My search for the perfect Scandinavian meatball has ended. It all began a few weeks ago with a Facebook status update. One silly, giddy, Facebook status update.
I posted to my page that my grandmother had just loaned me an old family recipe box. “Let the treasure hunt begin!” I stated. The nondescript wooden box, same size and shape of the one already sitting on my kitchen counter, looks almost exactly like I imagine mine will in 50 years or so… the papers yellow and brittle with age – some crumbling as I gingerly unfold them. Recipes cut from magazines and folded to fit tidily inside, hand written notes on scraps of paper-some without titles and only the ingredients speaking to what the dish is intended to be, and recipe cards that say “Lovingly from the kitchen of…”
This one little Facebook post started a long stream of responses from relatives all around the country, some of them I have never even met, post after post filled with memories of their favorite family recipes (and some not-so favorite.)
The Christmas season is when I feel most connected to my Norwegian roots and get an uncontrollable craving for the flavors of my heritage. My great-grandparents on my maternal side came from Norway, and the traditions that have been passed down center mostly around celebrating this time of year. We Norwegians really get into this holiday! And food is a huge part of the celebration. For many years, whenever we could, the women in my family (three generations!) have gathered together to make the traditional Norwegian cookies that my grandmother remembers eating as a child – Krumkake and Fattigmann. (We tried for a time to make Sandbakkels, but found ourselves just too unsuccessful at getting them out of the molds!)
What a wonderful day this tradition has become. We all don our aprons.
We talk. We eat. We sing. We laugh. A lot. Grandma sneaks bits of cookies that she’s not supposed to have because of her gluten allergy. And we listen. We listen as my grandmother, with the taste of those treats fresh on her tongue, is taken back in her memories to her own childhood kitchen, and to her mother and aunt making the very same cookies. That part makes me somewhat sad. You see, she never got to make these with her mother – for some reason my great-grandmother would not allow her to help. I think the memories for her are bittersweet. But we are making new ones. Wonderful ones.
After many years of hosting the cookie parties at her house, my mother moved across the country a few years back, and with no one else stepping up and offering to host, it looked to be the end of the road for our get-togethers. I guess one never really knows how much a seemingly simple ritual can mean until it is no longer practiced. A couple of years went by, and I realized how much I loved and missed it, so last year, small house be damned, I decided to take up the torch and host my first Norwegian family cookie party in my modest home. It was a cozy affair, elbow-to-elbow, rolling pin-to-rolling pin, and though I think I may still have traces of flour in some of my kitchen’s nooks and crannies, I can’t wait to do it all over again this year.
For the Krumkakes you will need a special iron on which to make them. When my mother moved, her Krumkake iron moved with her. So I went on the hunt for one. I found many at online stores, and at local specialty cooking shops, but they were more than I wanted to pay. Then my husband suggested Craigslist and I found these for just $20! (I’m not sure why there are 3 irons, we can only use one at a time as there is only one cradle.)
The best part of scoring these and going to pick them up from a live person? The stories the owner, a Norwegian grandmother, told me about the wonderful times she had making cookies with her daughters and granddaughters. No, she hadn’t stopped the tradition, she had just purchased an electric iron. Guess I’m much more of a traditionalist…I prefer the manual model.
Of course mom was all too happy to share the cookie recipes with me with this attached note: “Happy Jul cookie making….remember the memories from the past, the one’s you are making today and will in the future. The spirit of your Great “Nanny” will be with you, as will I in spirit!!!!!! Love, Mom.”
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup melted, cooled butter
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped
- 1 1/2 cup flour
Beat eggs and sugar; add cooled butter and cardamom. Sift flour into egg mixture. Gently fold in whipped cream and store in refrigerator overnight.
Heat krumkake iron over med-high heat, then using a spoon to place batter on the place about a tablespoon slightly behind the center of the pattern – when the iron is closed, it will push the dough slightly forward. If the dough oozes out just trim the edges of the iron with a knife. (This is a messy cookie making experience!) Let cook for about 30 seconds to a minute depending on how hot your iron is and then turn. Once you can open the iron without the cookie sticking, it is done (should be a nice light color – not browned.) Just like with crepes, you will have to throw away the first one and it may take you a few tries to get the hang of the right amount, and how long to cook on each side, but once you get going it you will find a nice rhythm. A team of two for this project is perfect with one person manning the iron and the other rolling the cookies.
Pull out of iron and roll while it’s still warm – they make Krumkake rollers that help to form the cookie into a cone, but we just roll them into a cylindrical shape free-hand. You can also shape the cookie over a bowl while it is still hot and once cooled, you will end up with a bowl-shaped cookie that is yummy filled with berries and fresh whipped cream.
Fattigmann (Poor Man’s Cookies)
- 12 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup Brandy
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream – whipped
- 4 cups flour
- 3 lbs lard for frying
- powdered sugar
Beat yolks well; gradually add sugar – beating thoroughly. Fold in brandy, cardamom, and whipped cream. Sift flour, a little at a time, until dough is stiff enough to roll out. Chill overnight.
Roll the dough out as thin as possible on flour-covered surface (using as little flour as possible.) Cut criss-cross into diamond shapes (a pastry or pizza cutter works great for this) and slice a slit into the middle, lengthwise. Pull one corner through the slit to create a sort of diamond-shaped knot. Melt lard in a heavy large saucepan (we use a wok) and deep fry cookies in small batches to a golden brown. Cool on absorbent paper then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Once dry, store in airtight container.
But I have one more Christmas time recipe that I promised to share with you, right? Those meatballs I mentioned? Well, I had been searching for the perfect Scandinavian meatball recipe for years. Our local little Scandinavian specialty shop serves up the best I had ever had, but I really wanted to be able to make my own at home. After numerous online searches and two failed attempts at different Swedish meatball recipes (they really were not even edible – those nights we couldn’t reach for the delivery menu fast enough), I was resigned to the fact that I was just not going to be able to accomplish my dream of lovely little Norwegian meatballs at home.
I believe now that the problem was I was making Swedish meatballs and not Norwegian ones. It just wasn’t in my blood!
Over the years I had also asked my grandmother several times if perhaps there was a family recipe, but she just couldn’t remember one. Luckily, others in my family did remember and one of them, my second cousin who lives in Florida, was the first to post a response to my recipe box statement on Facebook. To my delight, it was my Great-Grandmother’s Norwegian Meatball recipe. I made them last night. And they were perfect. To me.
What follows is (almost) exactly how it was shared with me on Facebook. What I love is that it is more than a recipe. It’s part of our family’s story. It gives me a glimpse into the lives of people I have never met, but who help to make up the person I am, and the people my children are, and the people their children will be…
I think many of us have stories of sharing our culture, family history, or heritage through food or cooking. It makes sense. The kitchen is the heart of the home and the food prepared in it an expression of our love for home and family. What stories/recipes do you have to share? Please don’t let them get lost. Feel free to comment here, but more important, share them with your children, or nieces and nephews, grandchildren, sisters, brothers. And cousins.
Grandma Jacobson’s Norwegian Meatball (As taught to me by my mother)
- 3 pounds Best Ground Sirloin
- 19 crushed saltine crackers (13 for 2 lbs)
- 1 egg
- 1 egg white (1 egg for 2 lbs)
- Half & Half
- Salt & Pepper
- Two onions minced (1 1/2 for 2 lbs)
Mix meat, crackers and eggs. I use fresh Ginger and grate fairly sparingly; knead meat mixture THOROUGHLY adding half & half so that it stays moist (My mother always said that kneading until your cold, frozen hands are about to fall off is the secret to a great meatball). Add salt & pepper as you knead. She never told me how much of the ingredients except for the meat, crackers and eggs — you just have to use your Norwegian instincts. Make into smallish what I consider normal size meatballs.
Brown meatballs in lots of butter (of course!). Keep turning until they are nice and brown. When I make 3 pounds, I use two large, deep fry pans with covers. Remove meatballs from pans (put them in the lids to rest) being sure to keep all the good leavings in the pan(s) for the gravy.
Finely chop two onions and brown in leavings with more butter. Once onions are good and browned make your gravy (Mom used Gold Medal Wondra flour for sauce and gravy in blue container) adding water and flour (I make the gravy in both pans and the closest I’ve come to measuring the water is that I used 3 bottles of spring water) You want to make enough gravy so you can return meatballs to the pan and they’ll be covered with gravy and cook simmering for half an hour. Of course you’ll need to salt and pepper the gravy too.
Once cooked, they can be served or also they freeze well. Mom always served them with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a green vegetable. Mom used to make lefsa to eat as the bread dish.
We have enjoyed them as a Christmas Eve tradition all through the years followed by Mom’s homemade fudge and cookies.