It was at Leyden that I saw my first Kermis, or fair, seven years ago, and ate my first poffertjes and wafelen. Writing as a foreigner, in no way concerned with the matter, I may express regret that the Kermis is not what it was in Holland. Possibly were one living in Holland, one would at once join the anti-Kermis party; but I hope not. In Amsterdam the anti-Kermis party has succeeded, and though one may still in that city at certain seasons eat wafelen and poffertjes, the old glories have departed, just as they have departed from so many English towns which once broke loose for a few nights every year. Even Barnet Fair is not what it was.
Noise seems to be the principal objection. Personally, I never saw any drunkenness; and there is so little real revelry that one turns one’s back on the naphtha lamps in this town and that, in Leyden and the Hoorn, Apeldoorn and Middelburg, with the sad conviction that the times are out of joint, and that Teniers and Ostade and Brouwer, were they reborn to-day, would probably either have to take to painting Christmas supplements or earn their living at a reputable trade. It is not that the Dutch no longer drink, but that they now do it with more privacy.
The travelling temples reserved for the honour of poffertjes and wafelen are the most noticeable features of any Kermis. They are divided, quite like restaurants, into little cubicles for separate parties. Flowers and ferns make them gay; the waiters may even wear evening dress, but this is a refinement which would have annoyed Jan Steen; on the tables is white American cloth; and curtains of coloured material and muslin, with bright ribbons, add to the vivacity of the occasion. To eat poffertjes and wafelen is no light matter: one must regard it as a ritual.
Poffertjes come first—these are little round pancakey blobs, twisted and covered with butter and sugar. Then the wafelen, which are oblong wafers stamped in a mould and also buttered and sugared. You eat twenty-four poffertjes and two wafelen: that is, at the first onset. Afterwards, as many more as you wish. Lager beer is drunk with them. Some prefer Frambozen lemonade.
To eat them is a duty; to see them cooked is a joy. I have watched the cooks almost for hours. The poffertjes are made by hundreds at once, in a tray indented with little hollows over a fire. The cook is continually busy in twisting the little dabs of paste into the hollows and removing those that are ready. The wafelen are baked in iron moulds (there is one in Jan Steen’s “Oyster Feast”) laid on a rack in the fire. The cook has eight moulds in working order at once. When the eighth is filled from the pail of batter at his side, the first is done; and so on, ceaselessly, all day and half the night, like a natural law.
A woman stands by to spread butter and sugar, and the plate is whisked away in a moment. The Americans boast of their quick lunches; but I am convinced that they borrowed celerity in cooking and serving from some Knickerbocker deviser of poffertjes and wafelen in the early days of New York. I wonder that Washington Irving omitted to say so.