Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Coffee Family Tree, Part II: Oma's Coffee Pot

Following the popularity of my last My Coffee Family Tree post, I asked my mom about an old pewter coffee pot that belonged to my grandmother. For me it was one of those old antiques that have always been present in my family, sitting next to the telephone in my grandmother's living room for as long as I can remember. I had always assumed it was for tea, but it is actually a coffee pot dating back to the 19th century.

It turns out, Mom knew very little about the pot but this did not deter her. In her second guest blog post, Mom details the history of the pot both within our family and within the tradition of coffee drinking in Holland. Enjoy!

"This lacquered and hand painted pewter coffee pot, known in Holland as a kraantjeskan, has been in the family for as long as I can remember. When André asked me about it, I turned to relatives in a quest for more information. They, however, could only confirm that this family heirloom had belonged to our grandmother (Oma). No one knows when or how Oma obtained it, or more importantly, how she made coffee in it. With the help of the internet, I found some answers.

History: In the late 17th century the popularity of coffee spread throughout Europe. The drink quickly became known as a “sociable drink” because it was only served in public coffeehouses, a place where gentlemen gathered to drink coffee and talk politics. At about that same time, the Dutch invented a coffee pot with a spigot, aptly named kraantjeskan (spigot pot). For centuries this coffee pot, which was used almost exclusively in Holland, was the country’s most important coffee brewing device. Later, as coffee moved into the home, nicer and more decorative spigot pots were made. Of those, the lacquered and hand painted kraantjeskan from the northern province of Groningen, was especially well known. In the middle of the 19th century, the traditional kraantjeskan started to disappear as newer coffee brewing techniques like the “drip” and “filtration” methods gained in popularity. In rural areas, however, farmers continued using the kraantjeskan until the beginning of the 20th century. Today, replicas of the kraantjeskan are used in specialty restaurants in Holland to serve coffee.

Brewing: Coffee was brewed in a kraantjeskan by placing the grounds, usually in some sort of linen holder, in the coffee pot and pouring boiling water over the grounds. Hot coals were placed in the cup underneath the pot. The gentle heat let the grounds steep and kept the coffee at temperature. When the desired strength was reached, the coffee was served. Cream and sugar were added to taste. Traditionally, this cup of coffee was served with koek, a gingerbread-like cake.

Age: The age of this particular spigot pot is difficult to determine because there is no trademark. However, this lacquered and hand painted kraantjeskan can be traced to the 19th century. In estimating the age of this piece, we must also keep the following points in mind. First, the paint has completely worn off the handle and spigot, a sign of a lot of use. This could not have all come from Oma’s use because, according to my mother, Oma only used her coffee pot on special occasions. Second, this coffee pot has a coal cup as a heat source instead of the small fuel burning units usually seen on later models. Third, Oma was born at the end of the 19th century. By the time she became an adult and was married, these coffee pots were no longer being made. Therefore, I feel this coffee pot was passed down to Oma, possibly by her parents or maybe even her grandparents, making this kraantjeskan between 110 and 160 years old.

Mom’s Memories of Oma’s “Kraantjeskan:” To Oma her kraantjeskan was special, something to be prized and used with great care. In 1939 when my mother met her future parents-in-law for the first time, Oma made coffee in this pot. My mother was so touched by this gesture that she instantly formed a special bond with both Oma and the kraantjeskan. And so Oma passed the coffee pot on to my mother. In 1969 this kraantjeskan made its way from Holland to California. Since then, it has proudly graced numerous rooms as a symbol of our Dutch heritage and a loving tribute to the generations who came before us."

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