Even better than timtams or anzac cookies
It’s winter in Fremantle, near Perth in western Australia. The rain is pouring down and it is about eighteen degrees C. Crazy, here it is about the same kind of weather when we speak to Linda Haanskorf-De Jongh via Skype, but we call that summer! “The weather can change in a minute here, then the sun might just shine again,” she says cheerfully. Linda is the owner of Treacle Treat stroopwafel bakery. This year she is celebrating her first lustrum.
How did Linda end up in Australia? “My husband and I have always traveled extensively through Australia and dreamed of living there someday. Eight years ago, when our daughter was nine and still in primary school, my husband had the opportunity to move to Australia for work. We looked at each other: do we still want this? And do we want this now? Yes, we both knew for sure. They have already been living in the artistic, hippie-like fishing town of Freemantle for years. “You have farmers’ markets here, the green party rules, there is a bit of an alternative, very relaxed atmosphere,” says Linda. As she tells me, I immediately think of my time in Devon, South West England, where everything vibrates positively with organic food, artisans and happy freedom. Does it have anything to do with the abundant nature, maybe?
‘My daughter was done with stroopwafels’
Linda’s cheerful orange food truck fits perfectly into the picture. She bumped into it on Gumtrees (the Australian Marktplaats) and her husband Robert custom-built and decorated it for her. But the truck is also very handy for transporting the stroopwafel iron; you don’t easily take those fifty kilos with you to the market every time in your cargo bike. Does Linda have culinary roots by any chance? “Not at all,” she laughs. “In the Netherlands I worked as a secretary for a Taiwanese container company for many years. I had to give up that job when we moved. One day my husband said, “This is the land of opportunity. Why don’t you start your own business? ” Yeah, I thought, why don’t I?! And somehow I ended up with stroopwafels. They are super-Dutch and very tasty. That’s why, I guess.
When my daughter Isa-Bo first went on holiday to the Netherlands alone with family in the winter of 2014, I went to Holland to meet her there. At the time, I also visited Setah Solutions [manufacturer of industrial syrup waffle irons, ed.]. Ties Steenbergen, who unfortunately passed away in 2019, gave me a private workshop “How to bake stroopwafels” and also introduced me to the ingredients ” Linda had the electric iron she bought from Setah shipped to Australia. “It was still a challenge to find the right ingredients here in Australia. Of course, I started off with bags of flour and stuff from the supermarket. At the beginning the syrup became rock hard. But finally, I managed to find the right flour, with less protein, and also the best glucose for the syrup at some wholesalers. My daughter had to keep waffle tasting – after a while she was completely done with stroopwafels”, Linda chuckles.
Well, and then the adventure started. “I sold my first stroopwafel here at the local farmers’ market. That market is every Sunday morning, from 8am to 12am. I really had to let people taste, because nobody knows syrup waffles here. People like them. Especially the taste of cinnamon surprises them. Although there are typical Australian biscuits such as timtams and anzac biscuits with oats, Australians are more into savory snacks. To them stroopwafels are more of a dessert; and they enjoy them with a cup of coffee or tea. By now, I do have regular Australian customers who come to buy a few packages a week when they see me on the market.” Moreover, Linda broadened her customer base by selling at university campuses. “The students were basically eating out of my hands.” One thing led to another: the then Dutch consul and his wife asked her to represent the Netherlands one day at the annual World of Food Festival in Perth with her stroopwafels and by then also Dutch poffertjes (mini pancakes). Before the coronavirus forced us to hold our distance, you could find Linda at a market or some other event at least four times a week.
Packs of people
“When we got here, I had no intention at to cling to Dutch people exclusively, on the contrary. But with stroopwafels and poffertjes you naturally attract many Dutch. Their Dutch roots or that of their ancestors and the Dutch culture run like a thread through all their stories.” Her orange highlight was perhaps the visit of the Royal Couple Maxima and Willem-Alexander to Perth in 2016. In the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle they unveiled the engraved pewter dish that skipper Dirck Hartogh, the first European to set foot on Western Australian ground, left behind on the west coast in 1616 for other Dutch seafarers. The Rijksmuseum lent the plate to the Australian museum. Via the embassy you could indicate if you wanted to meet the Royal Couple at a winery. You guessed it: Linda was one of the lucky bastards. “The formal meeting was on a Monday. The day after, was working at the University campus. I was told that the Royal Couple was there. I asked security if I could offer them two packs of stroopwafels. I have been waiting for them for a long time, but in the end I was able to hand them my stroopwafels. Maxima had to laugh a bit at the name Treacle Treat.” Linda’s dearest memory is also related to Dirck Hartogh. “In the Dirck Hartogh year, at the request of the Dirck Hartogh committee I was there at a festival with my trailer, being the only Dutchman. The queue in front of the trailser was getting longer and longer. We baked like hell with three or four people in that small trailer. I didn’t dare to look up as long as the queue was getting. It was a great experience!”
What about five years from now?
“I have really been enjoying to develop new varieties syrup waffles lately. Recently, I baked marshmallow syrup waffles. And the stroopwafel sandwich with a layer of whipped cream in between also was quite a hit.” Where will Linda’s stroopwafel business be in five years from now? “For now, I would really like to sell stroopwafels to cafes. For that my husband is setting up a professional kitchen for me; this is also necessary in connection with new hygiene rules. Once thas is a success? Well one day, I wish you’ll find my freshly baked syrup waffles here in the supermarkets instead of the import waffles that the Australians have to do with now. And yes, that means a more professional production facility. I don’t dare to think seriously about it yet, but I think it’s a cool prospect.”