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History of the Bitterball - Snack of Snacks
200 years BC
The first proof of the existence of the predecessor of the bitterball, allso known as the DutchDipper, dates from the time that the Batavians lived in Holland, in the area we nowadays call the Veluwe: a forest-rich ridge of hills in the province of Gelderland.

The Batavians built “terpen”, a mound or knoll used for refuge from high tide and floods. “Terp” means "village" in Frisian. Compare English "thorpe". The regular flooding and high tides caused quite a few casualties amongst men and animals.

On and around these mounds we find today a lot of archaeological material, such as bones, tools and instruments. From this we can tell how the people must have lived in these days: They hunted in vast forests for animals like bears, wolves, aurochs, deer and boar. The also fished for cod and sturgeon.

A mound could grew as big as to built a whole village on them, where the Batavians kept chicken, sheep and cows.

When the Romans conquered the land of the Batavians, they were likely to be surprised of the fact that the Batavians had so much food and used it in so many different ways.

This first became clear when an English archaeologist, Dr. Randolph Lattermore (1847-1928), studied Roman literature about this period.

According to the Romans the Batavians used meat of the aurochs (ox), roasted it in it’s own fat and ate this for dinner together with bread and vegetables. After the meal, the women mixed the leftover meat and fat with water and bread. This created a kind of bread stew that could be eaten at a later date, and was easy to take along with the hunters on their hunting trips.

It took more then 1700 years from there for the first real bitterball to be invented. In the meantime the aurochs died out, and the forests in the Netherlands disappeared.

In the year 1568 AC
The beginning of the 80-year during Dutch revolt against the occupation by the Spanish, is commonly known as the beginning of the bitterball as we know it today.

The Spanish occupation brought, for example, olives, chorizo, mussels in tomato sauce, tortillas and mushrooms in garlic to the Lowlands.

The Spanish also introduced their tapas to this country. However, this food-culture got forgotten when the Spanish were dissipated from Holland. It lasted only until the end of the 20th century for the tapas to return here.

To the Spanish army cooks, their Iberian ingredients were not always available in the Lowlands. This forced them to use Dutch ingredients. The stew of the Batavians had already been tasted and approved by the Romans, now it was the turn for the Spanish. In order to get the hang of making this bread stew, a cooperation with the Dutch on the subject must have been apparent.

Once they knew how to cook it, the Spanish occupants took the development of this kind of stew a step further than the Batavians had done. In their homeland they were used to fry squid and mussels in hot oil in a cauldron over a fire. The food was first covered in a batter of egg and flour. To get a nice crust, they then rolled it through old breadcrumbs and then fried it.

According to a recorded story of a citizen from the city of Leiden, the Spanish cooks tried this method successfully with the stew. The result must have been something like a croquette or… a bitterball.

After the Munster peace treaty of 1648, the Spanish left the Netherlands, but the development and refining of the bitterball continued. However the bitterball did not conquer a place among the traditional tapas in Spain, since the Spanish kitchen is very traditional and did not want to adapt the Dutch delicacy.

1783 AC
During the Dutch Golden Ages a landlord in Amsterdam, called Jan Barendz, introduced finger food in his pub by the name “schnecks”. The reason that he did this, was because he saw that his clientele was getting hungry during the drinking of beer and Dutch gin, genever, and went home to eat. To keep them in his pub, he started offering them small portions of cheese, sausage and bread at a nice price. Every now and then, his wife made the croquette like dish that was introduced by the Spanish.

Rumour has it, that from the little filling she had left, she made small balls and rolled them through egg and bread crumbs and fried them in a pan with hot oil. She was very happy with the result and started serving them together with the cheese, sausage and bread as a “schneck”.

According to Mr. Temerdink, archivist to the Dutch Archaeological Institute “Raschmaelen”, a book called “Amsterdam beer-small-talk”, is one of the few documents left that describe the introduction of the original bitterball.

The book, only 56 pages, also contains a periodical unique poem by Bernardus Kinker. This poem introduces the word “schneck”, that must have been made up by the author or the Landlord Barendz.

It’s a misunderstanding that the English word “snack” refers to the typical Dutch quick bites in Holland. The word “schneck” was introduced in Barendz’ Pub and was given to the fried creation of his wife because of it’s shape: the “snek” is a cylindrical shaped part of a clockwork. One of the pub’s visitors was Johan Moolenaer, a renowned watchmaker who lived and worked next-door to the pub. He later migrated to London and it is likely that he introduced the word “schneck” to the English language as “snack”.



1848 AC
After the Spanish, the French came to Holland. Their occupation lasted until 1813. That is when the industrial development in the Netherlands started.

In the same year as the Dutch constitution was inaugurated, based upon the liberal and democratic ideas of the Dutch statesman Thorbecke, the word “dipperdish” appears in the booklet “taste for snacks” from the unknown Harlem writer Hugo Alferink.

According to archivist Temerdink, Alferink was a man with progressive culinary ideas, that were not understood, nor appreciated in his time.

Temerdink claims that the word dipperdish is made up by the writer by combining two words: “dish” meaning choice of assortment, used in Barendz’ pub to refer to the food of his wife, and “dipper” meaning spirit, gin or jenever. So it literally means a having a snack while drinking.

So, “snack” became the word for an individual item, dipperdish became the name for an assortment of different snacks and the bitterball got his own name as a snack. And so it deserves!

Now
As with many original items, the Dutch snacks have become commercially interesting. Many producers now bring cheap and untasty versions of these snacks on the market, made by thousands at the time at a computer controlled and optimised production line.

And as always: you cannot beat the original: The bitterballs!

"History of the bitterballs"© by Michael Boerop of Bitterballen.net: bitterbal@bitterballen.net
"Den Schneck" "Treck in den Schneck" Duidelijk te zien op deze zinken druk, aan de linkerkant, zijn de handgetekende bitterballen en de handtekening van Kinker. (zie 1783 n.Chr.)
"Den Schneck" "Treck in den Schneck" First linel.
Hand drawn bitterballs and signature Kinker. 
 
Een foto daterend uit 1937 van een terp op de Betuwe.
Picture from 1937 of a terp on the Betuwe.
 
Foto van gevonden geschrift in steen. Volgens dr. Randolph Lattermore stammend uit 200 v. Chr. Het geschrift is gevonden op de Betuwe tijdens opgravingen uit terpen. De letterlijke, moderne vertaling is: "Een gerecht als vlees van oerols in nat en brood."
Photograph of found writing in stone. According to dr. Randolph Lattermore from 200 AC writing descendings has been found on the Betuwe during unearthings from terpen. The litteral, modern translation is: " A menu as a flesh of oerols in wet and bread."
 
Een Spaanse pot, geheel in tact
A Spanish pot, entirely in tact
 
Scherf van een opgegraven Spaanse pot voor de bereiding van voedsel
Shard of a dug up Spanish pot for the preparation of food
 
Privécollectie van de familie Berlandt-Meervaart
Private collection of the family Berlandt-Meervaart.
Bernardus Kinker, een verre achterneef van de beroemde dichter
Bernardus Kinker, a distant second cousin of the famous poet
 
Voorloper van de bitterbal? Spaanse tapas
Preamble of the bitterbal?
Spanish tapas.
 
 
A Boerop.nl Production 1421 - 2013 - bitterbal@bitterballen.net
 
 
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