In the late afternoon of the 3rd of October
, 1574, the young orphan Cornelis Joppensz
looked down from the ramparts
of the town of Leiden
to the flooded fields below. He was hungry, and he wasn't the only one.
For the past eight years the (protestant) Dutch had been fighting for their independence against the (catholic) Spanish crown. The town of Leiden was an important stronghold and built to withstand even the most ferocious seige. The Spanish army had arrived outside the walls of Leiden in late May 1574 and immediately began to isolate the town.
Withstanding a seige, much like a camping trip, is only successful if you have enough to eat. The people of Leiden didn't. Whithin a few months supplies had run out and there was nothing for it but to eat any cats, dogs and even rats, they could lay their hands on. At one stage the mayor, Van der Werff, made the gallant gesture of offering the starving populace his right arm, but it was all to no avail...
What the people of Leiden didn't know was that help was at hand, though it came in a rather unexpected form. During the late summer the dikes all around the town had been pierced by order of the provisional Dutch government, and the water was slowly rising. Ever since the darkest Middle Ages the people of the Low Countries had done all they could to keep the water at bay. In a country that lies greatly below sea level, not an easy task. The struggle against the sea had shaped not only the Dutch territory, but their character aswell. But now that very same water was coming to the rescue of the starving people of Leiden.
As Cornelis Joppensz looked down on that memorable day he saw smoke rising from a dry wooded area amongst the waterlogged fields. But not a Spaniard to be seen, he couldn't believe his eyes. Because he was an orphan Cornelis was chosen to go out and see if the Spanish had really gone, or if this was just a trick. He crept slowly towards the place where the smoke was coming from and found the Spanish camp totally deserted. They had retreated in such a hurry however, that they left behind a huge cauldron filled to the brim with hutspot, upon which our ravenous hero now stumbled. He returned triumphantly with his spoils of war...and there was much rejoicing.
Ever since then the 3rd of October has been the most important day of the year for the people of Leiden, and it is celebrated with a meal of Hutspot, however unappetising, up until this very day.