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A buffet of Scandinavian proportions

By Staff | Dec 28, 2018

Top Swedish Rye bread with some fresh butter, cheese and a slice of homemade sausage.


GRIT Magazine

In colloquial English, the word “smorgasbord” is used to describe “a delightful (if not overwhelming) array of choices,” and rightly so. The true and original meaning of the word relates to the traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord that originated in Sweden, where myriad dishes were laid out buffet-style for guests to help themselves, with frequent trips to the table encouraged. Nowadays it’s typically prepared as a celebratory meal, as at Christmas, when it’s known as the julbord (yule table).

Smorgasbord translates to “sandwich table” and is found in all five Nordic countries. In Denmark and Norway, it’s known as the koldtbord; in Finland, it’s the koldtbord; and in Iceland, it’s the kalt bord or hladbord. Despite the different names, the customs, etiquette and menu are similar, yet each is enriched with the local delicacies of the country.

The hordes of Scandinavians who immigrated to the Midwest sections of the United States in the 19th century brought their culinary traditions with them. The smorgasbord was enjoyed in their new country, though only officially since the 1939 New York World’s Fair, when it was offered at the Swedish Pavilion’s Three Crowns Restaurant. After that, the diacritics were dropped from the term, and the buffet-style meal became known all over America as simply “smorgasbord.”

Swedish rye bread

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon anise seeds

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups milk, scalded and cooled

3 cups rye flour

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water; set aside 5 minutes.

Crush fennel and anise seeds into a powder. Add powdered seeds, salt, sugar, butter, milk, and rye flour to yeast mixture; beat well. Add enough all-purpose flour to mixture to make stiff dough. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Grease large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn once so greased side is up. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Punch dough down and divide into 4 parts. Shape each into a ball. Place balls on 2 greased baking sheets. Let rise about 1 hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Cool on racks.

Swedish almond toast

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

3 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup sour cream

1 cup finely chopped almonds

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar together in large bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients, sour cream, almonds, cardamom and salt. Mix well. Spread in ungreased jellyroll pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until brown. Cool in pan. When cool, cut into small squares. Place squares on cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours until crisp.

Easy Swedish sausage

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

3 or 4 boiled and mashed cold potatoes

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

7 fluid ounces milk

1 tablespoon potato flour

Mix ground meat with mashed potatoes. Stir in remaining ingredients to make a nice dough. Let stand in refrigerator 30 minutes. Make sausages 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and not longer than the diameter of the pot to be used to boil the sausages.

Wrap piece of cling-wrap plastic two or three times around meat. Make certain there is enough cling wrap at the ends. Tie a string around ends and edges of sausages. Put sausages in boiling water and simmer 12 to 15 minutes. Don’t boil.

To serve warm, cut cling wrappers on each end and press out sausages. To serve cool, refrigerate in plastic wrap. Remove wrap and cut into slices. Cooled sausages can be reheated if desired.

Note: Uncooked sausages can be frozen, but not longer than 2 months. Cooked sausage or leftovers should not be frozen; keep in the refrigerator and reheat to serve.

Cucumber salad (Swedish)

1 large cucumber

3 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

Few sprigs of fresh parsley

Wash cucumber and score lengthwise with fork. Cut into thin slices and place in shallow dish. Mix other ingredients together, except parsley, and pour over cucumbers.

Chill 4 to 5 hours before serving. Garnish with parsley.

Beet and onion salad (Danish)

2 cans (20 ounces each) sliced beets, drained

1 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly into rings


1/4 cup salad oil

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon celery seed, optional

Pinch of garlic salt

Dash of pepper

Mix together beets and onion rings in shallow bowl.

Dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients. Pour over beets and onion rings. Cover; refrigerate overnight.

Danish braised red


1 medium-sized head red cabbage

4 tablespoons margarine or butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup currant jelly

2 tablespoons grated apple

Clean cabbage, removing outer leaves, and cut cabbage in half. Shred each half with knife or in food processor.

Combine margarine, sugar, salt, water, and vinegar in large saucepan. When mixture comes to a boil, add shredded cabbage and toss thoroughly. Bring to a boil again; place (all) in casserole dish or roasting pan, cover tightly, and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Check liquid level periodically and add water if necessary.

When cooked, stir in jelly and grated apple. Cover and continue baking for 10 minutes. Remove cover and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Finnish potato salad

3 pounds potatoes

2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup Dijon-style mustard

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

4 large scallions, sliced

1 large carrot, scraped, shredded

1 large rib of celery, finely diced

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

8 small red cabbage leaves, rinsed and dried

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Scrub potatoes, cut in half, and cook in boiling water, about 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain and cool.

In large bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar. Add scallions, carrot, celery, and salt and pepper. Dice potatoes, combine with mayonnaise mixture, and refrigerate.

To serve voileipapoyta style, place eight red cabbage leaves, cup style, on serving plate. Spoon salad onto red cabbage leaves and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Finnish meatballs

3/4 cup soft breadcrumbs

1 cup light cream or milk, divided

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef, divided

1 onion, minced

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups milk

Soak crumbs in 1/2 cup cream. Blend in beef, onion, egg, salt, and allspice. Shape into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Melt butter in skillet and brown meatballs a few at a time. Shake pan to roll meatballs around so they brown evenly.

After all meat is browned, remove from pan. Add flour to pan drippings. Stir and brown over medium heat. Slowly add remaining cream and milk, stirring to keep mixture smooth. Add water, if necessary, to thin out the gravy. Strain if desired. Return meatballs to pan. Cover and simmer 25 minutes.

Danish poached fish

1 quart water

2 teaspoons salt

2 to 3 peppercorns

2 tablespoons white vinegar

4 whole allspice

1 bay leaf

2 pounds whole, cleaned cod or haddock

Thinly sliced cucumber, small tomato wedges, fresh parsley for garnish

In large saucepan, bring water, salt, peppercorns, vinegar, allspice, and bay leaf to a boil. Boil for 10 to 20 minutes. Add fish. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer slowly for 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow fish to cool in water and spice mixture. Remove carefully to serving platter and garnish with thinly sliced cucumbers, small tomato wedges, and parsley.

Potatoes browned in sugar (Icelandic)

2 pounds white potatoes

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup sugar

Select new potatoes, preferably small in size. If large, they should be cut in even pieces. Peel and boil.

Brown butter over low heat in preheated saucepan. Add sugar. When mixture becomes frothy, add potatoes. Turn, repeatedly, until the potatoes become well coated and light brown.

Christmas ginger


1 cup softened butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange peel

2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon water

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Icing for decoration:

1 egg white

3 to 4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until light and lemon colored. Stir in orange peel, syrup, and water.

Combine flour with soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir into creamed mixture until dough forms. Gather into a ball and chill several hours or overnight.

Cover baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and roll out to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Place on prepared baking sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until cookies are set but not overly browned. Cool.

Mix egg white with confectioner’s sugar and almond extract to make a thin icing. Turn into pastry bag with writing tip and press icing onto cookies to decorate.

From The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas (University of Minnesota Press, 1999), reprinted with permission.

Excerpted from Grit, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from Grit, please visit www.grit.com, or call 866-803-7096. Copyright 2019 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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