Oliebollen -- Maressa Mortimer


In the Netherlands, the rule is that up till the 15th of January, you can still wish people a Happy New Year. You can see people shaking hands, or waving at friends from their bikes, calling out, “Best Wishes
for the New Year!”
It also means people are still
serving guests from their carefully stored stack of oliebollen: dough balls with raisins, cooked in very hot oil. They’re made on New Year’s Eve, the smell in your kitchen reminding you for many days afterwards. Some are better organised, and they bake them in their shed or garage.

Now, you might wonder what oliebollen have to do with writing, apart from providing sustenance. But it suddenly occurred to me, as friends sent me pictures of golden brown balls, usually covered in icing sugar. (You buy special shaker tubs of icing sugar in the Netherlands, to sprinkle liberally over strawberries, mini pancakes called poffertjes as well as oliebollen).
There are quite a few unwritten rules about oliebollen, especially when you make them yourself (wasting money on shop-bought oliebollen)? It can feel a bit like starting your writing. Of course, there are plenty of recipes for oliebollen, YouTube videos, the lot. It’s what’s not told you in the instructions that counts.

If you ladle the dough into the hot oil before
it is hot enough, the oil will soak into the balls, making them greasy and indigestible. Writing comes at the right time, sometimes you just have to mull over a story a little longer, don’t you? You start, maybe write the first paragraph, but somehow the ‘oil isn’t hot enough’, and you have to wait a little longer. That one you can detect and instructions for oliebollen will tell you how to tell that the oil is hot enough.

It’s what message is conveyed by the finished product that matters. When guests come round for evening coffee, you present them with homemade oliebollen, maybe warmed up in the microwave for a few seconds, covered in sugar. This is a matter of pride and has to be done just right. You only hand out one, of course. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

The size is very important. If what you hand your guests is too small, that would look awful. Being careful is one thing, being stingy is quite another matter. It also means that the balls will probably be a bit dry, hard to eat, and not very satisfying. You would really need two to get the desired effect.
Writing can feel that way, not satisfactory, leaving you a bit empty, wanting more. Maybe more detail is needed, or maybe one of the characters needs developing more. There might be space for another storyline slithering underneath in a quiet way. Too small, too chewy, not very generous.

Some people like to rush their baking. After all, watching the buckets with dough rising in a warm corner of the lounge, whilst standing near the large pan with extremely hot oil, blue greasy air filling the kitchen... It would make anyone wish the job was done! The result is oliebollen that are too large. They’re beautiful and golden on the outside, but soggy in the middle, and too filling. Your guests will be a little wary too, wondering what message you’re trying to send them.

Are you saying their offerings last year were too small? Are you trying to tell them that you’ve had a promotion at work, and can afford lots of very large, luxurious oliebollen? They’re rather heavy too, leaving your guests relieved to finish the oliebol before the second cup of coffee is offered.

I’m new to writing, and there is so much to learn. What message do I want to leave my readers? Would my story cause mental indigestion? Am I trying to do too much, too quickly? I might have a bright idea, but sometimes, somewhere in the middle, the story isn’t quite done yet.

Just like baking oliebollen, writing might sound so simple, until you try it. What could go wrong with some dough and hot oil? But unbeknownst to you, you might be sending awkward messages to your guests.
It’s hard, having a perfect storyline, plots, characters and dialogue. With all that lined up, it is hard to work slowly, carefully, scene by scene, like ladling endless amounts of dough into the hot oil.

Of course, some people cheat, offering their guests perfectly shaped oliebollen from the local bakery. That’s like trying to hand in somebody else’s story, isn’t it?

“Beste wensen voor het Nieuwe Jaar!”

About the author

Maressa Mortimer lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published December 2019, and her first self published novel, Walled City came out on December 5th 2020, as her own St Nicholas present to the world! You can buy your very own, signed copy at www.vicarioushome.com.
She is a homeschool mum, so her writing has to be done in the evening when peace and quiet descends on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life.


Sandra Horn said…
Happy New Year, Maressa! And thank you for this delightful post. It made me smile but also think.
Thank you, Sandra! Happy New Year!
Reb MacRath said…
Made and baked just right, Maressa. Plenty of writing food for thought...and it has left me wanting more.
You rather than me! I love eating them though...
Thank you, really appreciate it!
Wendy H. Jones said…
I love this analogy. Seriously, it made me think. Great post and well done.brilliant post, Maressa. I love this analogy. Well done
Ruth Leigh said…
I really enjoyed this, Maressa, and now I feel hungry!
Really nice first piece! Introducing us to a traditional Dutch dish... sounds yummy - how do doughnuts compare, and what sort of a story do they tell, I wonder?
Fran Hill said…
I've just eaten a full meal and a macaron afterwards with coffee but I still salivated at this. You can cook these for me any time. Also, have you heard of the idea of the 'saggy middle'? Some writers use this term to describe that central part of a novel that doesn't have the same tightness and quality of the exciting beginning and ending until you improve it.
@clare, They're less sweet, but very filling. Thank you, that's very kind of you!

@Fran, haha, yes, if you've chomped your way through a half baked oliebol, a saggy middle in a novel is very self explanatory...! 😂
SC Skillman said…
I loved this and I want one of those olliebollen with my coffee right now! Perfect analogy - I'm editing my novel and everything you say applies to it.
Deborah Jenkins said…
What a great post! I love the comparison you make here between baking and writing. My favourite Dutch food is stroopwaffles. Sometimes you can get them in Aldi. I think I would love all Dutch food by the sound of it! Inspiring post x
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Maressa, fascinating topic.

Food and writing are two of my favourite things. :D

I recently made Yorkshire pudding to go with turkey. I'm no fan of flour/bread products but my husband likes them so it's always fun to try them. As usual, I set off the smoke alarm because they have to be cooked at such a high temperature and it gets smokey from the oil!

I will have to try oliebollen. They sound exquisite, and if it connects me somehow to the Netherlands - a place I really fell in love with when I visited many years ago, then I am game!

Happy New Year!

Sorry to be late,

Thanks, Eden, that made me smile! Happy New Year!
Peter Leyland said…
Great to see you on the blog Maressa and a great post!
Kirsten Bett said…
Hi Maressa, nice one! Oliebollen are great - well the first three are but fireworks is one Dutch tradition I'd gladly farewell.

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