Pella at Christmas time
It’s become a tradition for me to travel to Pella, a Dutch community 45 miles southeast of Des Moines, just before Christmas to pick up baked goods and cheeses for the holidays. I’ve also been known to do some of my Christmas shopping there.
I spent yesterday afternoon in Pella, inhaling all the goodness of the downtown bakeries and warming up with an eggnog latte at Smokey Row coffee shop. The bakeries (Jaarsma is my go-to shop, but Vander Ploeg Bakery is also very good) are the BEST at Christmas because in addition to the usual Dutch letters and other goodies, they have gingerbread houses, spicy St. Nick cookies in many sizes, and other holiday treats. I always buy coffee cakes and macaroons (coconut and date), frosted sugar cookies, caramel tarts (which never make it all the way home), and at least a dozen St. Nicks.
After the bakery, I like to go to Ulrich Meat Market – not to buy meat (although I am told it is very good), but to buy imported cheeses. Ulrich (and In’t Veld Meat Market on the next block) have Dutch cheeses that are hard to find in central Iowa, plus Ulrich has a good selection of other European and Iowa cheeses, including Maytag’s delicious blue cheese and white cheddar.
On this trip to Pella, for the first time, I visited the Scholte House Museum to see how it was decorated for Christmas. In my spring visits, I have always gone to the Scholte Gardens, because they are bursting with tulips of every color, shape, and size. But I had never taken a tour of the Scholte home. It was well worth the $5 admission charge. Beverly Graves, the home’s director (and live-in caretaker) gave me a thorough tour that covered not just the history of the house, but a history of its early owners and how they settled the city of Pella. I especially enjoyed the 15 Christmas trees, historic artwork, and cozy furnishings.
There’s more to do in Pella during the holidays, including a Pella Historical Village Christmas Walk (“a walk through 20+ buildings ‘dressed-up’ for the holidays,” now through Dec. 31) and Pella Christmas in the Country (an annual country light display, each evening through Dec. 31).
Shopping and dining in Pella have changed over the years. Some of my favorite shops and restaurants have come and gone, but they always seem to be replaced with something new to explore. One shop, De Pelikaan, has been there for years and features unique imported Dutch gifts. Just stroll around the downtown area, wander through the shops, enjoy the windmill, and you’ll be sure to find something that catches your eye.
Not far from Pella is Lake Red Rock. I am not big on water sports, but I like to go to Red Rock for the walking trails, though not so much this time of year.
Pella is actually a wonderful place any time of year – although most people mainly think of Pella during Tulip Time (held May 5-7 in 2011). Tulip Time is a festival that features parades, costumes, flowers, street scrubbing, Dutch dancing, crafts, food (lots of food), and music. If you’re not into the festival itself, go the week before like I do, and just enjoy the tulips and bakeries without the crowds.