Balkenbrij

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Balkenbrij, a name that roughly translates to “belly porridge,” is a cold meat pudding made from pork broth, buckwheat meal, and the “waste” or leftover products of animal slaughter. It has a remarkable pinkish color resulting from the rommelkruid (mixed spices). Rommelkruid is an uncommon seasoning nowadays and consists of ground licorice, sugar, anise, cinnamon, ginger, and sandalwood, the latter giving the product its typical color. Balkenbrij also contains currants, raisins, and pieces of fried bacon, and the finished product can have a slightly sweet taste.

In home slaughtering situations, people would use a large, enameled kettle of about 100 liters, in which they normally did the laundry, to boil the sausages and the pig head. The broth and the meal for balkenbrij could fill half a kettle. Those who could afford it made a "short" balkenbrij, with less broth and meal and more meat. It usually has a loaf shape and may weigh up to one kilogram. The consistency is moist and mealy, and the structure is determined by the size and the quantity of the organ meat used. Although balkenbrij was a typical product of home slaughtering, many butchers still make it.

Depending on where it is made, there are rather strong regional differences in the composition and taste, but preparation is basically the same: broth, minced organ meat, and meal are boiled until the mass thickens and boils up three times. Spices and salt are added and the mixture is left to stiffen. In the Gooi region, a plain balkenbrij was made. In the IJssel region, butchers used to make a version without meat and meat broth during the Lenten period. In the southern parts of the Netherlands, balkenbrij is "a delicacy which should not lack at any Christmas breakfast," and in the province of Limburg, balkenbrij without blood is unthinkable. The boundaries between the areas with different kinds of balkenbrij are sometimes very marked. Typical variations include the type of meal used (usually buckwheat, but sometimes also rye) and the quantities and types of broth and spices used.

What also varies regionally is how balkenbrij is consumed. Present-day balkenbrij is no doubt much richer than it used to be. It is eaten by elderly people in particular. The savory pudding is cut into thick slices and baked on both sides in lard, beef fat or butter, until brown and crisp. Sometimes the slices are first dusted with flour. The sweeter Gelderse balkenbrij is eaten with sugar or treacle. In the Achterhoek region (Gelderland), people used to eat it together with rye bread, instead of the usual pancakes. In Limburg, balkenbrij was also eaten as a substitute of meat in hot dishes.

Modern and younger consumers must be persuaded in other ways. The successful campaign “Tafelen in Nederland” (“Dining in the Netherlands”) in 1995 promoted a calendar of monthly meals with typical recipes and ingredients from around the country. The calendar mentions, amongst other things, "wild boar fillet with balkenbrij in puff pastry.” Today, about 30 butchers in Gelderland, and about 50 butchers in other ares (North Brabant and Limburg in particular) still produce balkenbrij in the winter season, but both production and consumption are decreasing, due to a labor intensive process and a loss of interest among consumers.

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Stijve massa van bouillon, meel en slachtresten in broodvorm; met krenten, rozijnen en anijsachtige smaak, door het toegevoegde rommelkruid (een mengsel van gemalen zoethoutwortel, suiker, anijs, kaneel, gember en sandelhout; dat laatste geeft het de rode kleur). In plakken gesneden en aan beide kanten knapperig bruin gebakken in spekvet of boter.

De Limburgse balkenbrij is door het toevoegen van bloed zwart; in Brabant werden er uitgebakken spekjes aan toegevoegd, in Gelderland dobbelsteentjesspek. De term balkenbrij is net als het Engelse bacon afgeleid van bake oftewel buik (dus wijzend op het gebruik van buikspek); de benaming balkenbrij heeft dus niets te maken met zolderbalken waaraan het te drogen zou moeten hangen. De balkenbrij dient zo kort mogelijk met relatief weinig kooknat en meel te worden gemaakt. Balkenbrij dient met z’n tweeën gemaakt te worden, de een voegt het boekweitmeel toe aan het vocht, de tweede roert met een grote pollepel totdat de brij gaat ploffen. Is het meel niet goed gaar dan wordt de balkenbrij slap. Om het kruidenaroma goed door te laten dringen, is het gewenst de brij na het afkoelen nog 1 à 2 dagen te laten staan.
 
Er zijn nog een 50 slagers in Gelderland, Limburg en Noord-Brabant die zelf ambachtelijke balkenbrij produceren.
 
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Cured meats and meat products