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All countries have food clichés — that is, dishes everybody thinks about when they talk about a country. Scandinavia is no exception. One of Scandinavia’s food clichés is meatballs. Why are Swedish meatballs so famous? And why the Swedish ones and not some, or all, of the other kinds of meatballs eaten throughout Scandinavia? Is it because Ikea serves small, round meatballs in light brown gravy with lingonsylt (lingonberry jam) in all its megastores around the world?
Stereotypes in food are as boring as they are in people. The Scandinavian food culture is diverse and seasonal and has much more to offer than meatballs. And when it comes to meatballs, there’s a lot more to it than just Swedish meatballs. Ikea is properly the best-known Scandinavian brand with a global reach, except maybe for ABBA. The Ikea food store and its restaurants both sell and serve Swedish meatballs produced by a Swedish food company. They are promoted in all Ikea catalogs and on its website.
Is that the only explanation for the celebrity of Swedish meatballs? Or is it because of the large number of Swedes who immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century. Clearly, they brought the recipe to America. Did the famous Swedish Chef in “The Muppets” ever do meatballs? Did well-known Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson?
Meatballs part of food culture in Scandinavia
It is difficult to answer all these questions. Instead, I will try to highlight some of the other Scandinavian meatballs and give a few other recipes that can outsmart the Swedish meatball.
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In Scandinavia, minced meat is a big part of everyday meals. I would estimate it is eaten once or twice a week in many households. There are different regional recipes and traditions, from kjøtbullar, frikadeller and krebinetter to a variety of meatballs in sauce with vegetables.
Danish meatballs (frikadeller) are made from equal shares of minced pork and minced veal combined with a mixture called fars, which consists of finely chopped onion, eggs, flour, milk, salt and pepper and maybe a little bit of spices like nutmeg or juniper. Frikadeller are not round like a ball, but have an oval shape. They are pan-fried in butter and served according to tradition with boiled vegetables and potatoes and often no gravy. If there is gravy, it can be just melted butter from the pan, and it is always served on the side.
In my own recipe for frikadeller, I use freshly chopped thyme. My grandmother taught me to use sparkling water instead of milk, which makes the meatballs lighter. The best way to serve them in winter is with baked root vegetables and parsley pesto. In the summer, they can be served with summer cabbage pan-fried in butter with a bit of chili flakes and small new potatoes. Another classic meal is to serve frikadeller cold the next day on rye bread with pickled beetroots.
Frikadeller can also be made with 100% fish, often mixed with fresh herbs such as dill or tarragon. This is also a very traditional dish.
Recipes for vegetarian frikadeller became trendy in the 1970s with all the micro-macro food and the vegetarian movement. Instead of meat, the meatballs can be made with beetroot, split peas, carrots, leftover boiled vegetables — the combinations are endless. It’s a great way to make use of the lonely vegetables left in the back of the fridge.
Then there are all the different meatballs in sauce or gravy, again with equal shares of pork and veal and similar to frikadeller but boiled instead of pan-fried.
A classic Danish recipe is meatballs with celeriac and white gravy made with lots of nutmeg: Boil the meatballs in salted water and bay leaves. When done, use some of the stock to make a white sauce based on a roux and add leeks and big chunks of celeriac. Let the sauce simmer until the celeriac is soft, then add in the meatballs again. Both fresh thyme and tarragon go well with these meatballs. I like to serve them with boiled spelt or rye grains.
Another classic, and actually one of the most popular dishes in Danish households, is meatballs made with curry powder based on a recipe from about 1935. The spice mixture is from England, but the idea of the meatballs and gravy is Danish. The classic recipe has no vegetables, just meatballs and gravy served with rice.
This recipe is a bit more up-to-date and has lots of vegetables and ginger.
Meatballs in Curry Sauce
Serves 8, or a family of 4 for two days
For the meatballs:
1 pound minced pork
1 pound minced veal
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup milk or sparkling water
½ cup plain wheat flour
2 tablespoons curry powder
5 teaspoons flaky salt
Freshly ground pepper
Water for boiling
2 bay leaves
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons plain wheat flour
1 cup double cream
2 leeks, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 apples, cored and sliced
Salt and pepper
1. Combine the minced meats, onion and garlic in a bowl. Add the milk, flour, curry powder, 2 teaspoons of the salt and some freshly ground pepper and mix together.
2. Add the eggs and mix again for about 5 minutes so that the mixture is as light and fluffy as possible.
3. Heat 8 to 10 cups water in a pot. Add the bay leaves and the remaining salt to the water and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, use your hands to shape half the meat mixture into little balls about three-quarters of an inch (2 centimeters) wide.
4. Plop the meatballs in the water and let them simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Remove the meatballs from the water with a skimmer and place on a tray.
6. Shape and cook the other half of the meat mixture and then cook the same way.
7. Set all the meatballs aside until the sauce is done, reserving 3 to 4 cups of the cooking liquid.
8. In another pot, melt the butter. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook for a couple of minutes.
9. Add the flour and stir well.
10. Add ½ cup of the meatball cooking liquid and stir until smooth. Pour in more of the cooking liquid as necessary until you have smooth gravy, and bring to a simmer.
11. Add the cream and return to the boil. Reduce the heat, add the meatballs, leeks and carrots and simmer for 5 minutes.
12. Add the apples and continue cooking for 3 minutes.
13. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rice.
Top photo: Meatballs in Curry Sauce. Credit: Lars Ranek
Danish is famous. It comes in many forms and with a lot of things that are copied but have no resemblance whatsoever to the real thing.
In Denmark, Danish pastry is called wienerbrød, meaning “bread from Vienna.” That is the general term, but there are individual names for each particular kind. When you go to the baker in Denmark in the morning, there will be a variation of Danish — all sweet and never savory. We Danes do not do savory and Danish together.
Danish is mostly sold in the mornings. Many kinds will be sold out before afternoon, as bakers don’t make new ones because Danes eat different cakes in the afternoon. A Danish is really a morning pastry, just like the croissant in France. People tend to buy wienerbrød from the baker and not make them at home because it takes time, particularly to make the dough. Most Danes have one or two favorites they always eat, so when sent to the baker on weekend mornings it’s a big responsibility to get your family’s wishes right.
Eating Danish is part of Danish culture
Wienerbrød is really embedded in Danish culture and remains very popular. It’s not eaten every day; it’s mostly reserved for weekends or special occasions. At work, it’s common to have Friday breakfast together with colleagues, and wienerbrød is often part of that. Sometimes it is exchanged for a multigrain bun, for health reasons.
Excellent wienerbrød in Copenhagen:
I recommend you try to make wienerbrød yourself. The results are worth it. If you happen to travel to Copenhagen, below are a few of the best places to buy wienerbrød.
Visit Brød for the cinnamon bun called kanelsnegl.
Try Lagekagehuset, a bakery chain with an outlet in Copenhagen Airport, among other locations, for chokoladeboller, spandauer, frøsnapper and tebirkes.
Café Europa, located in central Copenhagen, has excellent cinnamon Danish, or kanelsnegl.
La Glace, which is a time capsule where you can get a sense of old Copenhagen and have morning coffee, makes terrific wienerbrød.
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Wienerbrød is similar to a croissant; it’s a yeast dough folded with butter three times. Some bakers use margarine because it’s easier to work with, and they claim it gives a better texture. I don’t agree. I like butter best.
It’s important to make Danish in a kitchen that is not too hot; otherwise the butter melts. With a basic dough you can make all the varieties of wienerbrød. The variation comes in the remonce, which is a mixture of butter, sugar, sometimes marzipan, custard, jam and different nuts and seeds.
Different types of wienerbrød have names like spandauer, tebirkes, frøsnapper, snegl, rosenbrød, tryksnegl and chocoladebolle. The baker who comes up with the idea for a particular type usually also gives it a name.
If served in the afternoon with coffee, the cake has different names and is bigger. The most common name would be wienerbrødsstang, where the last part of the word, -stang, means “long piece.” Borgermesterkrans is another variant: borgmester means “mayor,” and -krans means it has a circular shape. They are cut out and eaten in pieces with your fingers, so they’re very handy. Often they are part of a bigger cake selection, like cream cakes and butter cookies.
Many stories exist about how the wienerbrød started in Denmark. The stories probably all have some truth to them, but it is difficult to pinpoint who was the first to bake wienerbrød. The inspiration most likely came from Vienna. One of the stories goes that the tradition started in 1843 in Copenhagen by a local baker who had visited Vienna and learned how to make croissants. Knowing how the locals loved sugar, he added some remonce, that is the sweet paste made of sugar and butter. It was an instant success, and the pastry’s local name became wienerbrød after the origin of the recipe. It was sold from the baker’s bakery in central Copenhagen, and initially, only the originating baker had the right to sell wienerbrød. However, in 1850, the magistrate allowed five conditors (bakers that only bake cakes) to bake wienerbrød.
For the dough:
1 ounce fresh yeast
⅔ cup lukewarm water
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold butter, thinly sliced
For the filling:
1 vanilla bean
1 cup light cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
For the icing (optional):
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
For the dough:
1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water.
2. Stir in the egg, superfine sugar and salt. Add the flour and stir until the dough comes together and leaves the edge of the bowl.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured counter and knead for five minutes, until it is shiny but not sticky.
4. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
5. Roll out the dough into a 20-inch square. Spread the thin slices of butter over the dough about 4 inches in from the edge, so the square of dough has a smaller square of butter on top.
6. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter to meet in the center, making a square package.
7. Carefully roll the dough into a 16-by-24-inch rectangle, making sure it doesn’t crack and the butter stays inside the dough package. Next you want to fold the dough so the butter becomes layered within it: Fold the bottom third of dough over the middle third and fold the top third down over that.
8. Roll out the dough again and fold the same way.
9. Put the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, then repeat the rolling and folding process three times, remembering to let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes each time.
For the filling:
1. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife.
2. Put the vanilla seeds and cream in a pan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and superfine sugar together until the mixture is pale and fluffy, then stir in the cornstarch.
3. Pour a little bit of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper it, then pour all the egg mixture into the pan.
4. Return the pan to a decreased heat and whisk until the custard starts to thicken. Take care not to let the custard boil, and beat continuously to avoid scorching. Remove from the heat and let cool before use.
5. Roll out the dough to a 20-inch square, then cut it into five rows of 4-inch squares. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling on each square. Take each square’s corners and fold them into the middle over the filling, pressing the edges together to seal. Turn each pastry upside down and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 20 minutes at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the pastries with a little beaten egg and bake them for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
For the icing:
1. Mix the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl, adding a little bit of hot water, and whisk to make a smooth, dark brown paste.
2. Place a spoonful of the icing on each pastry and let set for 10 minutes before serving.
Top photo: Danish, or wienerbrød. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
The use in food of true cinnamon from Sri Lanka, or Ceylon cinnamon, is not as common as the more familiar cassia, which is the one mostly used in Scandinavia for baking and hot drinks and in a lot of winter and Christmas dishes.
True cinnamon has a more complex and flowery taste. The aroma is light and complex, not as strong and pungent as cassia. True cinnamon is a rare spice in Scandinavia, and it is also more expensive.
In Sri Lanka, they grow cinnamon on hills and valleys. The cinnamon tree can be seen in many places. Some farms still do not use pesticides to grow cinnamon, and human labor does all the cultivating and processing.
Harvesting cinnamon is a hard and difficult job, and the preparation of the spice takes significant craftsmanship. You must carefully remove the cinnamon bark from the tree’s branches. Only skilled and experienced people can do it well. In the old days, these workers were called “chalias.” European colonizers were not known for treating them humanely; they were treated more like slaves.
Cinnamon has been written about going far back into history. In the Bible, in the book of Exodus, both kinds of cinnamon were described. The Lord gave Moses a recipe for holy oil with cinnamon that he had to prepare.
Cinnamon has played a vital role in European history. It was an important commodity and a source of growth for the European economy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christopher Columbus went looking for cinnamon in the West Indies, but as far as we know he found nothing. His fellow countryman Lorenzo Almeida had more luck. In 1505, when Almeida arrived in Ceylon, he found cinnamon trees.
In Europe, cinnamon was sold at a high price for decades, but in the 16th century the price fell and it became more accessible for the common man. Thus, cinnamon became the most popular spice in Europe, as reflected in recipes from that era.
In 1795, the British took over control of Sri Lanka from the French. The trade in cinnamon was about the economy and power and, as with a lot of other commodities, played an important role in history.
Cinnamon trees are not tall; they are more like a bush, and they are pruned often. Harvesting is done twice a year, and at each harvest you take three to four branches and leave the rest. You can also pick the leaves and make cinnamon oil because the leaves have a wonderful delicate and flowery scent. A tree can live for about 40 years; after that, cinnamon producers plant new ones.
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To harvest cinnamon, the branches are processed by scraping off the outer bark, which is discarded. Then the workers loosen the inner bark with a special knife. The bark has to come off when still wet. The 1-meter-long bark strips are folded into each other as a stick. This must be done before the bark dries. (The inner wood is sold off separately to households as firewood.) The cinnamon sticks are then left to dry for a few days under a roof, and then they are dried in the sun. The whole process takes about five to six weeks.
Recently, I visited a cinnamon farm in Sri Lanka just outside Galle. The work of making the cinnamon sticks is carried out in a house on the hill in the shadows of the palm trees and only a few meters from where the cinnamon is harvested.
The cinnamon worker sits on the floor on a leather carpet, wearing a leather apron. To see a worker cut, prepare and clean the branches is fascinating — utter craftsmanship. It takes years of experience to learn the trade, and some of the workers have been employed here for more than 30 years. The hand movements are very meticulous and particular. You can really see the care and craftsmanship both in using the knife and in the entire process of folding the layers of bark into the stick.
In Sri Lankan cooking, it was very interesting to see that they used small pieces of cinnamon in many curries. It is a bit like how we in the West and in Scandinavia use bay leaves in stews, soups and broths, which makes sense because the cinnamon tree is of the same family as the bay leaf tree. In small quantities, cinnamon adds a subtle flavor to such dishes as fish curries, dal or beetroot curry.
Cinnamon is called “kanel” in Danish and Norwegian and a similar word in Swedish. It originates from the German “Canelle.” Both powder and stick cinnamon are part of Scandinavian food culture. Besides baking, we use it in Danish, apples cakes, breads, buns and spice cakes. It has been used here since the Middle Ages in many variations.
For the past 100 years, different versions of cinnamon buns have become popular. They are baked differently in each Scandinavian country. In Copenhagen, Denmark, cinnamon buns seem to be rising in popularity. All the bakeries are doing variations on cinnamon rolls or buns in all sizes, and a lot of them are organic.
We eat cinnamon in our legendary cinnamon buns and rolls; in hot drinks; and especially at Christmas in the gløgg. We eat cinnamon powder mixed with sugar on rice porridge and in rømmegrø, a Norwegian specialty; it’s a porridge made from a sour cream called rømmer boiled with wheat flour, and then hot milk is added. We use cinnamon for curing herring and salmon, in aquavit, in preserving and in various cookies. For this time of year, when it is cold, the fragrance of the warm spice in cinnamon buns is a treat I think we should succumb to at least once a week.
Makes 24 buns
For the buns:
2¼ teaspoon dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm whole milk
1⅓ stick softened butter
1 egg, beaten
6½ cups plain wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
⅔ cup caster sugar
For the filling:
2 sticks soft butter
⅔ cup caster sugar
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the glaze:
1 egg, beaten
Sugar for sprinkling
1. In a large bowl , dissolve the dry yeast in the warm milk using a wooden spoon. Mix in the butter, then add the egg and stir again.
2. Sift together the flour, salt and cardamom and add to the milk mixture with the sugar, stirring to form a dough. Keep stirring until the dough comes cleanly from the edge of the bowl.
3. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 5 minutes. Return it to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour at room temperature.
4. Make the filling by mixing together the butter, sugar and cinnamon.
5. Divide the dough in half and roll it out to make two rectangles measuring about 16 by 12 inches (40 by 30 centimeters).
6. Spread the cinnamon filling over the top of each. Roll each piece of dough into a wide cylinder and cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) slices.
7. Line some baking trays with baking paper or parchment paper. Lay the cinnamon rolls on the paper, pressing down on each one so they spread slightly. Cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C or Gas 7).
9. Brush the cinnamon rolls with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
10. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, then leave to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold with a nice cup of tea.
Top photo: A worker prepares the bark in the cinnamon house at a Sri Lankan cinnamon farm. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
René Redzepi had an idea three years ago: He wanted to create a food symposium inspired by the famous Roskilde Festival, which is North Europe’s biggest music festival with a strong identity and sense of community.
After three years of running the MAD symposium — “mad” means food in Danish — I think Redzepi got what he wished for. It was two days of food and love in a rock ‘n’ roll setting under the theme “guts.”
On a Sunday morning, I drove out to an old military area. The area is undeveloped and has this urban charm: Old warehouses mixed with areas of wild meadows leading up to the waterfront with a view to central Copenhagen. It’s quite spectacular.
On an open field, the MAD team had put up a circus tent. In this setting and under the open sky, about 500 people from around the world were gathered — all connected somehow to the food industry. It was a beautiful summer morning. In the middle of an urban meadow, Redzepi greeted the entire group of guests one by one, followed by Danish breakfast and coffee made by some of the world’s top baristas. It was walk the talk from the very beginning. Here was the best coffee I have ever had at any symposium or conference along with a great Danish breakfast of rye bread, cheese, yogurt and, of course, a Danish. It was a convincing start.
MAD Symposium is a celebration of food
The symposium was two days of talks, food, movies — a celebration of the world of food. After breakfast you entered the circus tent, which was dark and had Metallica aggressively coming out of the loudspeakers (not surprising when David Chiang is co-curating). A giant black spotted pig hung from the ceiling, and there was a big wooden butcher’s bench. You kind of knew what was going to happen, but then not at all.
In comes Dario Cecchini. He runs a butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti, Italy, called Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Dario the butcher has a long line of butchers in this family. He also has stories to tell, real stories about eating, respect, love and death. He does that in a dramatic manner and in beautiful Italian, opening up the pig and taking out the guts. Now and then he stops the beautiful stories and his lovely wife translates this butcher prose into English. Listening, you are really touched and you understand why cooking is about life.
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Then he finishes the whole performance with a recital from “Dante’s Inferno” with a deep, clear voice. At that point, tears are quietly running down my cheeks.
On the first day, lunch was cooked by Kamal Mouzawak and the women from Souk el Tayeb, where they cook in the restaurant Tawlét that connects with the market. They had traveled from Beirut, Lebanon, to Copenhagen to cook our lunch and, thus, share the local customs and dishes they cook for their families in their daily lives. We ate a buffet of dolmer, baba ghanoush, hummus, breads, salads with lentils, parsley, pomegranate, sumac and other spices. It was real home-cooked food done with a lot of love.
The other real high point of the conference for me was Margot Henderson. Margot’s husband, Fergus Henderson, gave her such a lovely introduction, saying she was the best cook he knew. With the danger of sounding a bit too hippie-like, at this symposium there was love in the air!
Margot Henderson gave an insight into female cooking and described the differences between female and male cooking: why nourishment is part of female chefs’ cooking, and how male chefs are often driven by prestige and technology. How can anybody think it is better to confit a duck leg in sous-vide rather than fat, as we have done for decades? It is a relevant question.
Also at the symposium, Diana Kennedy gave a talk about her life and ways in Mexico, and Vandana Shiva gave a very thoughtful and important speech about seeds and biodiversity. Redzepi interviewed Alain Ducasse and could not hide his excitement about being on stage with his all-time hero. Christian Puglisi told his story about opening up his restaurant Relæ in a rough neighborhood — which in the first year got one Michelin star and is now 90% organic.
Lunch the second day was also spectacular. Those in attendance came out from the dark tent and walked under the blue sky, and there Mission Chinese Food chefs cooking on woks and serving plates while the Smashing Pumpkins played loudly from the sound system. Right there and then, time was dissolved and all my years in the kitchen became present. Such energy from a bunch of young and upcoming American chefs from San Francisco and New York on a field in Copenhagen gave an instant feeling that the world is really present and everything is possible. Ten years ago, nobody in Denmark would have believed this could happen in Denmark. It just proves there is so much we don’t know, even in the food world.
Every single time I have dined at Redzepi’s Noma I have left very happy, thinking “This is one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had.” Running Noma is one thing, but I really understand Redzepi’s dream: to use his position to create the MAD Symposium, bringing people from around the world together for a conversation about how we can get a better life through food. From a small, insignificant corner of the world, where we do not talk loudly about each other’s success, I really congratulate Redzepi on his dream to create the MAD Symposium. I felt I was part of it for two days.
Top photo: Butcher Dario Cecchini at the MAD symposium during his demonstration. Look closely and you might see René Redzepi in the background near the far left. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
Summer in Scandinavia is a season of berries, and they are enjoyed in many different ways, both sweet and savory. The abundance of daylight hours combined with the not-too-warm weather make the berries thrive. They do not grow big but instead stay small and very tasty.
Strawberries can be in season all summer if the weather allows it, or they can be available for only three weeks. Therefore, as soon as the season starts, you become greedy and eat them every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner: in the mornings on yogurt, for lunch on rye bread and in the evening with cream or boiled with sugar as fruit porridge.
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Raspberries are in season in Scandinavia in July. Pick them when they are warm, dark and ruby red and eat them straight away or save some for a morning treat on raw grain flakes with cold milk. I also like to make jam and save some for Christmas, serving them in December with small doughnuts known as æbleskiver. Both raspberries and strawberries are also often accompanied by cold custard in the traditional Danish summer layer cake.
Other summer favorites are red currants shaken in sugar — a classic recipe in Scandinavia. Take 2 pounds of red currants, rinse and take off the sprigs, then mix gently with 1 pound of sugar; leave for three days at room temperature and shake now and then until the sugar has dissolved. It will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Serve in the mornings on porridge or yogurt and also for dinner with roast chicken or lamb as well as with butter pan-fried fish or on vanilla ice cream.
Black currants are ideal for sorbet, cordial and jam. Jam is eaten in Scandinavia in the morning with cheese, butter and bread. Therefore, it really makes sense to stock up with jam so you have enough to last through the winter.
In addition to strawberries and raspberries, Scandinavians also enjoy their famous blueberries. They are picked in late July and all through August. Blueberries are best plucked wild, when they are smaller and tastier. The wild berries are also the really healthy superberries. If traveling to Sweden, where the blueberries grow, I definitely recommend packing a lunch box and spending a day in the calm, shadowy pine woods picking blueberries, then finding a spot at a small freshwater lake to take a lovely lunch break. Blueberries should be eaten soon after picking; blueberry tarts and pancakes are excellent ways to use them.
Growing up in Scandinavia, berry season was a treat as a child, primarily because the grown-ups would take us to pick them and while we were doing so, we were allowed to eat as many as our stomachs could handle. This was before candy and sodas became part of the 24/7 offerings.
Summer berries bring back sweet memories
All through the summer my grandmother would use berries in cooking and baking. A lot of preserving would be going on in her kitchen. Later on, my mother kept the tradition alive, and over the years I have together with my mother developed a range of recipes for jam, jellies, vinegars and cordials.
We did not pick most of the berries wild but rather in fruit orchards or private gardens, where people grow more berries than they can eat themselves. In my childhood we were always invited to Mrs. Carlsen’s garden to pick red currants, black currants and gooseberries. In exchange, my grandmother would give Mrs. Carlsen jars of jam from our summer production.
There are still plenty of fruit bushes around in private gardens. They were planted many years ago to guarantee supplies. But times have changed, and homemade jams and cordials are not part of people’s busy, everyday lives. Birds probably eat the majority of the berries instead. Denmark’s land is highly cultivated and, therefore, does not have vast forests with a lot of wild blueberries. To find that, you’ll have to go to Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Gooseberry time is late July and August. There are green and red varieties; the green one — the more tart of the two — is perfect for gooseberry compote.
Scandinavia’s seasons can vary month to month. Awareness about the region’s turbulent weather patterns is growing, and preserving is becoming popular even in the urban environment. You do not need to preserve 10 pounds of berries to make a cordial or a jam. Just 1 pound and a cup of sugar will do, and you can make one jar at a time. It’s actually easy and can be done while cooking dinner.
Crêpes With Gooseberry Compote
Serves 4 to 6
For the compote:
1 vanilla bean
1 pound unripe gooseberries, trimmed
1 cup superfine sugar
For the crêpes:
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup light beer
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean
1¼ cups whole milk
Butter for cooking
1. Make the compote by halving the vanilla bean lengthwise and placing it in a pan with the gooseberries and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Pour the hot compote into sterilized preserving jars and seal tightly. When cool, store in the refrigerator.
2. Start making the crêpe batter by beating the eggs together in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and the beer and beat again.
3. Sift the flour, sugar and salt together, then add to the egg mixture and beat until smooth.
4. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife. Stir in the milk and vanilla seeds.
5. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes before cooking the crêpes.
6. Melt a little butter in a skillet. When hot, add 5 tablespoons of batter to the skillet, twisting the handle gently to make a large, thin crêpe. Cook until golden on each side — it takes about 2 minutes. Set aside and repeat with the remaining batter. Stack the crêpes on a plate; they will stay warm like this for some time but if you prefer, you can put them in an oven set on low heat.
7. When the crêpes are all done, serve with the gooseberry compote.
Top photo: Crêpes with gooseberry compote. Credit: Columbus Leth
Lemon does not grow in Scandinavia. Despite this, lemon mousse, or citron fromage, the Danish name, is a Danish national dessert, something most people can remember their grandmothers having made. I remember it vividly from my childhood summers. Lemon mousse is part of what we call the traditional Danish cuisine. It became a bit outdated, but it has now come into favor again with the new Nordic cuisine.
Traditional Danish cooking has become popular again especially if well executed and made with high-quality ingredients. Chefs are coming up with new interpretations of traditional dishes. When it comes to lemon mousse, I prefer the traditional recipe because of its clean flavors that carry the memories of Danish summers. The only change I make is adding less gelatin so it doesn’t come out too solid.
I just spent three weeks in Italy at the same place I go every year, Peralta. There, the lemon trees are everywhere because the artist Fiore de Henriquez, who owned and created Peralta, wanted lemons for her early-evening martini. I spend a lot of time cooking when I am there, for my family and also with Laura, who is Peralta’s cook. We usually also arrange some communal dinners, and one night we had a potluck. The Italians cooked different North Tuscan local dishes. I was responsible for the dessert, so we did a Nordic-Italian exchange. Lemon mousse was my choice, and in a way it was a given because of the lemons growing everywhere. That still is exotic for a Dane like me.
Italians already have a lot of recipes with lemon to choose from, but I would like to add one more to their repertoire, and it might even have been inspired by an Italian recipe some 200 years ago. It is such a joy to cook lemon mousse in Italy. There is something really wonderful about picking large, ripe lemons right outside your kitchen door and using them right away. The taste of these lemons made the dessert even more outstanding. The freshly picked lemons are almost sweet, and the zest has such a clean flavor.
When we cook local food to renew our tradition there is a difference between being 100% local or celebrating a tradition. A lot of recipes and traditions originate from history as well as from the terroir. If we only cook from what grows in Scandinavia, we will have a lot of new, interesting limitations, but I also think we miss out celebrating the tradition and renewing it. Interesting ways of cooking came about because of the people who migrated to our region; wars and the influx of foreign soldiers; and the global trading that started in the Renaissance. The beginning of the Europe we know today brought us spices, coffee, tea and later potatoes and also the citrus fruits. So our culinary tradition is a combination of historic events, the terroir and more regional agricultural tradition.
Lemon mousse just one use of the fruit in Danish cooking
Lemons came to Scandinavia in the 1500s and were commonly used in the 1800s. Scandinavian cookbook authors such as the Danish Madam Mangor or Swedish Caisa Warg all had a variety of lemon recipes in their cookbooks, which shows it was commonly used.
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My mother-in-law told me that in the 1950s she often cooked lemon soup because she had a very small budget and lemons were cheap. It is a soup made from a roux with lemon juice, water and lots of black pepper and served with bread. My mother-in-law’s mother’s cookbook from 1913, which she passed on to me, is about how to keep a household on a low budget. It has recipes for lemon sauce and mousse, which demonstrates lemon was commonly used and not too expensive.
Even though the recipe below has ingredients similar to a panna cotta, the lemon mousse is different. It should be fluffy and light, a bit like eating air, with a tart lemon flavor.
I served it that night in Italy to Italians, Slovakians and Brits. It was a huge success, especially with the Italians. They expressed a real enjoyment. I hope they will take up the recipe and share it with family, friends and neighbors. I would love to keep alive the tradition of serving lemon mousse in the summer.
For the mousse:
6 gelatin leafs
6 large size organic eggs
⅔ cup caster sugar
Zest from 1 organic lemon
2 cups lemon juice
1¾ cup whipped cream
1 cup of whipping cream, whipped (optional; some prefer the mousse without it)
1. Immerse the gelatin leaves in cold water for about 5 minutes.
2. Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until they become pale and fluffy.
3. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
4. Whisk the whipping cream into a light fluffy cream.
5. Take the gelatin out of the water and melt in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and slowly pour in the lemon juice and then egg yolk mixture while stirring all the time.
6. Put aside in a cool place.
7. While the gelatin and egg yolks start to settle, fold in the egg whites and whipped cream.
8. Pour into one large or several small serving bowls.
9. Leave to cool for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before serving.
10. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Top photo: Lemon mousse. Credit: Lars Ranek