Today’s blog is by Mary Hooper Nelson, a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter, who lives with her husband, Bryce Nelson, in Kinsley, Kansas, not far from the old Nelson family stamping grounds.
Swedes, and Swedish-Americans, are great coffee drinkers.
They love to sit around the kitchen table quaffing cups of java “strong enough to jump out of the cup,” talking, gossiping, maybe telling a “Swede” joke or two.
My husband, Bryce Nelson, his brother, Gary, grew up in Pawnee County, Kansas, which was settled by Swedish immigrants in the late 19th century. The newcomers farmed, had large families and were staunch Lutherans.
Christmastime lasted for weeks
Christmas, of course, was the most festive religious and social holiday on the calendar, but Christmastime was more than December 25. Christmastime began in mid-December and wound up around New Year’s Day or the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, providing ample opportunity for folks to visit and sit around the table in the kitchen with its steamed-up windows – because it was warm inside, especially if mom, grandma and the aunts were cooking, and cold outside.
And ample opportunity to drink coffee.
Of course, you’d want something to dunk in your coffee. A favorite dunker was skorpor, Swedish for toast. They’re also called rusks.
My sister-in-law, Lou Nelson, says scorpor is kind of like a Swedish biscotti. Below is her recipe.
In place of grape nuts, you could substitute a teaspoon of grated orange rind, which is called for in recipes for korppu, the Finnish equivalent of skorpor.
Skorpor beats herring and lutefisk
In days gone by, when Swedish-Americans had closer emotional ties to the old country, they liked to have pickled herring and lutefisk at Christmas. (Editor’s note: lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish prepared by soaking dried cod in lye to tenderize it, then skinning, boning, and boiling the fish to a gelatinous consistency.) Lutefisk is more commonly a Norwegian dish (and butt of many jokes), but the Swedes seem to like it too.
At least the elder generation did.
Gary and Bryce made themselves scarce when their elders started dishing out the lutefisk and pickled herring.
Some member of the family always went to Lindsborg, a Swedish settlement in central Kansas, and brought back pickled herring, recalls Gary.
“I remember how awful it smelled. I wouldn’t try it but the aunts and uncles and Grandma Nelson loved it.”
In Lou’s family, her English great-grandmother made a dessert called Christmas pudding.
“It had golden and regular raisins, candied fruit, and nuts and was made with beef suet, flour, sugar and lots of spices,” she said. “I remember Granny putting it in the old-fashioned metal coffee cans and tying the lids on with string, and then they were cooked in a boiling water bath. She made a sauce with butter, sugar and spices to go on it.
“It was one of those things, kinda like fruitcake, you either liked or didn’t. As we grew up and got married, we secretly hoped the new family members wouldn’t like it so there’d be more for us.
“After Granny was gone, my grandmother made it, then my mother until they could no longer get the suet. Gary and I loved it.”
Enjoy the skorpor, and Merry Christmas.