Marina Market does Dutch treats for St. Nicholas Day

POULSBO — This weekend, families in Dutch countries will celebrate St. Nicholas Day — an event of magic and tradition where the saint of generosity visits homes with treats for all.

Families of Dutch ancestry in the Kitsap Peninsula will also be celebrating the feast, especially with the help of Poulsbo’s Marina Market.

The downtown market held its 4th annual Dutch open house Nov. 23. Co-owner Andrea Rowe said the event usually draws about 100 people to the tiny market to socialize with other Dutch people, sample Dutch food and buy treats for the holiday season.

Dec. 5 marks St. Nicholas Day in Holland, a holiday totally separate from Christmas Day, which is primarily a religious occasion. The week-long celebration includes St. Nicholas’ arrival by boat and special songs children sing for the saint. Children receive treats like chocolate letters representing the first letter of their name, marzipan and almond-filled pastries and other delights.

Children also leave their wooden shoes outside or by the fireplace with a carrot or piece of fruit for St. Nicholas’ horse and in the morning those shoes will be filled with treats. The event is much less present-oriented than an American Christmas, though, as each person usually receives one present, which may include a special poem and may be wrapped in an outrageous way.

Diana Zegers of Silverdale recalled one St. Nicholas Day she spent in Holland and drew the name of the 17-year-old boy in the family to buy a present for.

“He loved baseball, so I brought him a Seattle Mariners T-shirt,” Zegers recounted. “And I wrapped it up with this poem inside a papier-mache baseball bat.”

Rowe said shortly after opening the Marina Market in its original location at the wharf building, she started getting requests from Norwegian and Swedish people to carry some hard-to-find Scandinavian fare.

“They said, ‘You’re the only grocery store downtown, you’ve got to carry this stuff,’” she recalled.

So the store started carrying things like lutefisk (including their famous lutefisk TV dinners), lefse and lingonberry preserves. Later, Dutch folks also started making requests. Rowe, who has Dutch ancestry, was more than happy to accommodate.

“It’s interesting that we have a Sons of Norway here but no meeting place for the Dutch people and we have a pretty big population,” said her husband and Marina Market co-owner Jonathan Rowe. “When we started carrying foods from Holland, these people started meeting here at the store and it’s become a pretty big thing.”

Some must-have Dutch items the market carries include:

•Stroopwafels (a caramel waffle cookie eaten with coffee)

•Hellma Speculas (windmill cookies)

•DeRuyter Boterham (chocolate and sprinkle-like bread toppings)

•Rusk (a toasted bread type cracker)

•Groninger Koek and Gember Koek (fruit cake and ginger cake respectively, eaten for breakfast)

•Komijenkaas (a hard cheese seasoned with cumin)

•Indonesian-style curry sauce mixes

•Smoked eel and herring

•Licorice (Marina Market carries nearly 200 varieties)

Jonathan said he has no Dutch ancestry but picked it up after marrying Andrea. He said he enjoys the Dutch open houses — if nothing else for the food.

“How bad can a place be that puts sprinkles on their toast?” He joked.

Zegers said if she’s not actually in Holland during the Marina Market open houses, she tries to make every one. She said it’s a sense of community that brings her back, not to mention the hard-to-find items she grew up eating with her parents, who were raised in Holland.

“It’s really hard to find,” Zegers said of Dutch food. “Before they carried Dutch food here, we had to travel to Lynden to get it.”

Betty VanBoeyen of Port Orchard was on hand last Saturday to pick out a host of sweet treats and cooking staples for her family’s St. Nicholas Day celebration. She said the family has grown so much that it now bypasses Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings in favor of celebrating St. Nicholas Day together.

“I always try and make a traditional Dutch dinner and with Andrea’s help I’ve been able to get all the right ingredients,” she commented.

Paul Julsing of Port Orchard said he doesn’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day anymore because he doesn’t have any children in the house, however, the Marina Market has become just as much of a destination for him and his wife. Born and raised in the Dutch East Indies, Julsing said he craves the curry-inspired Dutch food he grew up on and found out about the Poulsbo distributor two or three years ago.

“I was impressed by the amount of Dutch food, European food and Indonesian food they had here because it’s such a small store,” Julsing said. “It’s nice to have a local place to go.”

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