Silvia Spieksma’s boerenkool

Pragmatic, healthy and delicious

Silvia Spieksma may have been born in the Netherlands, in Maasbracht near the German/Belgium border to be precise, but in reality you can’t be more cosmopolitan than she is:

At age 24, she left her hometown, travelled the world, and ended up living in France with her French partner, whom she met while tour guiding in the United States. Her first son was born in France, growing up speaking French. After separating from her partner, she met her partner, a British man, who also lived in France, but had a penchant for New Zealand, a country he fell in love with when visiting it in the 80s.

Her two boys are now 21 and 16, and the younger one calls New Zealand home, as he was born here shortly after Silvia, her partner and son moved to Auckland in 2003. The boys were growing up speaking French, which seems extraordinary, as it is not the native lingo of their parents. Of course, they speak English, too. 

She missed the freedom to move around freely with a bicycle and not being dependent on a car. In most European countries, but especially in the Netherlands, pedalling around on your push bike is a given, but not so much in New Zealand. Not only that Auckland is hilly, but It is also kind of dangerous to cycle around. Her young sons were stuck with mom and dad to take them everywhere like all the other kiwi kids as well. 

It was very much against what I believe, Silvia says. Kids should learn independence as soon as possible. Riding to school on her bike was one of the things she really enjoyed when she was young. Her school was located 20 km away from her home. The Netherlands are playing in another league when it comes to freedom of bicycles. The country is flat and cycling is one of the most popular pastimes.

Back to the family’s beginnings in Avondale. It wasn’t an easy ride. Silvia discovered that she was pregnant after they arrived Down Under, and her partner tried desperately to find work. It was a huge challenge, but it worked out.  He landed a well-paid job, they both got residency, the boy was born, and things brightened up. 

Now, Silvia works in the Avondale Community Garden twice a week. She is passionate about healthy food, and loves to share her know-how of growing vegetables and herbs with regulars and visitors, from all walks of life. A lot of people think healthy food is only available to posh people, she says. Convincing them that growing taro, cabbage or potatoes and pumpkins has not only the advantage of saving money, but could also end up in delicious recipes, and contribute to a healthy nutrition.

Every Tuesday and Saturday, she is in her ‘Isle of Avondale’, a shared garden space, where she is welcoming community members who are eager to learn about gardening or just pop up for socialising and take part in a shared lunch meal.

Beside building up the community garden, Silvia is looking after her own garden space. During the Covid-19 lockdown, she spent a lot of time there. The garden is not surrounded by a fence, which made communication with neighbours and fellow gardeners easy during lockdown. She grew familiar with her ‘backyard food grower group’, sharing recipes and tips.

One of her favourite vegetables is kale. Just recently, it has become something of a food star, but it wasn’t very well known in New Zealand in 2003 and Silvia missed that ‘hearty winter dish’ dearly. Kale is a member of the brassica family and with its high antioxidants and vitamins, it is one of the healthiest vegetables. Varieties include Scots kale with tightly crinkled leaves, plain-leaved and cavolo. Like most winter vegetables, the leaves are sweeter after a cold snap. Similar to brussels sprouts, kale is best when it has had its first frost. But having a subtropical climate, Auckland is not the best place to wait for frost. 

The lack of frost didn’t deter Silvia from cooking with kale. She uses some ‘kiwi ingenuity’, and simply puts Kale leaves in her freezer. Shortly before use, she takes them out, and gets the perfect texture for her recipe. The frozen leaves are easy to crumble and cook quite nicely. Thus, they become a perfect ingredient for a simple, but wonderful Dutch dinner.

It is not a dish for a special occasion such as Christmas or birthdays, but an everyday winter and comfort dish, says Silvia. It reminds her of her childhood in the Netherlands.

Unlike the cuisine of France, Dutch people have a more pragmatic approach when putting food on the table. Quick and easy recipes, which are also healthy, are the name of the game.  It comprises the Dutch mentality of pragmatism, says Silvia. 

The above mentioned FROZEN crunched kale is added to a pot of boiling potatoes for a couple of minutes, and is one of the ingredients of mashed potatoes, giving the old mash a new flavour. Seasoned with salt, the yellow and green colour has its own special appearance. Topped with sausages, you could call it ‘bangers and mash’ a la Hollandaise. Just joking. However, besides sausages, you can top this dish with meat such as pork roast or pork chops, and voila you have your delicious meal. A little bit of mustard can be added, and ‘Boerenkool’ is ready.

When asked what she misses from her home country, she answers spontaneously: “the deep fried snacks”. Nobody can beat the Dutch when it comes to them. Try the ‘kroket’, a deep fried roll with meat ragout inside.  ‘Lekkerbekje’ and ‘Kibbeling’ refer to battered and deep-fried white fish. ‘Poffertjes’ look like baby pancakes but are much fluffier. They are made with yeast and buckwheat flour and typically served with a lump of butter and powdered sugar.

For someone who wants to come and live in Aotearoa, Silvia recommends bringing your bicycle. Just recently, she rewarded herself with an e-bike, which makes New Zealand really home for her.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other foreigners as they are trying to build new networks, she says. Join interest groups, network and meet new people. The community projects, she is and has been involved in, surely helped her to integrate into Avondale.

Written by Doris Evans

the recipe

Boerenkool

Ingredients

1.2 kg potatoes
4 cups fresh or 2 cups crushed frozen kale
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Rookworst, smoked

Method

· Peel and cut up the potatoes.
· Boil in a large pot until about ¾ done cooking.
· Add finely chopped or crushed frozen kale to the top of the pot and continue cooking.
· When the potatoes and kale are done, mash the potatoes and kale, add butter and milk until it reaches the texture you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
· Add some mustard
· Serve with cut up sausage, pork roast or pork chops

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