Exploring our Swedish Food Heritage

6 04 2020

The program Exploring our Swedish Food Heritage meeting was scheduled for the Saturday, March 14th, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak the meeting had to be cancelled.  Barbara Froemming, SAHSWI President and main presenter of the meeting, has shared the information and stories about the different dishes that were to be discussed. As we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, we will share the information, and maybe instead of a sample of each dish, you can prepare it at your own leisure and enjoy it at home.

Several of SAHSWI members were involved in this program to present their favorite Swedish dish, the history, and their story behind it. Each of these are presented below. A common version of the recipes is attached here.

The Swedish dishes prepared for the meeting.

1. Irene Roberts and her cousin, Janet Taylor, have memories of Kroppkakor.

Our Swedish heritage came through our grandfather who emigrated from the Umeå area in his early twenties, so information about Swedish food (and recipes in particular) was scanty.  However, about 10 years later, our grandfather sponsored two nephews emigrating from the same region.  One of them, Erik, married Hilda, who also emigrated from Sweden.  Hilda would occasionally make Kroppkakor and invite the extended family to share them.  I have a distinct memory of one of these events, when I was around the age of nine.  Dinner consisted of just Kroppkakor which appeared to me as glossy baseballs swimming in melted butter (with some lingonberry jam on the side).  The flavor was delicious, the texture firm yet silky, and there were no vegetables lurking on the side… I was hooked!!  

Also remarkable to my nine-year-old self was the strange ritual to create these wonders.  Hilda described an arduous process, beginning the previous day, of grating potatoes and hanging them in cheesecloth to extract the starch – then creating these silky and solid balls wrapped around a savory nugget of meat and spices. Between Hilda’s flair for drama and her heavily accented Swedish (Erik and Hilda both spent their youth in Sweden and spoke Swedish at home), the Kroppkakor grew to mythical proportions in my young mind.  Happily, in recent years, Janet and I have discovered a couple of sources for these delicacies.  Recipes, however, have been hard to find and those that match Hilda’s extensive process are very elusive.  But, thanks to Google, I’ve found that Kroppkakor recipes vary from region to region, and Hilda’s laborious process is similar to that practiced today in Öland.

The history: Potatoes have been a staple food in Sweden since the 1700’s, when it was discovered that alcohol could be readily distilled from them, they were widely cultivated. Potato dumplings are eaten throughout the country but with different names.  Kroppkakor (translated “Body Cakes”) are potato dumplings traditionally common in southern regions of Sweden:  Öland, Småland, Gotland, and Blekinge. The dumplings are typically filled with pork and onion, although there are many varieties, other fillings include bacon and mushrooms. Very popular are Kroppkakor from Öland using grated raw potatoes mixed with some boiled potatoes and yellow onions and bacon.

In “Sweden Regional Recipes,” potato dumplings were listed in Norrbotten and Västerbotten as Piteå potato dumplings – Pitepalt.

Kroppkakor are also traditionally eaten in March in the student town of Uppsala, where the student society Kalmar Nation arranges a Kroppkakegasque, a formal dinner honoring the dish which includes an eating competition

2. Fred Sommer’s favorite Swedish dish is Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs).  Fred has been bringing Swedish meatballs as a treat to SAHSWI meetings coffee hour.

“Everybody likes my Swedish meatballs so I decide to keep sharing them, and they keep asking me for more, so for all the meetings I bring more”

The history of Swedish meatballs reveals (according to some sources) that they are not Swedish at all. The story is that King Karl XII, who reigned as King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718, brought “kofte” home from Turkey, where he lived from 1709 to 1714. These were then adapted to the Swedish way of life as “Köttbullar”. (reference http://www.tasteofhome.com)

Swedish meatballs, or Köttbullar, must be prepared, above all, with love. Mammas Köttbullar (Mom’s meatballs’) is a widespread concept in Sweden, and each mom has her favorite recipe.

Typically, Köttbullar are made with a mix of ground pork and beef, eggs, breadcrumbs or potato, and a little bit of milk together with spices salt, pepper and most important,  allspice. The most common way to serve is with mashed potatoes, cream sauce, and lingonberries or lingonberry jam.  Meatballs and macaroni with ketchup are popular among children.

3. Barbara Froemming’s landmark Swedish dish is Jansons Frestelse (Janson’s Temtation).

“My experience with Janssons Frestelse is strictly in the United States.  It has frequently been included in Swedish smögåsbörds, for example, at IKEA.  Also, when I was asking our members to tell me about traditional Swedish recipes, it was often mentioned.”

Jansons Frestelse is a creamy potato and fish gratin.  What makes the dish special is the ansjovis which are sprat filets cured in a spiced brine.  They are different from Mediterranean anchovies. Janson’s Frestelse is a classic dish traditionally served in Sweden at big parties such as weddings and major birthday celebrations as a late-night meal before guests leave. Today you will find it being included in a typical Swedish Smorgasbord.

History:  It is said that this creamy potato and fish gratin was named for a food-loving opera singer from the early 1900s called Mr Janzon.  The recipe was first published in 1940 and quickly became established as a classic of the Swedish dinner table.  It is now so popular that no julbord or smörgåsbord would be complete without it (swedishfood.com)

Craig Claiborne (New York Times) claims that Jansons Frestelse was actually created in this country, not in Sweden.  He thinks it was named after a 19th century religious leader, Erik Janson, who brought his followers to America and established the community called Bishop Hill in Illinois.  He preached staunchly against the pleasures of the flesh and appetite but had a weakness for this casserole dish.  (cooking.nytimes.com)

Another version of the name origin is from Gunnar Stigmark who says the name was borrowed from the film Janssons frestelse (1928) featuring the popular actor Edvin Adolphson, as a name for this dish coined by Stigmark’s mother and hired cooking lady for the particular occasion of a society dinner, whence it spread to other households and eventually into cookbooks.  (Wikipedia)

4. Karin Konrad recalls a dessert creation that is a Swedish pancake (Pannkaka) with whipped cream and Lingonberries rolled up inside.

“When I was growing up, my family would go to the west coast of Sweden every summer for a couple of weeks. My dad worked for the railroad so we could ride on the train for free. It took about 12 hours to get there. Sometimes on the way home we would stop in Stockholm to visit my two aunts who lived there. One of them had a very beautiful house and always invited us for lunch or dinner. She would sometimes serve these pancakes with whipped cream mixed lingonberries and then rolled up as a dessert with some coffee. I guess they were more like crepes. I had never seen them served this way before and thought it was such a treat.”

In Sweden today Swedish pancakes are traditionally eaten as a dessert after yellow pea soup on Thursdays together with a warm glass of Swedish Punch. (A unique sweet liqueur)

History. Swedish pancakes have probably existed in Sweden since ancient times. They were first mentioned in a publication of Olaus Petri 1538. It was not as easy to make pancakes in the olden days as it is today. Because before the stove existed you had to use a frying pan on three legs. It was placed above a fire and filled with a batter consisting of eggs, flour, milk, sugar and salt. But when the wood stove arrived, it quickly became possible to use frying pans to cook them.

5. Carol Gustafson has experienced a fancy sandwich creation called Smörgåstårta.

“During my first visit to Sweden a Smorgåstårta was our luncheon at Snugge, Christina Nilsson’s and my family homestead.  It’s great for a special lunch, brunch, a shower, or potluck.  It’s important to use a sturdy bread. The fillings are up to you; with a recommended 3 fillings.  Decorating the top of the cake with fresh herbs and vegetables should include what is in the cake, i.e. smoked salmon, shrimp, hard boiled eggs.  I have seen this cake in every shape and size.  It’s up to your own creativity and how many you are serving.

History. A man named Gunnar Sjödahl claimed to have invented Smörgåstårta in a coffeehouse in Östersund, Sweden.  It is normally made up of several layers of white or light rye bread with creamy fillings in between. The fillings and toppings may vary, however most common are egg and mayonnaise as the base, and shrimp, smoked salmon, ham, cheese, as the fillings, and decorated on top with fresh dill. Smörgåstårta is served cold and cut like a dessert cake and is a common dish in Sweden at spring and summer festivities. Often it is served with beer and aquavit.

6. Jan Ehrengren recalls having hårt bröd (Knäckebröd) with eggs and kaviar for breakfast.

I grew up in Sweden on a farm outside of Uppsala during 1950’s and 60’s. Served with all meals were “hårt bröd” (crisp bread), butter, and a block cheese (carved with a cheese slicer (osthyvel)). In addition, for breakfast a tube of Kaviar, and boiled eggs. In the morning I had hårt bröd with eggs and kaviar for breakfast. Today, when I visit family in Sweden, they still have this for breakfast, sometimes they skip the hårt bröd, and just put the Kalles Kaviar directly on the egg.”

History. Knäckebröd history goes back 500 year and has been prepared commercially since 1850. The bread was traditionally baked with rye flour, salt and water a couple of times a year. The texture is bubbly which was done through adding ice in the dough. The final shape were round pieces about 8” diameter with a whole in the middle, which made it possible to store the bread on sticks in the rafter of the house. Now Knäckebröd is popular in all shapes and sizes and with varying grains and seasonings.

Kaviar’s main ingredient is cod roe that is lightly smoked and seasoned with sugar and salt, then mixed into a paste with potato starch, tomato paste and vegetable oil.  The taste is like a creamy paste with slightly salty fishy taste. The Kaviar is sold in tubes and although there are many different brands the most known around the world is Kalles Kaviar.

History of Kalles Kaviar:

1850 – Salted cod roe became popular to eat in Sweden.

1910 – By accident oil is mixed into the cod roe to create a new type of kaviar

1954 – A local producer and seller of kaviar sells his recipe to Abba who decides to sell the kaviar in tubes.  It sells well, especially among children and young people.  Abba’s ad agency suggests putting a child with a common name on the tube.  They also decide to use yellow and blue (for the Swedish flag) as the colors. The Abba CEO’s son Karl Almen is drawn from a photo and put on the tube.  The name Kalle which is the nickname for Karl became the name used for the Kaviar, Kalles Kaviar.

1955 – More than a million tubes were sold in the first year (the population of Sweden was little more than 7 million at that time) and sales today is still increasing.

7. Sonia Hummel enjoys baking Kanelbullar (Cinnamon bun).

History:  Kanelbullar are assumed to have originated from Sweden. Cinnamon came from Sri Lanka over 2,000 years ago, and the Romans became responsible for the spreading of the spice, using it to accent incense and wine.

Around the mid-1700’s, Northern European bakers began mastering super-rich, butter-infused yeast doughs. The French shaped them into buns, followed by the Dutch frying them in oil. Around this time, the British invented the Chelsea bun, a type of currant bun; all while the Germans developed the schnecken, a bun rolled with sugar and currants. These buns laid the groundwork for the Swedish to add cinnamon creating the very first cinnamon rolls.

In 2010, the average Swede ate the on the average 316 Kanelbullar according to the Swedish Board of Agriculture and Statistics. In total, that is 317 million pounds of cinnamon buns consumed by the citizens of Sweden!

October 4 is known as International Cinnamon Roll Day, or kanelbullens dag. The holiday was invented in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council (Hembakningsrådet), to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Since then, cinnamon rolls have spread throughout the world, changing in diameter depending on where they travel. One of the largest cinnamon rolls can be found in Haga, an area of Gothenburg, Sweden. Called Hagabullar – they are usually 12 inches in diameter.

The Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin Swedish Heritage food.

What is your favorite Swedish dish brought to Wisconsin? If you have a special memory with Swedish food and maybe a story. Do you have the recipe? If you do have any of this please send a note to jehrengren@outlook.com and we will update your food story and recipe on the website http://www.sahswi.org.

Thanks to Kurt Anderson for his memories of Swedish food and stories.

I grew up on Swedish food and was particularly fond of Swedish “coffee cake” or Swedish cinnamon buns and loaves because my mother baked it regularly.   All four of my grandparents emigrated from Sweden and met in Chicago where my parents were born, and I was born.  As a very young child, I lived in a neighborhood on Chicago’s south side called Roseland which had a lot of Swedish immigrants.
For Christmas Eve every year, my wife (Chinese) will prepare a Swedish meal for dinner.  It typically includes Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, potato sausage, Swedish rye bread, rice pudding, potatoes and marinated salmon.  For breakfast, she typically has made Swedish skorpa which is lot like a biscotti.  I loved to dip it in coffee to make it less hard and easier to eat.  As a consequence, I was drinking coffee from a very young age (probably 6 years old).
Someone mentioned Swedish knäckebröd.  I remember that my parents were trying to lose weight in their 50’s.  One of their solutions was to eat this food with marinated salmon on top.

Kurt  Anderson



2 responses

7 04 2020

Wonderful post! I was a big fan of Scandinavian cooking on PBS tv too.

7 04 2020

As a Swedish folk dancer and attendee of folk festivals it’s Scandinavian heaven to enjoy Swedish food and dance exercise! Thanks for your food post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: