By late afternoon in the early winter season crisp, cool winds from the North Sea hasten home Dutch workers, shoppers, and schoolchildren for their one hot meal of the day, the evening meal.
Weather in the Netherlands can be harsh, but there are compensations in the rich stews and soups such as the famous Erwtensoepm, a thick split-pea soup with generous slices of pork and smoked sausage and chunks of vegetables such as leeks, celery, and potatoes.
Many Dutch foods are substantial and delicately laced with spices, but breakfast and lunch consist of cold foods, mostly the typical Dutch open-faced sandwiches.
At breakfast one may usually choose from a large variety of rolls and fresh breads, both light and dark. The richly buttered rolls and cheeses are accompanied by strong, fragrant chocolate with thick cream, an assortment of jams and marmalades, and slices of cold meat.
Although breakfast cereals such as cornflakes and shredded wheat are popular, boiled eggs are regular breakfast fare, and the children usually have a bowl of porridge, called pap.
Milk is consumed in large quantities in Holland, both as a beverage and for making the well-known cheeses: the wheel-shaped yellow Gouda and the round red Edam. The Gouda, made of whole milk, is a bit richer than the Edam, made partly of skim milk.
At midmorning in most offices, factories, and farms there is a break for a hot beverage and a biscuit, often a Dutch shortbread or buttercake called boterkoek.
On weekends craft, antique, and food vendors make and sell their wares on the pedestrian shopping malls throughout the city.
Apple fritters (appelflapm) and a thin wafflelike cookie with a brown sugar syrup in the middle (stroopwafelm), are eagerly purchased and eaten by shoppers. The young people enjoy a huge dollop of mayonnaise with French fries, which are also sold on the shopping malls.
At lunch the usual fare is the open-faced sandwich of rolls and breads, which include rye bread, black bread, rusks, and spiced or currant rolls and the Dutch butter, cheese, and milk.
There is cold sliced meat, as at breakfast, and these sandwiches are always eaten with knife and fork. Often there are salads and cold soups at lunch.
A large l0-inch pancake served with a molasses syrup is on the menu at noon in many restaurants. Covered with cinnamon and sugar or cooked with bacon, apples, and raisins, the pancake is a meal in itself. Fruit is the usual dessert.
In the afternoon around four, guests are often entertained in Dutch homes. Fancy cakes, cookies, or chocolates may be served. And guests often bring the hostess flowers from one of the many neighborhood flower stands near the tram, bus, or train stations.
The Dutch evening meal is the hot, main meal of the day and consists of a soup, meat, or fish with vegetables and potatoes. Dessert is often yogurt and fruit.
An important part of Dutch home cooking are the mixed meat and vegetable dishes such as sauerkraut with bacon and curly kale with the wonderful Dutch sausage. The land north of Amsterdam produces excellent cabbages, little white onions known for their sweet flavor, and other fresh vegetables that flourish in the wet climate.
Dutch chocolate is as famous and well liked as Dutch cheeses and is seen in shops shaped into animals, dolls, and flowers. On holidays chocolate is used to spell out children's names, as gifts.
Also, very well known in this land of Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Vermeer is the Rijsttafelm, or rice table, a custom brought back by Dutch settlers from Indonesia.
It is a unique restaurant experience of The Hague - the capital of this country, the home of Queen Beatrix, and the locale of many Indonesian restaurants. An enormous bowl of rice is surrounded by as many as 25 different dishes. Spicy beef, pork, and chicken are served with pickled vegetables, eggs, seafood, and vegetables in sweet, sour, and spicy sauces. Always present is peanut sauce.
In the markets, ready-made accompaniments for Rijsttafelm can be bought to take out.
Although some of the contrasts and combinations are unfamiliar to American palates, it is a favorite and well-balanced meal of Hollanders.
A good Indonesian cookbook available in English is ''To All My Grandchildren - Lessons in Indonesian Cooking,'' (Liplop Press, Box 4520, Berkeley, Calif. 94704. $7.95).
Another favorite main dish in The Netherlands is a savory beef and onion stew called Hachee.
The following recipe for this dish and one for a delicious and delicate Cream of Tomato Soup are from ''The Netherlands Cookbook,'' by Heleen A.M. Halverhout, (Driehoel-Amsterdam. $15.) Savory Beef and Onion Stew (Hachee) 2 large thinly sliced onions 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup butter or margarine (1/2 stick) 2 cups beef stock 3 bay leaves 5 whole cloves 1 tablespoon vinegar 1/2 pound sliced cold or leftover meat, preferably beef 2 tablespoons cornstarch Pepper Worcestershire sauce
Brown onions and flour in butter in a saucepan. Add stock gradually, stirring constantly. Add bay leaves and cloves and simmer 5 minutes covered. Add vinegar and meat, simmer for another hour.Mix cornstarch with a little water, add, stirring constantly, to thicken sauce. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes and red cabbage. Serves 4. Cream of Tomato Soup (Tomatensoep met gebakken broodjes) 4 cups boiling water 4 large tomatoes 1 onion 2 bay leaves Salt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 1/3 cup flour Parsley Pepper Cream or milk
Cut tomatoes in 4 and combine with onion, bay leaves, and salt in boiling water. Simmer 20 minutes and sieve.
Melt butter, add flour, and blend. Then add a little of the soup. Add more and go on till you have a creamy smooth soup. Add some finely chopped parsley, pepper, and the cream or milk. Serve with fried bread cubes.
Fried bread cubes: 2 slices white bread cut in cubes, crust removed. Butter to fry them into a golden brown. Hand them round separately. Serves 4.
The following recipe for Buttercake is one given me by a friend which I have made many times. It is a great favorite, a traditional cake served frequently. Buttercake (Boterkoek) 4 ounces butter, softened 4 ounces margarine, softened 1 3/4 cups unsifted flour 1 1/8 cups brown sugar 1 egg yolk 3 tablespoons water
Mix first 4 ingredients thoroughly with a wooden spoon or knead together with your hands. Press mixture into an 8-inch round or square baking pan. Bake at 270 degrees F. for 1/2 hour.
Beat water and egg yolk together and brush over top of partially baked cake. Continue baking for another 1/2 hour.
Before cake cools, cut into wedges or squares. Set aside and let cool. Makes about 16 servings.