Young Goodman Brownsugar

You’re an early American colonist. A pilgrim, let’s say, at Plymouth. You’re English, but you spent a few years kicking around in Holland seeking refuge from religious persecution. While among the Dutch you happened to sample a new fad food called the wafel (it happened one crazy night at Frans de Grebber’s house…those artists throw such wild parties!). Now, as a resident of the New World, you lie awake in your rope-and-straw bed at night fantasizing about those decadent little cakes. Blasted Dutch painters…they’ve ruined you! And so, one day — secretly — you put the blacksmith to work whipping up a waffle iron and set about collecting the ingredients. It’s not easy. White flour has to be brought in by ship, eggs are rare. As for the butter and milk, well, your sister Diedre has a cow, and you managed to swipe a little of her bread starter after services on Sunday. Finally, late one night, the moment arrives. You sneak out of bed and head for the barn where you’ve hidden your iron and a bowl of batter that’s been rising since you mixed it that evening. Snatching up your implements you steal out to the woods and build a small fire. You drool with anticipation as the flames climb higher, your eyes blaze with wafel lust. Nervously, you pour your batter into the iron…dang! You spilled some! No matter — steady now…the sisters of the congregation will be up at any moment to start milking the cows. It’s now or never. Careful…careful…ready! You slap the iron closed and stuff it into the flames. Minutes go by, more minutes…how did Van de Velde do this again? Oh, right, flip it over. A few more minutes and you decide to crack the iron open and take a peek: still a bit gummy. But what was that sound? The clank of an empty milk bucket? Hurry wafel, hurry! Beads of sweat appear on your brow, your muscles tighten, the iron is shaking almost uncontrollably. You can’t wait any longer! Your rip the iron open and there it is! A little singed, yes, a little misshapen, but damned if it doesn’t look almost exactly like what you enjoyed all those long years ago in Haarlem. Pinching a corner of the delicate little cake, you tease it gently out of the mold and start blowing at it furiously — sucker’s hot! But wait, what’s that light through the trees? A lantern! Definitely a lantern! The sisters are awake! There’s no time to lose! You douse the fire and dash back to the house, steaming waffle in hand. Thank goodness no one saw you! But now where to go? The root cellar! Quietly but quickly you sneak down the ladder, pull the door closed, and suddenly it’s just you and your steamy little wafel in the darkness. Oh my pet, at last we are alone. Ah the warmth, ah the aroma…you take a first small bite. The delicate, crispy crust yields to a fluffy, eggy center. Oh bliss! Oh rapture! Oh brother this really needs something. But what? Your heart sinks as you realize what it is: sugar. Of all things: sugar! If Vinckboons were here he’d just whip out his fancy sugar shaker and give you a dusting. But do you know what white sugar costs in the Colonies these days? The only sweet stuff you have is…wait a second, right over there by the apple barrel: those sticky brown maple sugar bricks you got in trade from the Indians last month! Why the heck not? You’ve eaten weirder things. They’re clumpy, they’re gooey, they’ve got bits of bark and dead ants in them, but this ain’t Holland and you’ll be in the stocks this time tomorrow if you don’t bloody hurry!! You pinch off a piece, sprinkle the bits on your wafel and stuff the whole works in your mouth. It’s sweet, it’s satisfying, with even more complex flavor than the white European stuff. Every bit as good as de Grebber’s house, maybe better. Those Indians are really onto something with that tree sugar of theirs, you think as maple spittle dribbles down your chin. To blazes with the Dutch! Life in the colonies is good.

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