Sunday, December 28, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15: 

"Sacred or Profane"

The Challenge: Sacred or Profane

I found it difficult to document any of the traditional recipes we made for Christmas. I can't read Italian or Norwegian and my Nonnie put her own spin on her traditional Neapolitan desserts so that was out, despite the feast of 7 fishes and numerous desserts...

I made two recipes that fit the category: St. Lucia buns and rice pudding. December 13, by the old calender, was the darkest day of the year in Sweden. In Christian times it became the Saint's day of St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. Lucia or Lucy was an early Christian martyr who donated her dowry to help the poor. Supposedly she sent food supplies to Sweden during a famine. December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia's Day in Sweden as a festival of light. One young woman (historically the oldest girl in the family) is chosen to be the Lucia bride or queen and she leads a procession and serves sweet saffron buns twisted into special shapes to her family and visitors.

Rice Pudding is a Christmas Eve tradition in my family going back to my grandmother's child and before that her mother and Norwegian grandmother. Christmas Eve was their big holiday and they had a meatless meal of fish. There was dried fish called lutfisk and fish pudding called plukfisk.

Plukfisk ready to go in the oven

"Plukkfisk is a classic Norwegian dish which consists of pieces of fish, potatoes and onion cooked in a bechamel sauce.  The dish is originally from Hordaland county, on the west coast of Norway and the home of the second largest city in the country, Bergen.  Cod is traditionally used as the fish, but you can use any white fish you like. “'Plukk' means 'pick' in Norwegian, and refers to the fact that you pick the fish and the dish is served in small pieces. 
from Arctic Grub

Following the fish pudding came risgrøt, rice pudding served with butter and cinnamon sugar in a soup bowl.  My great-grandmother told the story that one must always leave a bowl of rice pudding for Nissen (an elf-like creature who lives in the barn) so he wouldn't cause mischief.

Originally, from the Viking times to the late nineteenth century, Grøt was made from barley. In Christian times it was eaten on Sundays and holidays. This dish was not sweet like the modern dish until the late 1800’s when sugar and cinnamon was introduced to Norway. Sweet risgrøt, rice porridge has been around since the 1800s, when rice began to be imported to Norway, and it was included in the first Norwegian cookbook published in 1845.
I was able to document the traditional Christmas rice pudding in several sources:
"On Christmas Eve every person of condition has a mess of rice-porridge..."

Frederick Metcalfe, The Oxonian in Thelemarken; Or, Notes of Travel in Southwestern Norway in 1856, Hurst and Blackett, 1858.

 "In every house from that of the wealthy nobleman to that of the peasant the same Christmas supper is served a specially prepared fish for the first course rice with cream and powdered cinnamon for the second and roast goose for the third ...." 
Christopher Orlando Sylvester Mawson, Doubleday, Page & Co's Geographical Manual and New Atlas ,1918

"Our Swedish supper. The first course was lut fisk. This is a ling or a cod prepared for a Christmas delicacy by being buried for days in wood ashes. A piece of lut fisk placed on your plate immediately falls apart into flakes each flake is translucent and trembles like jelly. When eaten alone it is tasteless but when seasoned with salt much pepper and lots of butter sauce of two kinds and well mixed with a mealy potato the lut fisk is delicious. The next course was rice porridge with powdered cinnamon and cream and the third and last a great fat goose roasted to a turn. These are the three time honored dishes for Christmas eve and while we supped every family in Sweden from the King to the peasant was eating just the same sort of supper with the same courses and in every home throughout the Northland from the palace to the backwoods hut stood the Jul gran the Christmas tree with ribbons fluttering from its branches and wax tapers burning brightly from every bough."
William Widgery Thomas, Sweden and the Swedes, Rand, McNally, 1891

The Recipe: 

Ideal Rolls
Butter an earthen bowl
Melt two table spoonfuls of the best table butter but do not burn it
Keep it melted until you need it
Then heat to boiling one pint of milk and one half pint of sweet cream
Cool to a tepid state
Mix one cake of compressed yeast with a little of the milk
Add one generous half spoonful of salt
Sift a quart of flour into an earthen bowl and make a batter with the milk and cream
Beat with a wooden spoon or spatula the more air you can beat in the better and the fresher the air the more improving it is to the bread
When the batter is smooth stir in flour until it is too stiff to stir then mold it thoroughly pulling it and beating it with the palms of the hands until it will mold free of the board without flour Put the dough into the buttered earthen bowl and brush it over with the melted butter. A paint brush is best for this purpose I use a large and a small one .
Cover over the dough and put it into a warm place but not on the stove. It needs an even heat this is why it is put into an earthen. It will take from an hour and a half to two hours to rise. It must not crack open but be on the verge of cracking. Mold again and shape into rolls. Brush the rolls carefully over with melted butter set them to rise for an hour or an hour a quarter. When they are light bake from ten to fifteen minutes in a hot oven and just before they are to come out them over with milk. This makes a brown crust. A hot oven and quick makes them tender They should be snowy white very light but with rather a fine texture and should have a very sweet rich taste .If the directions are followed and the yeast and flour good this will be the case Octave Thanet
Marion Harland, The Home-maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 1889  
 Rice Milk Pudding

RICE MILK. --Pick and wash half a pint of rice, and boil it in a quart of water till it is quite soft. Then drain it, and mix it with a quart of rich milk. You may add half a pound of whole raisins. Set it over hot coals, and stir it frequently till it boils. When it boils hard, stir in alternately two beaten eggs, and four large table-spoonfuls of brown sugar. Let it continue boiling five minutes longer; then take it off, and send it to table hot. If you put in raisins you must let it boil till they are quite soft.
Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper Family Receipt Book,
Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1845

This recipe is the closest to the modern one we make. 

The Date/Year and Region:1889 United States, 1845 New England

How Did You Make It:

St. Lucia Buns/Lussekatter

7/8 c.butter (3/4 c +2 T)
2 c. milk
1 pkg. yeast
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. saffron (to taste)
2 eggs
5 cups flour (approx. you will probably need more)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)


Melted the butter on the stove, added milk and turned the heat up until the mixture was lukewarm. Then I added the yeast and stirred the mixture, letting it sit for a couple of minutes while mixing sugar, salt and crushed saffron. I  beat an egg and added the milk mixture and then the dry ingredients and mixed with an electric mixer. I then added as much flour as needed to form a ball. I turned the ball out onto a floured surface and kneaded for a few minutes before leaving the dough to rise for several hours. After the dough rose, I broke pieces and knead each piece before rolling into snakes. I made two snakes, crossed in an X and curled the tops under and the bottoms up. I added Craisins (since I don't eat raisins) to the curls and brushed with a beaten egg. I placed the buns on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 375 for 20-25 minutes. I serve warm with melted butter on Christmas morning. Some people like to split them in half and toast them.

from Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas by Astrid Karlsen Scott

Rice Pudding
We rub butter over the bottom of a saucepan to prevent burning. Then place 1 cup or 2 cups (we did 2 this year for a large crowd) in the saucepan with the same amount of water and a cinnamon stick. With the stove on medium heat, we brought the rice to a boil and then lowered the heat until it simmered. We covered the pan and simmered until the water was all absorbed. Next we added 4 (or 8) cups milk and brought the mixture to simmering over medium-high heat. When the milk simmered, we lowered the heat to low and added 3 (6) tablespoons of brown sugar and stirred. Covering the pan again, we let the mixture simmer until thickened. When most of the milk is simmered away, remove from heat and take out the cinnamon stick.

Adapted from The American Girls Collection Kirsten's Cookbook, Pleasant Company 1994

Time to Complete: several hours

Total Cost:
I don't know. We bought the saffron (cheap saffron) rice,  and whole milk and had the rest on hand.

How Successful Was It?:
I cheated and used the modern recipes we always use so I knew they would both be delicious!

How Accurate Is It?: 
Ideal rolls: Somewhat. I used modern powdered yeast, regular 1% milk and rolled into special shapes. I brushed with an egg but when I don't have egg, I use milk.

Rice Pudding: Mostly. We added the cinnamon stick and omitted the raisins. We serve with cinnamon sugar sprinkled from my great-great grandmother's slotted spoon. 

Longer story about St. Lucia's Day:

The Legend of Lussi

In old Sweden, the 13th of December was known as Lussinatt or Lussi night, the most frightening night of the whole year. Lussi was a demon who caused havoc haunting every farm in the district. Children who had been naughty feared Lussi would sweep down the chimney, scoop them up and take them away.
In parts of Europe, including Sweden and along the coast of South Central Norway, Lussi was a winter tradition. It was believed that all Christmas peparations had to be completed by the winter solstice, December 13. It was feared that Lussi and her cats were would harm anyone working on December 13th. Also on this night, domestic animals were given the power of speech.

St. Lucia, Catholic martyr

The legend of St. Lucia varies greatly. She was generally believed to be a martyr in the year 304 A.D. She was from an aristocratic family who lived in Syracusa, Sicily. Lucia's mother became very ill when Lucia was a young girl. They traveled to a neighboring town where they prayed for healing in front of a picture of St. Agatha. The saint appeared to them and Lucia's mother was healed by St. Agatha. Lucia was deeply touched by this miracle and she vowed to dedicate her life to Christ and remain pure throughout her life. She distributed her dowry among the poor people of Sicily. Her fiance was furious and informed the authorities that hs bride-to-be was a Christian, which was a crime punishable by death. They agreed to burn Lucia at the stake. When the judgement was being carried out, she was smeared with oil, resin, and pitch, but the flames could not harm her. God was protecting Lucia from the flames. Lucia's definace of death enraged her fiance and he thrust his sword through her neck, thus killing her. 200 years later she was canonized by the Catholic church and became the patron saint of light.

Lucia comes to Sweden
In the middle ages, the solstice was a time of great festivities and celebration. By the 1700s, the date of the winter solstice was changed to December 21 and December 13 was saved for Lussi. The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia.
The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia. Lucia originally came to Sweden from Syracuse where she was a saint in the days of Christian persecution. She appeared for the first time in Västergötland at the beginning of the 19th century. Lucia Day is December 13th because that was belived to be the midwinter solstice.
The Lucia Queen or Lucia bride is traditionally the oldest girl in a family. Lucia appears early in the morning wearing a long, white robe, red sash and a crown of glowing candles on her head. She is accompanied by girls also wearing long white robes amd by "Star Boys" with tall hats and Tomtar (elves). She brings a tray of coffee, Lucia buns (Lussekatter) or gingerbread cookies.

Other versions of the myth
The Legend of Sankta Lucia

History of St. Lucia

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