Our (Little) Cookbook appeared from 1927 onwards and was republished numerous times. It was intended as a manual to accompany the cooking lessons of the Catholic Farmers’ Wives Federation. Edition from 1949 | Dilsen-Stokkem, Dienst Cultuur

Arts & Sciences
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Our Cookbook

Culinary Canons

In 1927 there appeared on the initiative of the Farmers’ Wives’ Federation the first edition of Ons Kookboek (Our Cookbook). This kitchen guide grew into one of the most successful recipe books and set the standard in many Flemish kitchens.

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The Catholic Farmers’ Wives’ Federation was aiming at the wives of Flemish farmers. Ons kookboek was designed to teach these women ‘to use everything they have on the farm as well and as usefully as possible, with variations’. It contained simple recipes for soups, sauces and desserts, as well as tips for keeping vegetable and fruit longer. The emphasis was on the importance of a balanced meal for the whole family. Balance meant then a combination of meat, potatoes and vegetables.

By now over 2,5 million copies of Ons Kookboek have been sold. It had an influence that cannot be underestimated on Flemish culinary culture. The slim book from 1927 grew thicker and thicker and evolved along with new kitchen trends. At present couscous, quinoa and hummus stand fraternally alongside classics like meatballs in tomato sauce and asparagus à la flamande.

Opleglessen Neerpelt-Herent.

Leuven, KADOC-KU Leuven. Fotocollectie KVLV/FERM. KFA23195

These women from the farmers’ wives’ guild of Herent, a hamlet of Neerpelt (today: Pelt), are learning how to preserve fruit and vegetables. The ‘bottling lessons’ were particularly popular between the wars.

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Culinary Canons

The kitchen is a symphony of local and global influences. The Romans brought pepper, bread and wine. From the 16th century new foods came from America, such as turkey, potatoes and maize. Often these landed first on the plates of the rich and then very gradually penetrated to the poorer population.

In the 19th century clear national and regional ‘cuisines’ emerged. Before then recipes were mainly passed on by word of mouth, from generation to generation. But now popular chef-cooks wrote cookbooks which still determine the image of ‘classic’ French or Italian cuisine. In an age of rising nationalism they gave culinary form to their own nation.

In 1861 Het spaarzame keukenboek (The Thrifty Kitchen Book) by the Ghent cook Philippe Edouard Cauderlier appeared. This book, originally written in French, brought mainly a budget-friendly version of recipes of great French chefs, although the target audience was still the haute bourgeoisie. At the same time it contained original ideas for ‘veal meat balls’ and ‘potatoes fried in fat’ – perhaps a recipe for chips.

Many cookbooks reflect a bourgeois eating culture: three meals a day, three courses and three elements (meat, potatoes, vegetables). For the common people that was unattainable. Meat, for example, was far too expensive to be consumed every day. Later Ons Kookboek promoted that eating pattern to broader sections of the population.

Focal points


Michel Follet

Doughnut stand at the Sinksenfoor in Antwerp, 2011. Doughnuts, apple fritters, pancakes and French fries: for many a regular treat during a visit to the fair.

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A Changing Eating Culture

The content of popular cookbooks is always influenced by their environment, but conversely those bestsellers also influence the eating habits of their readers.

The first editions of Ons kookboek appeared at a time of financial crisis and economic slump. Their central message was thrift: use as far as possible the products of your own farm. In the special edition of 1941 too the Farmers’ Wives’ Federation preached simplicity and frugality. This wartime Ons kookboekje advised readers, for example, to boil potatoes in their skins (in that way they retained more nutrients) or to make mayonnaise with less oil.

After the Second World War the number of farmers declined. Ons kookboek focused less and less on the Flemish farmer’s family, although the chapter on slaughtering the pig did not disappear until the 1990s. The Farmers’ Wives’ Federation tried to reach all women in the countryside with their new editions and still later all Flemish households. They were very successful, not in the last place because Ons kookboek became a popular wedding present.

The arrival of migrants from Italy and North Africa also left its mark. From 1960 Ons kookboek made room for new eating cultures. In the 1964 edition for the first time there are extensive recipes for spaghetti Bolognese and risotto. New trends were also picked up or launched, such as the use of the freezer (which first caught on with the rural population), the microwave and cooking in a wok. It was not until 1985 that Ons kookboek focused explicitly on men. Until then the book had taken it for granted that Flemish households women always stood at the stove.

Krant van West-Vlaanderen, Gerda Verbeke

Sugar festival in Anzegem, 2020.



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Consciousness about eating has increased in the last few decades – what to eat, but also what not. Someone can just as well not eat and drink for a particular time. That total or partial abstinence is called fasting. The reasons for fasting are disparate: in order to diet, to reduce our ecological footprint, or from religious motives.

Religious fasting is a recurring ritual. The Catholic fasts between Ash Wednesday and Easter are an old ritual which today is less often followed or at least are replaced by alternative fasting practices such as abstaining from alcohol, social media or use of the car.

Muslims on the other hand have an active fasting culture. During the fasting month of Ramadan Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Smoking and sexual intercourse during that period are also taboo. According to Islam Ramadan purifies man and teaches self-discipline and empathy with the poor. Togetherness is central. For example, at sunset the fast is broken with an iftar, a group meal with family, friends and acquaintances. In Flanders too mosques and various organisations bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to take part in the iftar. After the month’s fasting there follows the Ramadan feast, also called aid el-fitr (‘the feast of the breaking of the fast’). Muslims then wish each other a blessed feast or aid moebarak.

Leuven, Centrum Agrarische Geschiedenis, B00001889

The Ghent cook Philippe Edouard Cauderlier wrote the first real Belgian cookbook (1861), translated as Het spaarzame keukenboek (The Thrifty Kitchen Book).

Menukaart van een feestmaal ter gelegenheid van de inhuldiging van de buurtspoorweg Antwerpen-Oostmalle-Turnhout, 1886.
Leuven, Centrum Agrarische Geschiedenis, B00001264

Menu of a banquet on the occasion of the inauguration of the local railway line Antwerp-Oostmalle-Turnhout, 1886.

Leuvense stoof.
Leuven, KADOC-KU Leuven. Fotocollectie Boerenbond

In the first half of the 20th century the open hearth is given up for cooking. In households with a modest income the Leuven stove is generally used, so called because nice specimens were made in the Leuven region.

Nero wafelenbak.
Antwerp, Standaard Uitgeverij @ 2023, Marc Sleen

The comic Nero strips, drawn by Marc Sleen (1922-2016) almost always end with a Flemish ‘waffle bake’ to celebrate the successful outcome of the adventure.

De tuinbouwveiling van Sint-Katelijne-Waver.
Leuven, KADOC-KU Leuven. Fotocollectie Boerenbond

The horticultural auction of Sint-Katelijne-Waver (seen here around 1950-1960) was an important link in the distribution of vegetables and fruit in Flanders. Today it is part of the biggest auction group in Europe.

Ghent, Amsab-ISG, fo033738, Lieve Colruyt, rights SOFAM Belgium

‘Boğaziçi’ (The Bosphorus) was the first Turkish restaurant in Ghent. For many people in Ghent this was the first opportunity to taste fresh döner kebab, the speciality of the house.

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