Lucia and her buns

What is Lucia?

In this blog post, we’ll look at the Swedish lucia tradition, why Swedes celebrate an Italian saint, and we’ll also look at the traditional Lucia buns that are served at this time of the year. You’ll also get a free Lucia bun recipe, both in Swedish AND in English (so you can learn some new baking vocab while making your own!

The Swedish Lucia Tradition

Next week, on the 13 December, Sweden celebrates Lucia. The annual candlelit Lucia procession is maybe one of the more exotic-looking Swedish customs, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together.

The tradition is that Lucia wears ‘light in her hair’, which means a crown of candles in a wreath on her head. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle, too. Many people nowadays taking part, especially younger children, use battery-powered candles. But there is still a special atmosphere when the lights are dimmed and the sound of singing grows as they enter the room. Parents gather in the dark with their mobile cameras ready. The star boys carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads, and are also dressed in white gowns.

The History of Lucia

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to Saint Lucia of Syracuse, Italy. Saint Lucia was a Christian martyr who died in 304. But the tradition can also be traced to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. According to the legend, she consorted with the Devil and her children were invisible devils. The name Lucia can be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and it’s difficult to know the exact origins. What you can see in Sweden today is a mixture of traditions.

In the old calendar, Lucia Night was the longest night of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak (yep, we did really believe this). By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were told to eat seven or nine (!) large breakfasts.

Before industrial times, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.

The first recorded appearance of a Lucia dressed in white in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The tradition did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar-custom disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful shenanigans of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The tradition of a Lucia serving coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.

The Lucia Buns

Lussebullar, or Lussekatter, are traditional saffron buns that Swedes eat during this time of the year. Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled up cat (hence why some call them Lussekatter), and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats).

Would you like to have a go at making your own Lucia Buns? Click here to download a free recipe.

Here are some other useful tips about the Lucia Buns

• Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.

• Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so if you want them freshly made on the day, you could prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm (food wrap) and store in a fridge overnight.

• For a little more flavour, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavour of the buns.

• As saffron buns can dry out very easily take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right colour, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth. Another thing that you can add to the dough to make the buns less dry, is Quark or Greek Yoghurt.

• Lussekatter are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting (but be very careful not to overheat them). You can also warm them in the oven on low heat (but again, be careful they don’t dry out too much).

• Many Swedes like to drink glögg with their Lucia Buns. There is glögg with alcohol available to buy from Systembolaget, but also alcohol free in most food shops.

Download a free recipe for Lussebullar here

Kräftor kräftor kräftor!

Kräftor – Crayfish

August is the season for kräftor crayfish in Sweden. But how did this tradition start in Sweden? What does it entail today? And what are some useful phrases for a traditional kräftskiva crayfish party?

The history of kräftor in Sweden

In Sweden, we have been eating kräftor for many hundreds of years. Earlier, it was mainly considered food for the upper classes, and it wasn’t until late 1800’s and early 1900’s that it became more widely popular in Sweden. About 100 years ago, the idea of kräftskiva crayfish party started to become firmly established.

Why august?

Kräftor has become associated to the month of August because of legislation. Since the Swedes ate large amounts of crayfish, it led to the introduction of legislation in terms of when it was allowed to fish for crayfish. In late 1800’s for example, it was not allowed to fish for crayfish throughout June and July. In the past decades, legislation has become more relaxed again, and there are no strict dates or times for crayfishing any longer. But since it has been associated with August for so long, it is still customary to begin the ‘crayfish season’ (to eat crayfish and to have crayfish parties) in early-mid August.

How do you catch kräftor? (or where can you buy them?)

In Sweden, there are two species of freshwater crayfish: flodkräftan and signalkräftan. Flodkräftan is from Sweden, whereas signalkräftan has been introduced into Sweden and does not originate from Sweden. They live in shallow waters where they build holes next to stones and roots.

As a private person, you are not allowed to fish for crayfish anywhere you like. Only Lake Vättern is actually open to the public. In other waters around the country, you will need some kind of license (unless you are lucky enough to be the owner of the lake!). On the West Coast, people tend to eat havskräftor – which is more like a langoustine. 

Kräftor are nocturnal animals, and are therefore caught at night. The most common way to catch them is by putting out special netted crates on the lake bed and fill them with fish, so that the crayfish are lured inside.

It is said that you should minimise the suffering of the crayfish by putting them head first into boiling water, so that they die more quickly.

You can also buy them from most supermarkets throughout August.

Kräftskiva Crayfish party

The typical kräftskiva is a party where we eat crayfish and other foods, sing songs and drink (usually quite a lot).

The crayfish are cooked whole in salted water accompanied with dill, other herbs and sometimes also beer. This is accompanied with baguettes, knäckebröd, herb-infused cheese, prawns, and often västerbottenpaj. To drink, Swedes often opt for snaps (herb-infused vodka), beer and soft fizzy drinks. It is quite common to sing songs when drinking snaps.

It is also common to wear special paper hats and bibs with a crayfish motif, and use serviettes with images of crayfish. Lanterns, bunting and candles often accompany the scene of a kräftskiva.

A word of caution…. Crayfish takes some time to eat (because of the challenge of cracking the shells) and the combination of slow eating and drinking snaps can mean a high likelihood of getting drunk quickly! Remember you don’t actually have to empty the snaps every time, even though some Swedes might try and insist on it.

Some useful phrases for a kräftskiva

Åh vad gott det var! Oh it’s really tasty!

Hur öppnar man den här? How do you open this one? (referring to the crayfish)

Kan jag få…? Can I get…?

Kan du skicka…? Can you pass me…?

Det är bra, tack. I’m good thanks. (as in ‘no more, please’)

Tack för maten! Thanks for the food! 

Kan jag hjälpa till med något? Can I do anything? (for example help clearing the table)

Jag är mätt. I am full. 

Jag är full. I am drunk. 

Semlor – baka dina egna (how to bake your own semlor)

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Have you tried semlor? It’s that time of year again! Tomorrow Tuesday is the day of the Semla. Semlor (plural, semla in singular) are cardamom-scented-cream-and-almond-paste-filled-buns commonly available from the official end of the Christmas season (tjugondag Knut on January 13th) until Easter although originally they were only eaten every Tuesday from Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) until Easter. Nowadays, well… let’s say we eat them a bit more often during this period of the year.

Here is my recipe for semlor

Ingredienser:

  • 75 gram smör
  • 2,5 dl mjölk
  • 25 gram jäst
  • 2 krm salt
  • 0,5 dl socker
  • 1 tsk stött kardemumma
  • 8 dl vetemjöl (ca 500 gram)
  • 1 ägg till pensling

Fyllning till semlorna:

  • 200 gram mandelmassa eller marsipan
  • 1 dl grädde eller mjölk att ha i mandelmassan
  • 3 dl vispgrädde att vispa
  • 0,5 dl florsocker att pudra semlorna med

Gör så här:

1. Mal kardemumman

2. Aktivera jästen (om du behöver – gör som det står på jästpaketet). Blanda ihop mjöl, socker, salt, och kardemumma. Tillsätt mjölk, jäst, och smält smör.

3. Blanda till en deg. Låt degen jäsa i 45 min, under en handduk.

4. Dela degen i 12 delar. Baka ut till små runda bullar. Lägg bullarna på bakplåtspapper. Låt bullarna jäsa i 30 min, under en handduk.

5. Sätt ugnen på 220 grader. Rör ihop ett ägg, och pensla ägg-mixen på bullarna. Grädda bullarna i ugnen i ca 8 minuter, tills de fått en gyllenbrun färg.

6. Under tiden, riv marsipanen. Tillsätt 1 dl mjölk eller grädde. Låt mixen stå ett tag.

7. Ta ut bullarna ur ugnen, låt dem svalna under en handduk.

8. Skär ut locket på bullarna, och skrapa ut smulorna inuti. Tillsätt smulorna i marsipan-mixen.

9. Lägg i marsipan-mixen i bullarna.

10. Vispa lite grädde, och lägg grädden på marsipan-mixen. Lägg sedan locket på, och pudra lite med florsocker. Tadaaa! Klart!

Or you could just buy some semla in any café in Sweden, or maybe at Scandinavian Kitchen in London if you are there?

10 unmissable bars in Stockholm

Want some tips on where to go for a drink in Stockholm? The following list includes 10 bars, courtesy of The Local: http://www.thelocal.se/20150429/ten-unmissable-outdoor-bars-in-stockholm

1. Södra Teatern and Mosebacke, Södermalm

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2. Mälarpaviljongen, Kungsholmen

Mälarpaviljongen, Kungsholmen

3. Orangeriet, Kungsholmen

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4. Rosendals Trädgård, Djurgården

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5. Josefina, Djurgården

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6. Nosh and Chow, Östermalm

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7. Piren, Kungsholmen

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8. Pharmarium, Gamla Stan

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9. Berns, Östermalm

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10. Trädgården, Södermalm

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http://www.thelocal.se/20150429/ten-unmissable-outdoor-bars-in-stockholm

 

 

Swedish vs. British weddings

One of my students, who has been to numerous Swedish weddings, has written this brilliant (and, of course, subjective) reflection on Swedish vs British weddings, which she has kindly agreed for me to share. Pictures (apart from last one) by http://www.evaberonius.se 

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Swedish vs. British Weddings

  • The Ceremony

    In the UK: A church ceremony typically lasts up to an hour and includes several hymns, the vows, the exchange of rings, signing the register, a sermon from the priest, several readings from the bible (or perhaps a poem or two), and procession from the church. The bride walks down the aisle with her Dad, with a few bridesmaids following after. Only once they’re married do the bride and groom walk back out of the church together.

    Best bit: when the priest says “you may now kiss the bride”, everyone claps and cheers

    In Sweden: A church ceremony is usually only 25-30 minutes and includes songs, a soloist singing a song to the couple, the vows, exchange of rings, and procession from the church. Unlike in the UK, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together at both the beginning and end of the ceremony, and there aren’t usually any bridesmaids.

    Best bit: the soloist, particularly if they sing anything by Beyonce

    Who wins?  The UK

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  • After the ceremony

    In the UK: Everyone congregates outside the church and throws confetti over the happy couple! OK, it’s more likely that we huddle inside the church because it’s raining outside. But this does give us an opportunity to talk about the ceremony and (hopefully) give a hug to the bride and groom.

    Best bit: whenever it’s not raining

    In Sweden: Everyone congregates outside the church and throws confetti over the happy couple. Then we get into a long queue to hug and say a few words to the bride and groom (this is compulsory).

    Best bit: hugging and kissing!

    Who wins? Both traditions are essentially the same, so it’s a tie.

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  • The Reception

    In the UK: We sit down for a civilized three-course meal. At some point (usually during or just after dessert), we have three speeches: the father of the bride, the best man and the groom. Although it’s not forbidden for other people to make speeches, in reality, no one else ever does. The meal is usually over in around 1.5 hours, but that’s only if the speeches don’t drag on for an hour…

    Best bit: you can eat your food uninterrupted (this will make sense shortly)

    In Sweden: Wow… where to start. First of all, you can forget sitting down to a meal for a mere 1.5 hours. Oh no. We have 10 or 12 speeches to get through! So plan to sit down for at least four hours and probably five. Those speeches will include the three in the British tradition, but also friends, other relatives, the men’s stags, the bride’s hens… (yes, women can make speeches too!). However, the good news is that all these speeches are relatively short and (usually) very funny. Especially the stags. But why stop there? We also sing songs and sometimes we play games, too.

    Best bit: when the bride leaves the room (a toilet break is essential during a marathon reception meal), all the women in the room usually run up to the groom and kiss him on the cheek. Ditto for the men who must kiss the bride when the groom leaves the room.

    Who wins? Let’s face it, Sweden wins this one hands down.

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  • Party Time

    In the UK: After the reception meal, we start the real purpose of the night: drinking. Having a certain amount of alcohol in us is essential for us to be able to dance. And then we rock the dancefloor until… ooh, maybe 11pm or midnight. Yeah!

    Best bit: The drinking. Obviously.

    In Sweden: Now, this would be near-identical, were it not for the fact that we’ve just been sitting down eating and drinking for FIVE HOURS. So we are pretty drunk already. Yes, we hit the bar, but we get on the dancefloor pretty quickly. And then we dance to a combination of euro-pop, swedish pop (ABBA, the song that won Eurovision a few years ago, etc), Swedish folk songs, and a few global chart-toppers until 2 or 3am.

    Best bit: ABBA. Obviously.

    Who wins? The UK for the music, Sweden for the late-night finish.

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Den Bruna Maten

Ever wondered what else Swedes are eating, apart from meatballs and that pickled herring?

Well, nowadays the Swedish cuisine is very multicultural (with a lot of inspiration from for example Italian, Thai, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines), and it is also characterised by fresh meat (fish in particular), crisp breads, and quite a bit of spices (cinnamon, dill and cardamom, for example) – as was noted by Jamie Oliver when he did his “Jamie does Stockholm“.

But, this has not always been the case, as is illustrated by the food blog Den Bruna Maten. The blog apparently started as a bit of a joke, where a few people had some (at that time -fancy) recipe cards from the 1970’s, and started cooking the recipes and documenting the process and the results. Fancy some Fake Pizza, Mustard breaded pigtails and Moles? Or how about Ham-egg in jelly?

 

The food combinations, the names of the dishes, and some of the cooking techniques have proved to clash in a spectacular way with the 21st century Swedish food expectations. The blog has since become extremely popular in showcasing the worst of the 70’s Swedish food culture, and has also been published as a book.