The carnival in Binche each year takes place in Belgium during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. That is the best known carnival in Belgium and it has been proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by UNESCO. Its history dates back to approximately the 14th century. Events related to the carnival begin up to seven weeks prior to the primary celebrations. Street performances and public displays traditionally occur on the Sundays approaching Ash Wednesday, consisting of prescribed musical acts, dancing, and marching. Large numbers of Binche’s inhabitants spend the Sunday directly prior to Ash Wednesday in costume.
The centrepiece of the carnival’s proceedings are clown-like performers known as Gilles. Appearing, for the most part, on ShroveTuesday, the Gilles are characterised by their vibrant dress, wax masks and wooden footwear. They number up to 1,000 at any given time, range in age from 3 to 60 years old, and are customarily male. The honour of being a Gille at the carnival is something that is aspired to by local men. From dawn on the morning of the carnival’s final day, Gilles appear in the centre of Binche, to dance to the sound of drums and ward off evil spirits with sticks. Later during the day, they don large hats adorned with ostrich plumes, which can cost more than $300 US dollars to rent,and march through the town with baskets of oranges. These oranges are thrown to,and sometimes at, members of the crowd gathered to view the procession. The vigour and longevity of the orange-throwing event has in past caused damage to property – some residents choose to seal windows to prevent this. The oranges are considered good luck because they are a gift from the Gilles and it is an insult to throw them back.
The Oil balls
There is a special sweet which are only sold during the carnival season at mobile stalls called oliebollen-oil balls. It is a kind of dumpling made by using an ice-scooper or two spoons to scoop a certain amount of dough and dropping the dough into a deep fryer filled with hot oil. In this way, a sphere-shaped oliebol emerges.
The dough is made from flour, eggs, yeast, some salt, milk, baking powder and usually sultanas, currants, raisins and sometimes zest or succade. A notable variety is the appelbeignet which contains only a slice of apple, but different from oliebollen, the dough should not rise for at least an hour. Oliebollen are usually served with powdered sugar. In Flanders the “oliebol” is called “smoutenbol” where as the only difference is not baked in vegetable oil, but in animal fat. Another difference between the Dutch oliebol and the Flanders smoutenbol is that the smoutenbol is usually not filled in contrast to the Dutch oliebol. The filling of the oliebol could consist of raisins, currants and apple, other ingredients can be added, such as Succade, pieces of orange or whip cream.
Ingredients: 1 kilo wheat flour, 1 l (33.8 fl oz) tepid water, 20 grams of salt, 50 grams (1.76 oz) of sugar, 80 grams (2.8 oz) of fresh yeast or 16 grams of dried yeast, peanut oil, powdered sugar for finishing touch
Method: Mix the yeast with the tepid water. Ensure that the water isn’t too hot for the yeast before using. Add the flour to the watery yeast. Mix the batter briefly, using the lowest setting on the blender. Add the salt and the sugar. Mix in quickly. Leave the batter to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place. Use a large bucket to let the batter rise.
To prevent the batter from dehydrating, lay a damp tea towel over the batter. After the dough has risen, start making doughnuts. Heat the oil to a temperature from about 180ºC / 350ºF. Use a sauce (gravy) spoon to spoon the batter into the oil. Take a small or medium sized soup ladle, dip it in the hot oil briefly, scoop up some batter, then lower the ladle in the oil. The oliebol will float out of the ladle.
Don’t fry too many at once––3 or 4 is the limit for most pans. Use peanut oil and change the oil regularly. Fry the Dutch doughnuts about six minutes.
When they are half cooked, they will turn over by themselves, sometimes they need a little nudge to turn. Remove from the oil using the ladle or slotted spoon. Lay a piece of kitchen paper into a bowl or deep plate and put each of the cooked Dutch doughnuts on it. The kitchen paper soaks up most of the oil. Before you serve the “Dutch doughnuts”, sprinkle them with powered sugar