WHAT’S ON THE MENU TONIGHT

Our recent Thanksgiving Day feast with family got me thinking about the food traditions that have become a part of this special American holiday every year.  Reflecting on my own menu for the day, I noticed that none of the many offerings on my table had any roots in my Dutch heritage. That seemed particularly strange to me having grown up in just a third-generation Dutch emigrate family.

This omission may be due to a lack of recipes handed down from my grandmother, Jennie Smouter Reyst, and also the blended culture that existed within the city of Detroit from the time my great-grandparents arrived in 1890 until the late 1960s. While most dinner tables on Thanksgiving Day feature roast turkey, the similarities end there across the various regions of the United States, and particularly among families in the Metropolitan Detroit area. From vegetables to salads and desserts, and even how the stuffing and potatoes are prepared for the Thanksgiving feast, are all influenced by the area we live and grew up in.

From the time my great-grandparents arrived in Detroit and settled on its east side, cultural foods abound.  From 1890 through the early part of the twentieth century, German influence on the east side and Russian on the west side could be seen in the food markets and bakeries in Detroit. Then by the mid-1900s Polish, Italian and Jewish immigration would add to this cultural mix. From a very early age, growing up in an east-side Detroit neighborhood comprised of German, Polish and Italian second-generation emigrant families, I was exposed to foods introduced by these various cultures, such as spagetti, pizza, galumpis (cabbage rolls), pierogis (Polish dumplings filled with either cheese or kraut), kielbasa (Polish sausage), Chrusciki (Polish angel wing cookies), paczki (Polish Fat Tuesday filled doughnuts), saurbraten, sauerkraut and sausage to name just a few.

So what happened to the Dutch influence? In contrast to the Dutch emigrants who settled in the western regions of Michigan, where there existed a large Dutch community extending from as far north as Muskegon and as far south of Holland, including Grand Rapids, the Dutch community within Detroit was relatively small in comparison to the growing population of this major industrialized city in America. My great-grandmothers probably prepared their first Thanksgiving Day feast, featuring foods that they were most familiar with from their homeland. But as the years went by, and the difficulty of obtaining food and staples required in those recipes, their menus likely slowly changed to blend more with their new home surroundings.

What special treats would Helena Reyst and Adriaantje Smouter, my great-grandmothers, have fixed during the holiday season? Having absolutely no idea, despite actually visiting The Netherlands (typical college student, I stuck with what was most familiar to me – McDonalds), I set out to find out what Dutch cuisine is actually like. Today’s Dutch menu is strongly influenced by all the cultures it has openly embraced since its golden age in the 1600s. So you are unlikely to find a strictly “Dutch” restaurant in the major cities of The Netherlands. They also eat much healthier today than at the turn of the twentieth century. But Helena’s and Adriaantje’s dinner menus would have probably featured foods that were higher in fat. Their holiday dinner would certainly have included a homemade bread, some fresh cheese, and maybe Jan Hagel (Dutch almond) cookies for dessert.

So I have added a new category for you to explore, Dutch Cuisine, and I will post some traditional Nederlander recipes for you to enjoy. I posted my first one, Dutch Apple Fritters; check it out and watch for new additions.

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TIME FOR THANKSGIVING

As we hopefully spend time with family, friends, and other loved ones today, I just want to say to all my followers “Gelukkige Dankviering”, which translate from Dutch as “Happy Celebration of Thanks”.  May you have many reasons to give thanks this holiday season.

WHAT’S IN A NAME

When it came time to choose a name for our anticipated new family member, we purchased one of those popular baby naming books without a thought to any family names. Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, we jotted down several names that appealed to us, either because it was unique, sounded good with our surname, or seemed to lend itself to character. For a boy, a passing thought was given to naming him after my husband, but was quickly dismissed in favor of other choices.

Unlike our parents who chose to honor a special relative as our middle given names, we had no intention of following suit. Our generation’s goal seemed intent on making sure our children were unique.

But for my father and his siblings, as his parents before him, a name was not just name as much as a tradition. The Dutch have long named their offspring after other family members – grandparents, aunts and uncles. Therefore, given names were passed down for generations. This chain was broken as our emigrant families assimilated more into their new culture in Detroit, and particularly after their offspring married non-Dutch descendants.  A few names have survived the times even here in America (although now Americanized with English spellings), but most have been overlooked for names more popular during the decade of the time of birth.  Maybe if we had known more about our own family’s history, the names Neil (Cornelis), Helen (Helena), Nellie (Neeltje), Lena (Lijntje), Adriana (Adrianntje), Mamie (Maaike) and Arie may have still existed in our family trees today, not just the Johns (Johannes & Jan), Peters (Pieter), and Henrys (Hendrik). 

It is believed that the habit of the Dutch of naming newborns after another family member originated out of superstition that the name in some way contributed to some form of reincarnation of the person the child was named after, who was usually much older.  Over time the superstition disappeared, but by the early Modern Age (1500s to 1800s), the practice had become so standard that the names of the children were practically known at the marriage of their parents.  The pattern of naming children usually was:

  1. The first son was named after the paternal grandfather.  The first daughter was named after the maternal grandmother.
  2. The second child’s name depended on whether the first-born child was a boy or girl.  If the first-born child had been a boy, then the second child would be named after its mother’s family, and after its father’s family if the first-born had been a girl.
  3. The third and fourth-born children would usually be named after the grandparents who did not yet have a grandchild named after them.
  4. If the grandparents already had grandchildren named after them, the children would be named after their uncles and aunts, starting with the father’s family.
  5. If a child died, the next born child would receive the same name.

While researching my father’s family tree, I noticed these naming patterns were still closely followed in the 1800s, especially the last one.  My great-grandfather Smouter was not the first son named Arie, a sibling with the same name had died in infancy 3 years prior, and Arie Smouter’s own second born daughter, Lijntje, would die as an infant, only to have the third born child then given the same name. To confuse matters even more, siblings would each choose to name their offspring after the same relatives.  I discovered that my great-grandfather, John Reyst, and his brothers each had offsprings named Cornelius and Henry, and my grandfather, Cornelius Reyst, and great-uncle, Peter Reyst, would both name their daughters, Helen, just 2 years apart.

Unlike our modern naming practice that consists usually of a first and middle name, a Dutch child may have only one given name (as my grandfather who has no middle name) or up to five given names. I have not seen five in my family tree on both the paternal and maternal sides, but there are several with 3 given names. But the pattern is inconsistent within a family.  One child may have no middle name, another 2 given names, and still another with 3.

Also, Dutch names are gender specific.  So if the grandparent (as in our lineage) was Cornelis, a son would have been named Cornelis and a daughter Cornelia.  Other examples of this naming method in our lineage were the names Jacob (Jacobus and Jacoba) and Peter (Pieter and Pieternella).

As to my father’s unusual given name, Arie, I discovered it has been a family name for generations.  I was able to trace it back to 1731.  It was a family name rooted in both sides of his maternal grandfather, Arie Smouter (from Arie’s father, Bastiaan Smouter, and his mother, Neeltje Klootwijk). His middle name Russell, however, has no history within his Dutch lineage on either his father’s or mother’s side, and demonstrates the transition of my ancestors to life in America. 

With the onset of World War I, many Dutch emigrants moved more and more away from their homeland traditions when naming their offspring to distance themselves from their Germanic roots. An example is my father’s younger sister who was named Geraldine, the first in our immediate family to not be named after an older relative.

So maybe with this new-found information on our family roots, some generation old names may one day reappear in honor of those long past.

THE REYST SURNAME

When I first starting researching my father’s family I hit a blank wall.  I had even tried searching the name in the Dutch online database, Genlias, without success. Then through searches on Google and Ancestry, I verified my suspicion that our family surname had been changed to Reyst once my great-grandfather and his family arrived in the United States.

Our real Dutch family surname is Reijst, and generations before my great-grandfather it was Rijst.  A quick study of the Dutch alphabet revealed that although “y” does exist in the Dutch language it is seldom used as a vowel, and was not even used in older records. Instead the digraph (a pair of characters written to represent one sound) “ij” is considered a single letter in the Dutch language and represents the sixth vowel.  Often writers failed to dot the i and j, so written in cursive it looked like a “y”.  This explains why on the Obdam manifest, the surname appears to be Reyst, whereas the first US Census record of 1900 that my great-grandfather participated in lists his surname as Reijst.  Between 1890 and 1900, my great-grandfather used both variations of the surname, but thereafter the family’s surname was identified as Reyst.

So why the change in spelling?  It likely has a lot to do with where my great-grandparents chose to settle down once arriving in the United States.  Many Dutch immigrants settled in Michigan from 1840 to 1900, especially on the western side of the state around Grand Rapids.  Many of the Dutch Protestant families continued to cling to their native traditions, and most surnames found in city directories of these western Michigan towns and cities resemble those in their native provinces of the Netherlands.  Most familiar is Frederik Meijer, the founder of the grocery business that has now grown into a major superstore chain that still bears his name.  But my great-grandfather, Johannes Reijst, decided to migrate to the growing metropolis of Detroit, Michigan, which was quickly becoming an important emerging industrial center of the Midwest.  Detroit was growing from an influx of people from various origins and cultures, from southern United States and both Eastern and Western European countries, and economic opportunities were likely greater for those who assimilated into this new culture.  So either by design or by accident due to misinterpretation, the “ij” in Johannes’ surname was replaced with a “y”.  The family even took this assimilation into American culture a step further by converting their given names to more familiar Americanized names.  So Johannes became known as John and Helena as Lena; even the family given name of Cornelis, now would be written as Cornelius.

The Reyst (or Reijst or Rijst) surname probably dates back to no later than 1811.  Prior to 1811 very few Dutch families had surnames, except nobility.  But in 1811 under Napoleonic rule of the Netherlands, all families were required to register and choose a surname.  Among the rural population of the Netherlands the use of patronymics was common practice before 1811 to identify an individual, with the oldest form using the possessive of the father’s name along with the word for son or daughter. Other forms used a person’s occupation, place of residence, or personal characteristic. So many patronymics became permanent surnames, like Jansen (son of Jan), Visser (the fisherman), Van Dijk (one living along the dike), and Reus (nickname for big man).  So what does the name Rijst or Reijst represent?  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any citation that gives the meaning of either of these spellings.  But I have found out that the Dutch word “rijst” means rice (as a noun) or to lift, mount or heave (as a verb).  So it is possible that the chosen surname may have referred to being someone who does manual labor as I don’t think it referred to growing or processing of rice.  Also the Dutch word for the Rhine River is “rijn”, so maybe the surname has some connection to living along the Rhine.

Today in the United States individuals with the surname of Reyst are mostly located throughout Michigan.  However, you will also find some possible relatives in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

HOMELAND TROUBLES

I have always been curious about the Netherlands since 6th grade European geography when we had to do in-depth reports on several European countries.  Fascinated by the landscape and culture of my great-grandparents, I was thrilled to at least have an opportunity to visit Amsterdam during the summer between my junior and senior years of college. So what enticed my great-grandparents, both young couples, to leave their homeland and come to the United States? 

Two important factors that likely influenced their decision to leave the Netherlands were the poor economy and changes occurring in the Dutch Protestant church.  Johannes and Helena left their hometown of Zevenbergen, a rural town located in Noord-Brabant, not far from Rotterdam.  Various historical records indicate that the wealth of the major Dutch cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in particular, was not extended to most of the rural areas.  Unemployment was high and probably affected my great-grandfathers’ ability to find work that would support a young and growing family as neither were landowners. Also the rural areas of the Netherlands were still recovering from the effects of the potato famine that struck their homeland in 1845-1846.  In the mid-1800s, the potato was a staple food of the rural Dutch cuisine. 1845 yield of potatoes in the Netherlands was down almost 75%, and consequently, dramatically affected both fertility and natality for the next several decades.  This is evident in my great-grandfather’s, Johannes’, family history that has revealed a high infant mortality rate among his siblings.

Also during the nineteenth century, religious dissent was occurring among the protestant Dutch in the Netherlands.  A division was being drawn in the Reformed Church between the more conservative Calvinists and the increasingly liberal State Church.  It is not known on which side of this division that my great-grandparents stood.  From a religious standpoint most outsiders would probably describe the Dutch protestants as generally very conservative.  But within the confines of the Dutch Reformed Church, there has been a long history of theological squabbling – drawing lines between being ultra-conservative, and quasi-conservative.  This division was apparent even here in Michigan, when the early settlements on the western part of the state split along religious differences in the mid-1800s.  The result was two separate denominations, the RCA (the more liberal faction) and the CRC (the Christian Reformed Church – the more conservative faction).

But even those that emigrated before my great-grandparents did in 1890, economic opportunity tended to out way religious reasons for making the move to the United States.  So I believe that hopes for a better financial future was most likely the primary motive to leave their homeland. 

So how would my great-grandparents have found out about these chances for better financial stability?  One way would have probably been via printed news.  Another way would likely have been discussions among the men of the church about what they were hearing of these new opportunities on the other side of the ocean.  But even more significant would have been letters they possibly received from family members who had already made that venture.

DREAM TO CRUISE

Today’s Woodward Dream Cruise, the antique car and hot rod cruise down Woodward Avenue from Wide Track Circle in Pontiac to 8 Mile Road at the edge of Detroit which draws car collectors from across the United States and Canada, triggered old memories of my dad.  So I hope you don’t mind my brief diversion today. 

Harry's 1957 Chevy Bel Air

In the last few years of his life, my dad, Arie “Harry” Reyst, started buying 1950 cars, I think they were all Chevys, and fixing them up in his spare time.  I particularly remember 2 such cars, a white Chevy and a red Chevy convertible (which he still owned at his death).  The white Chevy, which was probably a 1955 or 1956 model, he gutted under the hood completely and rebuilt it, replacing bad parts and even spray painting parts so they appeared new.  I remember Dad hanging the parts from my mom’s backyard clothesline at our house on Eastburn Avenue. Harry sold this one and later purchased the 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, which my sister, Kathleen, had to drive if she wanted to borrow a family car.

Some of those Sunday afternoon family drives were taken in these cars.  So I know if my dad still had been alive in 1995 when the first dream cruise was organized, he would have been right there cruising one of his beauties with all those youngsters, beaming his big smile. Riding in dad’s old cars, you felt special; there was this sense of pride and joy, and in my dad’s case love.  So I can relate to those thousands (they say some 30,000 collector, custom, muscle, street hot rods, and special interest cars will cruise Woodward Avenue today) of owners who have come out today to cruise on by the million plus spectators along the route. I have often wondered if some car buff discovered that red ’57 Chevy on the dealer’s used car lot after it was traded in for a new car around 1966.  Maybe it was spared the junk yard and can be seen cruising along in one of the many car cruises, in addition to the Woodward cruise, held throughout Metropolitan Detroit area every summer.

NEW ORGANIZATION

As the number of my posts and pages grows, I thought it was time to add some easier navigation tools to my blog site.  So check out the sidebar widgets that allow you to view individual recent posts, pages, and pages and posts within various categories. Also under the header I have customized the navigation bar by adding various categories which I have assigned to my posts and pages.  For those categories that have specific pages, there is a drop down menu under the category name.  If you navigate to anywhere off the main blog page, which contains all my blog postings, you can easily return to it by clicking on the “Home” link found in the widget sidebar. This sidebar always appears on the right-hand side of the main blog page, but you can also access it from the “Introduction” tab located on the navigate bar under the header picture. So just click on “Introduction” from the navigation bar and then select the sidebar link to “Home”.

As I add new categories they will appear in the navigation bar and sidebar widgets. Hope this makes it easier for all my readers to return to any specific topic in my blog.