Food is a central facet of Christmas these days, in Sweden as in England. Every year, in the run-up to Christmas dinner, magazines are full of recipes and guides on how to make all sorts of goodies for family and friends; and, just a few weeks later, that food pornography makes way for diet tips and New Year’s weight loss resolutions.
The main element of a Swedish Christmas dinner is not turkey but ham, served with mustard. That’s not all, though. The julbord, Christmas table, stems from the Vikings’ midvinterblot, midwinter sacrifice, though few dishes remain from that time. The smörgåsbord-style range of small dishes emerged in the 1900s. And this may shock you but meatballs only became a common feature in the 1970s. (GASP!)
First, to set the scene: a manor house from the 1800s, bought by the King of Spirits in 1875. Lars Olsson Smith dominated the spirits production in Sweden, ultimately creating the Absolut Vodka Brand (his bearded face has pride of place on the seal at the top of the widely recognisable bottle).
Before we can even talk about the food, we need to touch on the drinks. Julmust (a soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola during the Christmas period), julöl (Christmas beer) and glögg (mulled wine) are among the selection, but the most important beverage is the ever-present snaps. These shots are a central feature of all Swedish feast days: Easter, Midsummer, and Christmas. (If you watched Jamie Does Sweden, you will have seen Jamie Oliver get drunk on snaps at a traditional crayfish party. You should also check out his Sexy Swedish Buns, by the by.) It’s usually akvavit or vodka, and its consumption must be preceded by a communal singsong, the most common being Helan Går – “the whole goes down” – but that’s a topic for another post. The snaps, though, has a medicinal purpose: it’s a digestif that gives your metabolism a little helping hand as you consume rather larger amounts of food than usual.
As I’ve just learned, the master chef Tore Wretman holds that a proper sitting at a Swedish julbord requires seven rounds to and from the buffet table. Let’s see if it works out…
Round One: The herring
Round Two: The fish
Round Three: The cold cuts
Round Four: The hot stuff
Round Five: The rice pudding
I’m not sure if this counts as a whole dish, and I don’t have a picture of it I’m afraid, but I did manage a tablespoon of creamy cinnamony goodness.
Round Six: The dessert
Round Seven: The chocolate truffles
Phew, I think that’s it! I felt full but not overly so – all in all, a very successful julbord.
And, to finish it off, a little Swedish jultomte bids you good night!