Monday, January 5, 2009

Swedish Cuisine and Other Myths

My wife's family traces its roots to Sweden and Norway, whose cuisines are generally not ranked among the world's greatest. My wife and her family constantly make fun of their culinary heritage. Rule number one of Scandinavian food, they joke: everything must be white.

Most infamous and horrific of all is lutefisk, which I am assured by my in laws is every bit as horrible as it sounds. What, pray tell, is lutefisk? Cod soaked in lye. Yes, you read that right. It is a traditional Christmas dish that takes days to prepare because, well, you gotta soak all that caustic lye out of the fish or it will fry your throat and esophagus, leaving in need of reconstructive surgery so you can swallow again. Why do they eat it? Tradition! By the way, it also smells horrendous.

My theory is that Viking captains came up with lutefisk to keep their crews rowing. Keep you going you scurvy bastards or I'll force more lutefisk down your throats. No wonder they were so vicious once they got ashore.

To get the full effect, click this link to a New York Times story several years ago about lutefisk season in Minnesota, ground zero of Scandinavian America.

For the record, my wife's family long ago stopped eating lutefisk. We're no longer poor and stuck in the dark in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, so why eat this awful stuff?

Actually my relatives exaggerate. Nordic food may lack in some areas, but it more than makes up for it in breads, especially coffee breads. My favorite is cardamom bread. Cardamom is an Indian spice that comes in pods and has a wonderful taste and aroma. For the best results, you pop it out of the pods and crush it. It is powerful so you don't need much.

Cardamom is common in Scandinavian baking, which I find fascinating and puzzling. You can't get much farther away from India than Scandinavia. How and when did Cardamom enter the Nordic diet? I'd love to know.

I have tried for years with mixed success to bake a good cardamom bread. So I am launching the cardamom bread project, my attempt to at last find a decent cardamom bread recipe. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard that cardamom made its way back to Scandinvia after the Vikings, travelers that they were, discovered it in Constantinople. Take a look at this article on the Varangians--especially the section on the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.

    I don't have any way to verify that this is true, but it seems plausible.