My Grandmother: A Great Swedish Cook

by

Mark Baldwin, Jr.

 

Grandma Ethel grew up in a family of new Swedish immigrants to America. To be sure, her parents were happy to raise their family as American citizens, but they also wanted them to remember their Swedish origin. And, like most immigrants, they were probably lonesome for their homeland, especially during times of Swedish holidays. Perhaps it was homesickness or just plain pride in their mother country, but whatever, the immigrants celebrated these holidays with more zest and with more details than their relatives back in Sweden.

I am going to explain about the various Swedish foods that my Grandma grew up with, because she has got to be the "best” Swedish cook in Kittson County.

Ethel Lundberg Larson, born November 20, 1895, was the oldest child in the Albin Lundberg family. Her parents lived on a farm near Kennedy, Minnesota for several years. It was here that Ethel's 3 sisters, Florance, Myrtle, Stella, and her 1 brother, George, were born. George was the youngest member of the family but, unfortunately, he died at the age of 20 from pneumonia.

The family moved into Kennedy in the early 1900's. Here Albin became a rural mail driver. He kept his job for 40 years.

The Lundberg children all went to school in Kennedy. Grandma’s cooking talents were developed at the very early age of 13. To help support the family, Grandma worked as an assistant to a lady who ran a "cook car" during the harvest season. Grandma found the life very exciting, but the days were long and hard. She was up every morning by 4 o’clock, because all their bread and pastries had to be made fresh for breakfast. This was no small job for the threshing crews were large groups of men, often 15 - 20 of them - all had big appetites.

There are many different types of breads that Grandma made back in that "cook-car" during those harvest days. But I will only tell you about 4 of my favorites.

1. Lefsa: Lefsa is made with potato flour that starts out as mashed potatoes. This is made into a thick paste and fried. The best way to eat Lefsa is cold with lots of butter and brown sugar on it.

2. Limpa: Limpa is a dark rye or graham bread with lots of grated orange peel in the batter. Grandma just showed me this past summer how to make it. At first when I started to knead the dough, the flour just wouldn’t mix in. Finally, Grandma came to my rescue and showed me her technique. That is to roll the dough around your knuckles, fold in the ends, and turn the dough part way around. After seeing how easy it was, I plunged back into the dough and became an expert in no time. After I finished kneading it we put it into the traditional round pans and baked it. Mmmmm! Was it good!!

3. Caraway Rye bread: This is another favorite among Swedes. This bread is made with lots of caraway and shaped into long rolls. This bread is to be eaten with cheeses, especially Caraway Cheese.

4. Yule Kaka: This is my favorite Swedish bread. This bread is made in nearly every Swedish household for Christmas. Never has a Christmas gone by when Grandma hasn't made some of this delicious sweetbread. Yule Kaka is a sweet bread that is chocked full of candied fruit, braided with cinnamon, and frosted with a powdered sugar almond icing.

After her experiences with the "cook car", Grandma went to Grafton, North Dakota to a dress-making school. Grandma became an expert seamstress in a very short while. Sewing is something that Grandma has made use of all of her life.

During the time she spent at sewing school Grandma met and married Frank Herman Larson, who was from Donaldson, Minnesota. Grandpa, who was also a Swede, always said he married Grandma because of her cooking. Their marriage took place June 30, 1913.

After they were married, they decided to buy a butcher shop. Grandma's father, Albin, who had been helping Mr. Swanson with the business, was the main instigator for the sale.

Grandpa soon built the business up to include a rural mail delivery route. This took place during harvest when the cooks needed to feed their work crews.

While Grandpa was out on this route, Grandma had to mind the store. Grandma often hired a baby sitter or had her sister, Myrtle Lundberg, run the store for her.

Their store also included dry goods, groceries, selling chickens to a produce company, and buying and selling cream and eggs for a creamery. In later years, Grandpa Frank bought and sold carload lots of potatoes.

There were 7 children born to Frank and Ethel Larson -=5 boys and 2 girls in this order:

1. Ronald Kenneth Ruby, January 18, 1914

2. Loyal Leonard Oliver, January 20, 1916

3. Frank Winslow, May 13, 1918

4. Grace Joyce, my mother, January 8, 1921

5. George Leland, February 4, 1923

6. Ell Kay Clause, January 3, 1925

7. Ethel Jane, December 3, 1926

All their children attended school in Kennedy, Minnesota.

Grandpa Frank was well known in Kittson County for his Swedish Sausage called "Korve". This sausage was made in every Scandinavian home when he was a little boy, but like most foods that take a little fixing and doing, people were glad to buy it at a store.

Grandpa Frank worked with his sausage recipe until its flavor was just right. Then the recipe was followed exactly, right down to the last pinch of salt. They put in lean beef and pork - ground onions and potatoes - salt, pepper, and allspice. This was all ground together and stuffed into sausage skins. The sausage skins were bought salted and dried, so they had to be soaked before the stuffing process began.

Because Grandpa Frank made so much of the sausage he bought ton electric sausage stuffer and grinder. The slippery skins were slipped over the opening and were filled very rapidly. Grandpa pinched the sausage every so often to make them into 1 or 2 pound sections.

Potato sausage or "Korve" was a very popular item at his meat and grocery store, especially during the Christmas Holidays. Grandpa also ground and sold the perfect complement to "Korve", Cranberry/Orange relish. This was also made in great quantities and put into glass sealers. To make this relish, Grandpa Frank put into his electric grinder raw cranberries, whole oranges, and an equal part of white sugar. This relish kept well in a cool place. Grandpa had his hands full trying to keep ahead of the demand.

Where was Grandma Ethel during all this? Well, many times it was she that peeled that sack of potatoes and onions, and, of course, it was she that put the raw sausage on to boil and later to fry to a golden brown before serving. Boiling the sausage before frying keeps the casings from bursting. And the sausage always had to meet with Grandpa's approval before Grandpa considered it a happy batch of "Korve"

Before Grandpa Frank died in December 1970, there was rarely Christmas season that he let go by that he didn't make at least one batch of "korve" to dole out to his seven children's homes. His craft and recipe, however, is still followed by most of his sons and daughters, and several of his grandchildren.

Another spectacular winter Swedish food that Grandma and her sisters always talk about, although I have never tasted it, is called "Pult." It is pronounced exactly as written. The first ingredient necessary was 2 gallons of fresh beef blood that had been taken out at the butchering and cooled immediately in the snow. This was mixed into bran and flour with fried bacon and drippings. This made big round dumplings by putting a quantity in cheese cloth and dipping it into boiling water.

These dumplings were then put out in a large metal canto freeze out of doors. Several dumplings were retrieved to prepare for breakfast or for supper. The dumplings were cut up in thin slices and then cut into inch squares, then fried in butter. As soon as they reached golden brown, they were covered with cream, allowed to bubble up and thicken. Grandma said is made a terrific breakfast and made her hungry just to think about it.

There are a few more foods that are a commonplace in my family’s diet. The first is "Peck Finga". This is a mixture of eggs and bacon mixed into a milk gravy. This is really good over toast on a cold winter night.

I couldn't find the correct Swedish name for this dish, but our family always calls it "Rice Pudding". This consists of a milk and rice mush that was served with cinnamon, sugar and cream. I always like to have Mom put raisins into it. This was THE meal for Christmas Eve and my Great-Aunt Myrtle told me about how she and Ethel used to race through it to get to the package opening. The next morning the family was disappointed if they didn't wake up to the smell of hotcakes smothered with Lingon Berries and fresh cream. Lingon Berries are grown in Sweden and are always imported for the Holidays. My great-aunt Myrtle also remembers a special treat that her Grandmother gave her little 5 year old Granddaughter, Myrtle, to eat on her tea set. This was fried apple rings. This was really a special treat because of the lack of fresh fruits.

That night for Christmas Supper came the biggest feast of the year. The menu started out with "Lutefisk", a kind of white fish found in Swedish waters. "Lutefisk" has very little taste of its own and is nearly always served with a butter or mustard sauce. Then comes "Korve" and the special relish, candied yams, Yule Kaka, and "Calvadunce". This is a cheese like pudding baked from the 3rd day milk from a newly freshened or a new mother cow. This is a type of jelly-like or Jello pudding and is fun to eat. Also, on the menu is Apple Sauce Cake. This starts out with 2 round cakes that look like flat pancakes when baked. They are soaked with the juices from the warm apple sauce. Then they are covered with apple sauce and served with whipped cream icing. Grandma always warns the family to save some room for her specialty, Cranberry Pudding. It wouldn't be Christmas without Grandma’s Cranberry Pudding. This is a type of cake that is loaded with whole cranberries. The topping is a delicious butter sauce that is Grandma's secret recipe. No one has ever left without being "stuffed" almost beyond limits.

Grandma Ethel has cooked for more people in her lifetime than anyone else I know. Not including relatives, or the threshing crews, or the teachers she often boarded at her house because of its closeness to the old Kennedy school. The reason I can say this is that Grandma and Grandpa have had a food stand at the Kittson County Fair for over 45 years. That's an awful lot of hamburgers served to an awful lot of people. When I asked Grandma why she has continued to run the food stand even though Grandpa isn't there to help her anymore, she just smiles and replies, "I think that it keeps the family together, and I get a chance to see all my friends".

Grandma now lives in Long Beach, California during the cold weather in Minnesota. Grandma and Grandpa had been living out there since 1939.

Grandma Ethel is quite a remarkable lady. I'm sure I will never find any other person who is so busy all the time. As she looks back and tells me of the many things she has done, places she's been, and the names of all the people she can recall never ceases to amaze me. To raise a family, to be President of the Ladies Aid for 12 years, to be a 4-H adult leader for more than 20 years, to run a butcher and grocery store, to run a food stand at the fair as well as one in their backyard, raise turkeys, to run a show hall in Kennedy, and to raise a large family seem to me to be an impossible feat for even a "Superwoman."

Even now, when she is supposed to be retired, Grandma never seems to rest. She is enrolled in craft classes and is always making something for her 7 children, 25 grandchildren, or her 8 great-grandchildren. Some of her hobbies are collecting china and copperware, painting ceramics, she also oil paints, does glass art work, makes Raggedy Ann Dolls, and during her spare time, she works in the garden, knits afghans or practices that special talent of hers, SWEDISH COOKING!!!

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Larson, Interview on January 3, 1974, Subject: Her mother, Ethel Larson

Doris, Myrtle Lundberg, Interview on January 15, 1974, Subject: Swedish foods and family history

Dowdall, Cindy L. Baldwin, Interview on January 3, 1974, Subject: Frank Larson

Dowdall, Cindy L. Baldwin, Caroline Sorenson Lundberg:A Swedish Pioneer, Historical Essay, Runner-up 1967.

Larson, Ethel Lundberg, Interview on July 2, 1973, Subject: Her life history and Swedish foods.

dy L. Baldwin, Caroline Sorenson Lundberg:A Swedish Pioneer, Historical Essay, Runner-up 1967.

Larson, Ethel Lundberg, Interview on July 2, 1973, Subject: Her life history and Swedish foods.