Foodie Friday: The Temptation of a Swedish Christmas

In case you missed it, our Must-See Monday feature this week was the beautiful country of Sweden. Maya Hanley did not miss it. In fact, she made it much more of a must-see with her comments that we asked her to share more about her time spent in this country and especially about its FOOD! Start your weekend off right with our 'Foodie Friday' feature. You can thank Maya for this week's holiday special.

"The Temptation of a Swedish Christmas"

I lived in Sweden for five years. It is a country everyone should visit and one that I miss every day. The summers are glorious, filled with greenery and light; the coastal areas are wonderful to explore. Bohuslän, on the west coast around Göteborg, is stunningly beautiful with an archipelago of large and small islands. You might take your boat out to a small island, just big enough to have a small cabin with steps down to the boat, and picnic there, swim off the rock and relax. People spend most of the time outdoors in the summer as the winters are so long and dark, but even so, winter is a gorgeous time. With bright blue skies and deep snow, the outdoors in winter can be exciting and, if you like skiing and skating, it is a wonderful place to be. One of the things I loved about Sweden was the ritualistic lifestyle. There are countless traditions that pass from generation to generation. For example, there are certain foods you only eat at certain times of the year or on certain days of the week. Things like hot cross buns in the UK, which used to be eaten only on Good Friday, are now eaten for weeks or months around Easter. In Sweden, at Easter, they make wonderful cardamom flavoured buns called Semlor (plural for Semla). The top is cut off, the center scooped out and filled with marzipan mixture, covered in whipped cream and topped with the rest of the bun. Some people like to eat it in a bowl of hot milk. I liked it just as it was. I knew that it was only going to be around for a short while so I, like everyone else, indulged when I got the chance. One of the other great traditions in Sweden is having coffee and cakes. They even have a verb for it. It's called to fika. If you visit someone, they will invariably serve you extra strong coffee with small cakes and biscuits. It is said that, in the past, when a woman was to be married, she had to know at least 40 different types of biscuit recipes. Each day of the week has its own food. Husmanskost is the name for traditional Swedish food. If you go into any Swedish restaurant, they will always have the daily meal on the menu. On Thursdays, it's pea soup with ham served with warm punsch, a sweet liqueur. On Fridays it's Pyttipanna, a sort of hash with potatoes, left over meats, topped with a fried egg and with a side order of beetroot. Another favourite is Jansson's Frestelse (Jansson's Temptation). A traditional part of the Christmas meal, it's very easy to make. Here's a good recipe: Jannson's Frestelse ©Maya Hanley 2010 Note: The spice-cured sprats mentioned can be substitued with herring pickled with spices and onions. If you live near an IKEA store, you can easily get the right type of herring or sprats. Sometimes people mistranslate the Swedish 'ansjovis' as anchovies, but they are actually sprats. If you like, you can use anchovies but don't add any salt and be sparing with them, to you taste. Ingredients (6-8 servings):
  • 1.2 kg (2.5 lb) potatoes
  • 400 g (14 oz) onions
  • 375 g (13 oz) spice-cured sprat filets (or pickled herring)
  • 600 ml (3 cups) heavy whipping cream
  • salt, white pepper
  • breadcrumbs
  • butter
  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices. Peel and cut the onions also into thin slices.
  • Sauté the onions in a little butter, without browning
  • Grease an ovenproof baking dish and cover the bottom with a layer of potatoes, then add half the onions and half the sprat (or herring) filets.
  • Add another layer of potatoes, then the rest of the onion an sprats.
  • Finish with a layer of potatoes.
  • Add some ground black pepper and a little salt. (Be careful with the salt as the sprats/herrings are usually quite salty.
  • Pour the cream over until it is almost visible through the potatoes.
  • Place a few pats of butter on top and sprinkle with a good handful of breadcrumbs.
  • Bake in the oven (250C/475F) for about an hour.
Mmmmmm. Thank you Maya for being our first Friday Foodie guest blogger! Thank you not only for sharing your recipe, but for bringing a piece of your Swedish experience and holiday cheer to our community. Please follow Maya's blog to learn more about her journeys and stay tuned for more guest posts from this valued Tripper. -Lauren