbing adventure in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Though Dan is from Toronto, he is one-sixteenth Dutch. “We think that one-sixteenth is all in the food category,” Keeren said with a laugh. Dan quickly became a boerenkool fan. “I love this dish,” he said during our visit to the family’s home in NDG. “Kat’s is even better than my mother-in-law’s. My mother-in-law puts gravy in the pot; Kat doesn’t,” he said.
The couple have two sons. Thirteen-year-old Leo likes boerenkool too. Fifteen-year-old Nolan eats just the meat his mother prepares on the side when she makes the dish. “I tell him, ‘You don’t know what you’re missing!’” said Keeren.
1 bunch of flat-leaf kale, washed well, stems removed, chopped fine
10-14 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
Put potatoes in a pot; cover with cold water. Place chopped kale on top. Let the mixture reach a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes – until the potatoes are tender.
Pour off most of the liquid, reserving it. Using a masher, mash the mixture. Add milk, one third of a cup at a time, and the butter. Add up to one cup of the reserved liquid. Add salt and pepper.
Serves four to six.
Goes well with seared meat such as sausage, beef or pork. If you do prepare meat, keep the gravy to serve with the boerenkool. Also good with grainy mustard
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The Secret is in the Sauce! is sponsored by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program.