by Maria Reidelbach
If you think we upstaters have it rough in the winter, check out Sweden. It’s got the same latitude as Nova Scotia, and parts of Sweden are so cold that they’re frozen from September through May. The first day of winter has a mere six hours of sun. Swedes really need to party during the darkest days, and it’s no wonder that they have created fabulous winter holiday traditions.
I’m lucky to have a Swedish-American friend, Bibi Farber, who grew up there with her mother. Every year Bibi celebrates the holiday season at her Kerhonkson cottage with at least one party featuring delicious Swedish dishes: creamed potatoes, beets, gravlax, and sweet-and-sour cabbage. She also serves glögg, a hot spiced wine that is a wonderful antidote to cold and darkness. She uses pretty white demitasse encircled in red hearts that she inherited from her mother. I don’t know which is more warming, the glögg or Bibi’s beautiful smile as she pours and passes the cups.
To bring a little of the Swedish spirit to your holiday celebrations, here are a couple of fun and interesting recipes. Despite their Scandinavian origins, I’ve added local twists.
Harold McGee’s Cured Salmon with Pine Needle
Cured salmon, also called gravlax or lox, is easy to make; you just need a little lead time to let the salt and sugar do their work. The great food science and history authority Harold McGee suggests the following variation on traditional Swedish gravlax with dill by subbing pine. It works beautifully as a resiny aromatic—a delicious counterpoint to the richness of the salmon. And I’m told by Kevin Best, an avid fly-fisherman from New Paltz, that our local trout, whose season is just ending, would be wonderful served this way, too. It would be a treat to try it!
1 to 2 lbs. center cut salmon filet
6 Tbs. kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
2 Tbs. vodka, aquavit, grappa, or other strong white spirit, optional
1 1/2 cups pine needles (any type of pine), chopped
Dry the filet and cut it in two. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and pine needles. Sprinkle 1/3 in the bottom of a baking dish. Lay in the filet, skin side down. Sprinkle the rest of the mixture on top. Cover and refrigerate. Let cure for at least 24 hours for thinner pieces, up to 72 hours for very large pieces, turning and basting a couple of times a day. When the texture has become firmer throughout, remove from the dish and rinse off the pine needles, dry and serve in very thin slices with mustard sauce on rye crackers or thin slices of brown, white or rye bread.
Four-star tip: Chef John Novi, from the DePuy Canal House, told me that you can treat salmon this way for a shorter time period and then sauté it, with extraordinary results.
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
Bibi’s Grandma’s Glögg
Bibi says, “All the booze can be the least expensive variety and the measurements are approximate.”
2 bottles of burgundy or other hearty red wine (New York state, of course)
1/4 cup brandy, or more to taste
1/4 cup vodka, or more to taste
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
1/2 cup honey, or more to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 cardamom pods
Peel of half an orange
1 cup blanched almonds*
*To blanch almonds, bring a couple cups of water to a boil, add the almonds and let boil for about two minutes. Drain and let them cool and the skins slide off easily. Bibi warns, “Watch out as they may fly around the room when you squeeze them!” Maria says, “Best to do this before you start drinking glögg!”
Warm all ingredients except almonds together in a pot. Don’t let it boil even for a second or the alcohol will evaporate. Put an almond or two into each cup and fill with hot glögg, using a ladle.
Harold McGee—he makes food science and history fascinating: www.curiouscook.com
Bibi Farber’s NextWorld TV—great videos about sustainability: www.nextworldtv.com
Shawangunk Wine Trail—a fun way to discover local wineries: www.shawangunkwinetrail.com
John Novi’s DePuy Canal House—the Hudson Valley’s only 4-star restaurant: www.depuy.com
Maria Reidelbach is the proprietress of Homegrown Mini-Golf on Kelder’s Farm, the only miniature golf course with edible landscaping (email@example.com).