First observed as a national holiday in 1885, the celebration started as Princess Day, to honor then princess Wilhelmina's fifth birthday, on August 31st. When she became queen in 1890, at the very young age of 10, it was renamed Queen's Day, a title it has held since. When her daughter Juliana became queen, in 1948, Queen's Day moved from August 31st to April 30th, Juliana's birthday.
The logical step would have been to move the national holiday to January, the current's queen Beatrix's birthday, when she succeeded her mother Juliana in 1980. But by then, the traditional outdoor activities around Queen's Day had taken such root that moving to January would have quite possibly rendered all activities impossible to maintain. Queen's Day is, per definition, a festivity celebrated with others: outside, in parks, on the street, on the canals. It's the one day a year where, in a country that does not know weekly yard or garage sales, everybody displays all their sellable wares for others to buy.
It's also the one day a year, except for some national soccer events, that food will be colored orange: orange tompoezen, orange potato chips, orange cakes and, let's not forget that old traditional Dutch drink, the oranjebitter. Few like it, and even less people will order it outside of Queen's Day, but one cannot imagine this national holiday without a shot of bitter, orange-flavored booze.
Bitters are alcoholic beverages that are flavored with herbs, fruit and/or spices. Oranjelikeur, similar to a bitter but with the addition of sugar, was first heard of in 1620, but gained national appreciation after a member of the house of Orange, Willem I, became the nation's king in 1814. The drink was reintroduced, now as a nationalistic and patriotic beverage, and has remained as such ever since.
For a long time, bitters were very popular, but we like our beverages sweet nowadays, so slowly but surely the bitter manufacturers have been adding sugar back into the drink. Still nowhere as sweet as a liqueur, this oranjebitter does have some sugar to sweeten the flavor.
If you don't care for it as a beverage, try it sweetened over ice cream or in hot tea.
1 teaspoon aniseed
6 cardamom pods
1 large orange
1 large lemon
2 cups vodka
3 tablespoons sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
For the syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Scrub the orange and lemon, and peel thinly, without much pith. Juice the fruit and save the seeds. Dry the fruit peels and the seeds in a warmed oven or on a hot airvent, until crisp.
In a mortar, bruise the dried peel, the dried seeds, the aniseed, cardamom pods and the three tablespoons of sugar with a couple of good stomps from the pestle. Scrape everything into a clean, large mason jar. Pour two cups of vodka on top and two cups of water, and the orange and lemon juice. Add the star anise and the cinnamon stick, give everything a good swirl and screw the lid on the jar.
Place the jar in a dark, room temperature area, such as your kitchen cabinet or in the broom closet by the water heater. Give it a careful shake every two or three days.
After three weeks, taste-test and see if you like the strength of the flavors. If yes, good. If not, screw the lid back on and let the jar sit for another week.
Now carefully line a strainer with a paper coffee filter on top of a clean jar, and pour the liquid into the strainer. Clear, golden orange liquid should now filter into the vessel below.
In the meantime, bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar carefully to a boil, stir it until the sugar has dissolved and let it cool. Add enough to the oranjebitter to bring it up to the level of sweetness you like. Multiple tastings will be in order. Whatever is left, serve cold over ice or straight.
Happy Queen's Day!!!
You can "enhance" the oranjebitter with a drop of red and yellow food coloring, to give it a more commercial orange look, or add a drop of orange essence to increase the orange flavor.