Three weeks ago I volunteered at the American Swedish Institute’s Julmarknad (Christmas Market), helping children make woven paper hearts and other decorations to bring home. While I was there, I was able to talk to one of the Swedish language instructors, who has been teaching there for over 20 years. He mentioned that Swedes are always interested in visiting ASI and the general Scandinavian culture of Minnesota for a few reasons, one of them being that the culture here is very different from Swedish culture now. When the Swedes and the Norwegians and other Scandinavian immigrant groups came over to the U.S. in the 1800’s, many of them were motivated by overpopulation and a slow economy. So, the collective cultural memory in places like Minnesota of the Scandinavians is one that is simple, homey, and traditional. You’ll see replicas of Scandinavian and German markets all over the place, and of course, everyone has a Swedish or Norwegian relative.
But the traditional dresses, potato dinners, sweaters, and other common tokens of Scandinavian heritage found in Minnesota seem a strange, quaint relic of the past to current visitors from these same countries. The rustic, rural culture of the 1800’s in Scandinavia is memorialized here; meanwhile, cities in Scandinavia have grown to become powerhouses of fashion, technology, food, design, sexay underwear, etc. I smile whenever I come upon the Swedish/Norweigan goods booth at the State fair, because it is so different from the Sweden I know. Granted, I still don’t know much, and many of the smaller towns in Sweden probably still hold on to traditions that are a little more “out-dated” in places like Stockholm, but Minnesota’s funny nostalgia for this period so long ago is interesting. For one, the immigrant memory is keeping this period in history very much alive. But to urban Swedish visitors, our definition must look a little strange. (Although the marriage of old and new is coming alive in places such as Bachelor Farmer.) That is why I think the new addition to the ASI is so wonderful: the historic, rich granduer of the mansion combined with the light, natural sim. Both are stylish. The new…definitely has more diverse, exciting food than the old. I’ll take both the painted Dalarna horse and the minimalist Sagaform vase, thanks.
In the spirit of things both old and new, I present to you a traditional Swedish food that Swedes hold dear to their hearts, no matter what age and where they live. Lussebullar (saffron buns) are eaten on St. Lucia’s Day, December 13th. They are golden, soft buns with a touch of sweetness. Just out of the oven, they’re warm and tender and you’ll wish you had a whole Ikea bed made out of them. I asked my friend, with whom I made these for the first time two years ago, for a recipe directly from Sweden – I am wary of interpretations of these buns, especially since his Swedish mother was pretty picky about our baking methods. I have translated the baking amounts from dl and grams.
St. Lucia Buns
3 1/2 tablespoons yeast
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
2 cups milk
11 1/2 tablespoons greek yogurt or cream cheese
1/2 – 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
a pinch of salt
In a saucepan, melt the butter and milk together, until the temperature reaches lukewarm. Crush the saffron along with a pinch of sugar and add to the milk/butter mixture. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, stir together yeast, remaining sugar, and the milk/butter/saffron mixture. In another bowl, sift together the flour and the salt. Combine the flour with the yeast mixture and knead. Set aside in a covered bowl in a warm area and let rise for 25 minutes. To make the saffron buns, roll out strips the size of your finger and cut. Twist into shapes, as pictured above.
Set them on a greased baking tray and allow them to rise again for 35 minutes. Brush with the egg whisked together with 1 tbsp of water. Bake at 225 degrees for 10 minutes.