Pet peeve one out of the way. Now on to pet peeve two. I bet many of you think a smörgåsbord is a pile-all-you-can-on-your-plate buffet – meatballs on top of beets scrunched up against mashed potatoes buried under a chicken wing sticking into onion rings surrounding olives covering a slice of ham or two.
Nej, nej, nej! No, no, no! A smörgåsbord is a buffet but one you approach with a plan for a long meal of complementary dishes. You take what you want of certain foods, eat them with bread, cheese, beer, and snaps, go get a clean plate to serve yourself the same or different foods, and repeat until you are satisfied.
What’s snaps? It rhymes with schnapps and is alcoholic but not sweet. Snaps include aquavit and vodka. My favorite liquor store used to have five kinds of aquavit, but now only has three. I prefer the Norwegian and Swedish aquavits to the Danish.
According to Tore Wretman (1) one makes five visits to the smörgåsbord, taking from a different group of foods each time. These are:
First, “Hans Majestät Sillen”, His Majesty the Herring
Third, cold meats
Fourth, warm dishes
Third, cold meats
Fourth, warm dishes
To give you some idea of what is included in a smörgåsbord, I’ll tell you what we have at our house. But first let me give you a little history.
When we lived in the Twin Cities, we decided in the late 70s to do a julbord for some friends. We did it for a couple of years until one couple hadn’t even left their house when we were ready to start and one woman’s preschooler bumped her into a stack of good plates (they wouldn’t get a babysitter). We took it up again in a later year but only for the immediate family. It became such a custom that our children as adults expect it. I lost interest one year when the grandkids didn’t touch much more than bread and dessert. The family persisted and the adult grandkid now expects it.
So, we blew a wad at the supermarket today for some of the stuff, and I’ve searched my computer for previous year’s menus. For the most part, we try to have three main things for each round along with three side offerings.
Sill: We have served herring in cream sauce. I’ve also served the pickled herring in mustard sauce and in layers in a glass jar. The layers are herring, sliced carrots, and red onion rings. This year we might try smoked herring also. We also serve potatoes boiled with dill, homemade limpa (Swedish rye), hard bread, and cheese (Jarlsberg, Emmantaler, and Gouda).
Fish: I’ve poached a couple of trout or a salmon filet with dill, bay leaf, carrots, and onions. We generally have lots of cooked shrimp and my wife makes a crab salad. My old lists have only olives as an accompaniment beyond more potatoes, bread, and cheese
Cold meats: We always have sliced ham. My wife makes deviled eggs and I make a special liver paste. I get the finest grind Braunschweiger (liver sausage) I can find and mix in brandy and whipping cream until it can be served with a spoon. We often put pickles, red cabbage salad, and sliced tomatoes besides these dishes.
Warm dishes: My wife does meatballs that include veal, beef, and pork. She based it on Wretman’s recipe; he wrote that his readers’ mothers, grandmothers, and aunts might disagree with his version. She also does a plum-packed pork loin. We buy small wiener-like sausages to satisfy our daughter’s request for prinskorv. We serve beets, lingon, and celery at the side.
Dessert: Pepparkakor (ginger cookies), of course. We have also included pears, grapes, applesauce, or almonds. We are generally too tired to think of any other prepared desserts. Besides, who but our son with his “dessert reserve” has any room for more?
After reading this, I hope you realize that Swedish food is not all white and bland. A good smörgåsbord is an array of bright colors and many flavors.
Så, till bords, skål, god aptit, God Jul och Gott Nytt År (so, to the table, skål, good appetite, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year).
(1) Svensk Husmanskost, Tore Wretman, Forum, Stockholm, 1967. Originally husmanskost meant plain food for the servants, but I won’t try to translate its modern meanings. Wretman took seven pages to do so.
Originally published in Reader Weekly December 21, 2006.
See also Christmas blog links