The Delightful Dutch Dish

How one can cook oneself back into local reality

Watergruwel or Krentjebrij December 4, 2009

Filed under: dessert — orangepumpkin @ 16:09

Let me start by saying that this is probably the worst day in my life. Not because it’s a bad day, which it really isn’t, all that’s wrong today is the weather, it’s dull, gray and very depressing, and it’s not even raining. No, it’s the worst day in my life because a few days ago I already decided what I’d make: a dutch dessert. No! Yes! I wrote up the recipe for some other reason and I thought to myself: wow, this is something I’ve never eaten, in my life. And in some dark second following that thought I decided it would be a perfect day to eat something new, this Friday. Which is today. So, by now I’m freaking out. BIG time freaking out here.

The reason I’m freaking out is that ‘watergruwel’ has a very ominous name. Water is water, that’s not bad. But ‘gruwel’ looks and sounds a little too much like ‘gruwelijk’, which means horrible. There is a chance that in some Ye Olde Dutch Dictionary ‘gruwel’ might have an alternative meaning, but I don’t own such a dictionary and I’m not good in Medieval speak anyway. So I’m scared the word ‘gruwel’ might actually mean it’s horrible. ‘Krentjebrij’ sounds better, it’s still the same dish. So possibly some sneaky parent called it that, and hoped the children would finish their horrible dessert because they were being tricked into thinking it wasn’t horrible.

I do come prepared. I bought all the ingredients. Which is a great start when you’re trying something new. I usually improvise something. But not today, not this time. Over the past few days I’ve searched for ‘gort’, and found it. It’s not at all common, nobody uses it anymore. It makes me wonder, might there be a reason we all stick to pasta and potatoes? I’ve bought unsweetened juice (why? Why? WHY? Who drinks unsweetened juice these days? And most of all, why?). Yesterday I asked my utterly Dutch mum about it, I casually dropped ‘watergruwel’ in our conversation. She was ecstatic, it’s a good thing to eat, it’s healthy. My sister, who happened to be in the same room with us started screaming and making vomiting sounds. She yelled things like ‘eeeewwwww, grosss!’, and asked me ‘WHY?’ on numerous occasions. Apparently something’s lacking in my upbringing, which didn’t exactly lack in hers. She knows the stuff. She didn’t start screaming immediately, she asked a very modest question: ‘Is that the stuff with the raisins in it?’ I said it was. And then she started screaming. And she said it was verrrrrrrrrry slimey, which is horrible.

Now, this pristine hour before I start cooking the stuff, I have serious doubts. First, why? Ok, that’s not really a doubt, but seriously, WHY? I read this recipe and I noticed the raisins. The swollen raisins of doom. I hate raisins. Well, not the dried raisins themselves. But I truly hate raisins that have been cooked, are swollen and bloated and then enter my mouth. The thought is nauseating. It’s the only reason I hate raisins. This recipe is full of it. A lot of raisins. Why? Raisins aren’t even Dutch. They’re not local. They’re shriveled Frenchmen in disguise, asylum seekers in our rustic Dutch cuisine. They’re not welcome in my Dutch cuisine! But here I am, with raisins in my cuisine. And I’m going to cook them for over an hour, in water. They’ll be bloated and swollen and gross by the time I eat them and that sucks.
Another doubt of mine arose only a few hours ago, when it finally hit me that I’ll be using 1 L (yes, one whole Liter) of water. One! Whole! Liter! And I read on and it said that this Dutch Dessert was… a drink! Ok, I don’t get that, drinks for dessert without a truckload of alcohol in them, so: why? But it also means that if this stuff is really as gross as my sister so fervently pictured, I’ll be stuck with one whole liter of the stuff. That thought is unbearable. So I’m cutting down the recipe, I’m using half of the ingredients. I just can’t handle the thought of utter grossness in that amount. Even if it’s good for hydrating.
The other concerns are only mild. Like, what do I do with all the gort and raisins and stuff that will be left after I tried this recipe? Can I think of a way to eat those raisins? Are there other recipes with gort? What is ‘gort’ anyway?

I use Google to answer all my existential questions, including these. I know that I can’t live without knowing the answer. ‘Gort’ is barley. And today I’ll be using ‘pearl barley‘. (Which makes me sing (there’s light on this dark day anyway): You’ll remember me when the west wind moves /Upon the fields of barley. Thank you Sting!) I’m so glad I know this now. And that it might relieve depression (through serotonin, who knew?). This might be a good day to eat ‘watergruwel’ after all! And it might explain why the Dutch ate so much barley, winters can be quite depressing up here in the low lands!
And yes, you can use gort to make other things. Another dessert, or maybe a breakfast called ‘karnemelkse pap’ or ‘gortepap’. Which is a porridge made with ‘karnemelk’ (which is buttermilk). And that might be an even bigger problem. I don’t like buttermilk. My mother mentioned ‘karnemelkse pap’ to me and she shivered. She hated it as a child and she has some dearly disturbed memories of it. The memory of ‘karnemelkse pap’ made her say ‘eewww’ and ‘gross’. I was brave and I said ‘But it’s Dutch, right?’. And she gave me some heartfelt advise after that. First she asked if I liked buttermilk. I said ‘no’, and I added ‘eeewww’ and ‘gross’. And my mum said: ‘Then stay away from the ‘karnemelkse pap’, you’ll hate it’. She meant: you’ll die of misery when you attempt making it. And I will bloody well not save you! Thanks mum!

So, on to the cooking!
Ok, lemon zest might be one of my favourite ingredients. That smell! It reminds me of cake and other deliciousness. Maybe this isn’t going to be too bad. I don’t mind the currants and raisins one bit, either. Promising, promising. But I’m still worried, what happens to gort when it’s cooked? Will it be terribly slimey?

The finished product looks a little, well, weird. It’s watery and basically the swollen pearl barley and raisins and currents are sort of swimming in there, hanging on for dear life. The fluid is amazing! You can taste the cinnamon, the red currant juice, the sugar and it’s so balanced and nice, it’s truly amazing. So, on to a bite of the swollen gooey stuff that’s swimming in there. I’m a bit lost for words here. It’s not gross, but it’s not amazingly nice either. The taste is a bit more stingy than just the juice, and there’s barely any texture. It’s not exactly slimy, but it’s not exactly chewy either.

All in all, it’s not bad, but it’s not exactly great either. I’ll live & it’s ok.

1L water
100 g pearl barley
75g sultana raisins
75g zante currants
zest from 1 lemon
cinnamon stick
pinch of salt
50g sugar
300ml unsweetened red currant juice

Read the packaging of your barley, some barley needs to be soaked for hours on end, and check cooking time. Bring water with salt to boil, then add barley, raisins, currants, zest and cinnamon stick, cook for one hour. Remove cinnamon stick, bring to flavour with sugar and red currant juice. Can be served hot or cold.

How Local?
Lemon: over 1000km more southward
gort: 100km? (definitely Dutch, but where?)
raisins: anywhere between 300-1000km (La Douce France, at least that much more South)
cinnamon: sailed in by the VOC, doesn’t count (it’s ‘so far away from me’, thanks Dire Straits!)
sugar: Africa?
red currant juice:


2 Responses to “Watergruwel or Krentjebrij”

  1. Maria Van B Says:

    Krentjebrij …I love the stuff. As a child my Oma made it and remember waiting by the stove so I could suck the barley out of the cinnamon sticks. I was talking to my mum the other day and said I should check the internet for the recipe- and what do you know! here it is!… She does her own version and uses other fruit- like prunes and apricots- sometimes a few blueberries, and uses ribena as an extra flavor boost. My grandmother added a little jello to give it some more consistency- or you could just add more barley and let it stew a tad longer. A touch of ginger gives it a nice zing!

  2. Joanna Vlaming Says:

    I love Krentjebrij or watergruwel as we called when I was growing up. My mother used to make it frequently. My siblings and I couldn’t seem to ever get enough. My mother is now deceased but I have been making it without a recipe. I had watched my mom make it numerous times so I knew what was in it and I went with it. I have made it numerous times for family get togethers. We do periodically, like this year for Christmas, have a dutch menu. – Boerenkool, stamppot, etc and of course watergruwel. I have 3 siblings who have married Canadian spouses-but my brother and his family love it. When they heard the menu was Go Dutch the first thing they asked for was watergruwel. My Mom would sometimes had a bit of red wine to the recipe. I was at the dutch store in Ottawa yesterday and she mentioned that I could probably download the recipe from the internet-Dah because I bought the bessensap there and did not know how much I would need for a dutch oven.- I did not want to guess anymore. So now I have the recipe. I will try a touch of ginger to give it some zing. Thanks

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