Monday, December 14, 2009

Scandinavian Holiday Baking, Part I: A Primer

As I promised, I have dug into my stash of Scandinavian recipes, especially for the Christmas holiday.  These have been gathered over the past 20-odd years or so, from various sources.  Some have come from family, some from the huge collection of inherited printed cookbooks, and some from the internet.  I am lucky enough to attend a church that is comprised mainly of Norwegian-Americans, and a bunch of my recipes have come from our own church cookbook and also during our fellowship hour via some quickly scrawled notes written in ballpoint pen on the Thrivent Financial For Lutherans-embossed napkins provided by the insurance company.

Some of these recipes are for basic foods that were eaten on a non-holiday basis in the past but are now reserved for the holidays because of either the fat content or the lengthy process that goes into making them.
Others are traditional holiday treats that have traveled the world with immigrants and kept in families for generations. 

Then, there's lutefisk.  How shall I explain lutefisk to a non-Scandinavian?  Well, let's just say you don't really want to know.  But, since you insist, it's really just dried fish, reconstituted.  In lye.

"What?  In lye?!?" you cry.

Well, yes.  But after it's been soaking in the lye, it goes into a water bath for about 5 days.  All the lye is gone by then, really.  Trust me.


"But the smell!"  you exclaim, as the noxious aroma  fills the room when the bag of white fish from Morey's Fish Market is cut open.  By now the tears are rolling down your cheeks, partially from the fear of eating something that was soaked in lye, partially from the fumes.

Mmmm.  That's the smell of my Auntie Yvonne's kitchen at Christmas time.  Brings me back to my childhood, with the smell of roasting turkey mingled with lutefisk in cream sauce.  Yvonne's a Swede.  So is my mother.  They both married Norwegians, my dad and my uncle Trueman are 100% Norsk.  Norwegians usually eat their lutefisk drenched in melted butter.  That's how I prefer it, but Aunt Yvonne still makes the best lutefisk, even if it is in cream. 

For more info on lutefisk, look to Wikipedia.  I can't say the article is perfect, but there's some good info there.

Before I really dive into the recipes, there are a few things that you may want to know.  If you are in the U.S. or would just generally be interested in a good metric conversion chart for cooking, I found one here:  Metric Conversion Chart.

Another thing that is good to know is what your options are for hard-to-find Scandinavian ingredients.  While it seems that finding eggroll wrappers or agave nectar is as simple as taking a trip to your local Cub foods or Walmart, finding things like pearl sugar or hornsalt can be difficult if you don't know where to shop.

Luckily for me, Minnesota has a large enough population of people with Scandinavian blood that it's a bit simpler here.  Ingebretsen's , located at 1601 E. Lake Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota has been selling Scandinavian foods and gifts for over 85 years.  You can even take classes there, from knitting and making Hardanger lace to cooking and wood carving.  Or just go to a story telling event to hear some stories from Norse mythology.  If you are unable to get to Minneapolis, they have other locations as well, and online shopping is also available.

Ingebretsen's Mural - corner of 16th and E Lake Street

Even if you aren't as lucky as I, to be living smack dab in the middle of little Norway (a.k.a. Minnesota), at least most of the ingredients are pretty basic:  eggs, flour, milk, cream and sugar.  Which of course means that most of these cookies and other treats turn out white - or just a shade darker than that.  My German-Danish husband kids me all the time that all of my cooking turns out either white... or black.  Brown is cooking, black is done, as my dad always used to say. 

Well, I am going to break this into a few shorter sections, as not to bore you too badly.  So consider this an introduction, more pics and recipes will follow - stay tuned :)

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