‘Hardcore Dutch Epicure Gypsy’ is a true story of grit and sweets

My wife, Wilma, and I are teaming up on a true story, “Hardcore Dutch Epicure Gypsy.” That’s the description of my wife that a bakery supply truck driver left on a note she found, and it is certainly fitting for the story of Wilma and her parents, Wolfgang and Betsy, and what it has taken to make a little international bakery in Litchfield, Connecticut, such a sweet success for the past 50 years. Preliminary work on this book has begun and we’d like to get it published in time for Litchfield’s 300th birthday in 2019, because The Dutch Epicure Shop is one of the many things that makes this town unique and special. We’ll also be seeking anecdotes from the shop’s customers, so message me if any of you want to contribute a favorite memory or story about the store, its many delights and/or the hardworking Joas family.

For now, here’s a little teaser …

THEY MET ON THE SS ROTTERDAM, a Holland America cruise ship, where they learned to work hard while others vacationed. They honed their skills as a pastry chef and stewardess. They saw the world together and fell in love.

And one day in 1967, Wolfgang Joas of Germany and Betsy Pronk of Holland docked for good in the little town of Litchfield, Connecticut, where they began raising a family and operating a fledgling bakery called The Dutch Epicure Shop.

More than 50 years later, in an America full of big-box retailers and fast-food joints, that little shop still hand-rolls pretzels and hand-dips macaroons in chocolate behind a modest storefront in a nondescript plaza.

If not for the German and Dutch flags flapping in the breeze alongside Route 202, one could easily miss this portal to a different time and so many places all at once — all of which can be experienced in as little as one bite.

PERHAPS IT IS FITTING that Wilma Joas — daughter of Wolfgang and Betsy, and owner of The Dutch Epicure Shop since taking over from her parents in 2002 — began selling her own ice cream in flavors ranging from apricot brandy to marzipan swirl to celebrate the family’s 50th year of running the store in 2017.

Wolfgang’s job in his first cruise on the SS Rotterdam was to make ice cream. When the massive ocean liner departed Holland on May 5, 1962, for a weeklong journey to New York and back, the 23-year-old was one of nine pastry chefs and part of a 130-person kitchen crew. The ship could ferry up to 1,700 passengers, including 150 to 200 in first class, during a time when it was cheaper to cross the Atlantic by boat than plane.

Wolfgang didn’t know it at the time, but his future wife was among the ship’s 600 total crew members who set sail that day …

P.S. I’ll be writing under my real name, John Cullen, for this one. Jack Chaucer, last seen blasting off for Mars with Nikki and touring the Isle of Wishpers with a group of children, is on hiatus.

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