The tradition to decorate or add a special shape to food for special occasions is found in many cultures. The chocolate figures you might buy around Sinterklaas (the feast of Saint Nicholas) or Easter are a typical example of this. No doubt you will discover a favourite among the many shapes and templates in the glazed cabinet.
The ‘patacons’ in the glass cabinet on the left tend to be less well-known. These are pottery disks which bakers would use during the Christmas and New Year period to decorate fruit bread. The tradition dates back to the 16th century and was popular in a large part of the Netherlands and Northern France. Breads and cakes decorated with patacons were sold by bakers in West Flanders until the 1940s.
Shapes and boards for speculaas biscuits are suspended on the wall. The dough is pushed in and moulded in the shapes and removed ready for baking. Bakers sometimes used to exchange their biscuit moulds, hence the initials inscribed on the back as proof of ownership.
The painting by Jan Garemijn in this room obviously also relates to the baking trade. It is actually meant to be used as a shutter in front of a window. The man in the painting is carrying a basket with lardy cakes. Reading the verse at the bottom will give you a clue to his name.
Een oude traditie verbonden aan de meifoor (Brugse kermis) zijn de pandspekken of paviljotten: snoepjes gewikkeld in papier met rijmpjes op. Het zijn echte ‘karamellenverzen’ met volkswijsheden, vooral over liefde en trouwen. Daarom zijn de pandspekken vooral populair bij jonge vrijgezellen die de snoepjes (spekken in het West-Vlaams) aan hun geliefden geven.
Speculaas biscuits with the image of Saint Nicholas were also originally love or marriage gifts. After all, Saint Nicholas is not only a children’s friend, he is also the patron saint of lovers. This biscuit board depicts Saint Nicholas with a barrel containing three children. Legend has it that Saint Nicholas brought the three children, who had been murdered by a butcher, back to life.
The name of the discs varies from region to region: patacon, shield, slice, washer, image card, cougnolle (bread of Jesus) etc. ‘Patacon’ is said to refer to ‘patagon’, a Spanish silver coin that was also minted in the Netherlands between 1612 and 1711. Shields and plaques are also old names for coins. Pure coincidence? Perhaps the names refer back to the custom of decorating celebratory breads with coins in order to increase their value. Old paintings depict the rich donating breads containing a coin to the poor as a form of charity. It is also possible that both traditions – breads decorated with coins or baked discs – existed simultaneously.
Not only the names and the shapes of the discs varied, also the motifs, ranging from saints and biblical figures to flowers, animals and many different scenes depicting the day to day lives of ordinary people. In addition to the typical round shapes, there are also patacons in the shape of masks and heads, mainly figures with a mitre or soldiers. These are sought-after collectable items.
Rather than cakes and cupcakes, our ancestors used to make biscuits and breads for special occasions. Festive breads were decorated with patacons. This kind of pastry, referred to in Bruges as ‘engelenkoek’ (angel cake) or ‘ingeltje Gabrieel’ (angel Gabriel cake), was a typical gift from godparents to their godchildren.
‘Vollaard’ bread was made from white wheat flour which - in times when only rye bread was eaten – was considered a luxury. Definitely a celebratory bread for the Christmas and New Year period. A ‘vollaard’ has a specific shape - elongated with a knobbly bulge at both ends - a shape somewhat reminiscent of a baby wrapped in cloth.