Festive Christmas onboard

‘We’ll make Christmas as festive as possible’ says Harry, the Baker onboard the Africa Mercy.  We asked him what he is baking for the crew during the holidays.  ‘White and brown bread, surprise bread, currant buns, baguettes, Swedish bread, Stromboli, I’m always trying new things,’ said Harry, who is from The Netherlands. ‘Normally I would work with a fellow baker, but I’m the lucky one who can bake for the 140 volunteers that are on the ship during the holidays.’

He also shares with us a delicious holiday recipe you can make at home, below. 

Harry is a sturdy man, with an impressive moustache hidden behind his face mask and a twinkle in his eyes. He has the looks of a true seafarer —but he hasn’t been sailing for long at all. He first came onboard the Africa Mercy in 2018, after a 30-year career as a truck driver travelling throughout Europe.  Harry said: ‘In 2016 I got an email from Mercy Ships inviting me to a weekend on a ship to get to know the organization. It was a great weekend, but they didn’t need a truck driver. What they did need was a baker. I was a bit disappointed, but then someone said to me: “Well, maybe you can get retrained and be a baker.” I wasn’t convinced — yet.’

Diving into a New Skill
Harry felt enthusiastic about Mercy Ships, but was doubtful about a new profession. In early 2017, weeks after his visit to the ship, he signed up for online baking classes and found an internship at a bakery. ‘Becoming a baker was a deeply felt and conscious choice. It was different from my previous job, which I kind of rolled into. I had my truck driver’s license from my time in the military, so becoming a truck driver was an obvious choice. But this time I really felt that becoming a baker was what I needed to do. That this was my purpose.’

‘And with this purpose, I was able to put in all the hard work. I did the internship along with driving a truck for 70 hours a week. I fit in any studying during those moments that I needed to rest during my rides.’

The hard work paid off. In the summer of 2018, his supervisor said that Harry was ready to bake on his own. He didn’t waste any time. A week later he was in the docks of Las Palmas, Tenerife, preparing to sail to Guinea for his first field service onboard the Africa Mercy.

From Polish Pretzels to Swedish Bread
Baking bread isn’t a routine for Harry. He tries to find out what people like and experiments with bread from different cultures. ‘I try to bake something from every nation we have on the ship. I ask the crew what kind of bread they like from their home country. I got all kinds of recipes and started trying them out. The Polish Pretzels and the Stromboli, for instance, are a success and return on the menu. Currently, I’m trying out Swedish bread. And these new experiments are gone first, always,’ said a proud Harry.

Christmas on the Africa Mercy
But then came 2020, and like everyone else, we had to adapt. In September, Harry decided to come back to the ship and stay for at least a year. ‘It’s a lot quieter now. Everybody is keeping a safe distance, wearing face masks and spending more time by themselves in their cabins. We’re all trying our very best to make it work, also during the holidays. We’re going to celebrate Christmas and make it as festive as possible. My contribution will be a French brioche and a four-layer chocolate bread shaped like a star or a Christmas tree.’

Harry’s Dream
‘I’m so grateful for the work I get to do. I’m learning so much and by baking my bread I fuel the crew who is helping out those who need it the most. And,’ Harry added jokingly, ‘I get to work in the sweetest department of the ship. But what I saw on my first field service in Guinea set a new purpose for me: little children who had to get by with just one meal a day, maybe not even that. I would love to bake bread for children like that. I’m not ready to retire. Let me bake bread, for the children.’

Harry’s Holiday Recipe: Stromboli
Harry shares a recipe that is perfect – and easy –  for the holidays. And his famous Stromboli suits Mercy Ships very well. Like the crew, it’s a fusion dish, combining many fantastic flavours.

– pizza dough (standard recipe)
– 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
– 2 spring onions
– 150 grams ham
– 100 grams mozzarella
– 100 grams grated Gouda cheese
– 1 egg beaten
– 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Start the recipe when the dough starts to rise:
1. Roll out the dough into an elongated piece and brush it with the mustard. Spread out the spring onions, ham, mozzarella, and Gouda cheese over the dough.
2. Roll up the dough from the long side with a rolling pin and place the rolling pin seam down on a baking tray with baking paper.
3. Cover the dough with beaten egg and spread out the parmesan cheese.
4. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
5. Cut into pieces and serve the Stromboli.