Scandinavian Christmas Festival

Today I attended this festival at the Fairgrounds in Raleigh.  Although the festival was held in one of the smallest buildings (the round Holheiser building), it was packed full of culture and Scandinavians!  Of course, my main reason for going was the food, but there was also music, dancing and holiday shopping.

There were only a few options for lunch, so I had gravlax and peasoup. I’ve included a photo of the menu because I thought it was pretty funny that the meatballs were provided by IKEA!  With all the other homemade stuff around, certainly meatballs didn’t need to be outsourced…?

The peasoup was very much like any split pea soup I’ve had, with a little bit of ham. Gravlax is very much like any smoked salmon or lox, but served on a piece of flatbread with a mustard/dill sauce which was a really nice complement to the fish. I enjoyed it and will definitely want gravlax to be a part of any smorgasbord I might decide to serve in the future.

In the food seating area I looked around for a likely cook, and spotted a woman sitting with her elderly mother, animatedly talking and obviously enjoying their food. So I approached and inquired, “do you folks happen to know anything about Scandinavian cooking?”.  I was greeted with big grins and nods, so I sat down and introduced myself.  The elderly woman said to call her Granny Ruth, she is a 90-year old first generation Swedish-American. Granny Ruth had been married to a Norwegian, so she knows something about both cultures and their cuisine. She and her daughter drive over from Greensboro every year for this festival. We had some fun talking about the various foods, and particularly how to cook the rice pudding which is an integral part of any family celebration.

My co-worker Julie has been telling me about the rice pudding for months. So even though I’m not usually a fan, I had to try it. It was very creamy and sweet, served cold (though some folks told me that it is usually served warm). They added a cherry topping. A couple of folks told me about a Swedish tradition to put one almond in the big bowl of rice pudding. Whoever gets the almond in their serving will be the next to marry. I tried asking what happens if the person is already married, but no one has been able to answer that.

I also recognized a baked treat from the cookbooks I’ve been perusing.  The St. Lucia saffron bun (Saffransbrod) can be shaped in many ways, but these were in a Christmas “S” shape. It’s made for St. Lucia’s Day (December 13), and one cookbook explains that a few leftover buns are saved after Christmas and crumbled to sow with the next year’s seeds, to help them grow well. It is a soft raisin bread, flavored lightly and made yellow by the addition of saffron.

So I had a good time, ate some good food, and met a few new people. With today’s input and a bunch of cookbooks and websites at my fingertips, I’m feeling better equipped to try my hand at Scandinavian cuisine this month!

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