Eating like your ancestors Part 2

I must be hungry for foods I can’t get easily. The Swedish make a rye bread that can be hard to get around here. It’s called Limpa and I know of only one bakery anywhere near us that makes it. It’s in Montrose and we live in Valley Village so it’s a good 20 miles away and it’s not easy to get there from here since it’s on the other side of the mountains from  here and you have to remember to call ahead to reserve a loaf. They only make it  a few days a week except in the holidays, then they make it more often.

They also make traditional and seasonal Princess cakes which used to be the traditional Swedish wedding cake. It’s a cake with raspberry or lingonberry jam and covered in green marzipan. Since I’m allergic to almonds, that isn’t on my diet plan but they also make broodjes and I love those. Those are Belgian small sandwiches with turkey or ham.

Somehow my body played a cruel joke on me. I’m allergic to some of the basic ingredients of my native cultures. I’m allergic to oats and the kind of allergic where I should be carrying an epi pen, I still have blood in my right eye from hurling the last time I got infinitesimal amounts in my breakfast when I ordered at Burger King 3 years ago. I couldn’t eat anything but soup for about 6 weeks. Oats are a staple of Scottish food. They are in everything. And they will literally kill me, Toes up, time for cremation. So not funny, genes

I’m also allergic to almonds and by extension peaches and all their stone fruit friends. It’s really not pretty when you can connect the dots on hives. Almonds are prominent in all kinds of Swedish things. Another cruel joke. It’s making me itch just thinking about it. The only way you can tell the difference between a peach tree and the almond tree is to look for the tiny stoma on the bottom of the leaves. One has two and one has one but it doesn’t matter because both will make me really sick and walk like Frankenstein to keep my joints from rubbing together.

I’m also allergic to tomatoes but I’ve just learned easily to avoid them. If it’s red and I can’t tell what it is, I ain’t going to eat it. Oats are sneaky. Anything labeled multigrain has oats and people don’t get that. I got served a multigrain roll in my sub at camp sack lunch and they were quite proud they had gotten around the oat barrier, NOT! And dessert was a peach fruit cup and a granola bar. I had cheese puffs and lemonade that sack lunch.

I have learned that almost all other nuts are my friends. So I have them everywhere. And I can’t think of a thing to eat that would be closer to our hunter gather ancestors. It wasn’t that long ago everyone went to the nut trees in forest and orchard every fall. I even love the ones that aren’t truly nuts like cashews (drupes), peanuts, (legumes) and sunflowers & pumpkins (seeds). Dry roast pecans are just yummy. I love pistachios, when I was little and Grandma would take me on expeditions to Farmer’s Market before it got attached to the g**d*** Grove. ( We would do shopping for all kinds of things that weren’t available in supermarkets in the 50’s and 60’s. I always came home with treats like pistachios that in those days came from Iran, nut butters from Magees and maple sugar candy, magic rocks that grew crystals ( and if I was really good, a drinking bird like this: That outing always got me fresh made rootbeer and a big plate of fish and chips and those still are the booths I hit for food, unless I really want a crepe.

About the only fruits I can tolerate are boysenberries, raspberries and citrus. I’m allergic to strawberries even though I adore them. By the way strawberries aren’t berries, they are achenes.

Anyway broodjes sound really good right now.

How does your family eat and what do they eat?

My sister and I were discussing our family traditions and in particular, the foods mom fed us on a regular basis and that we tend to fix for ourselves because that’s what we learned to make and eat. It’s just beginning to sink in how Scots/Scandinavian we still are when it comes to food.

I think breakfast is the most apparent. If you give us a choice, it will be a pastry, and milk and maybe some meat and some cheese. If it isn’t a pastry, its waffles or pancakes which are more like crepes than pancakes. I remember the first I was confronted with thick pancakes and being unsure of what they were. I do draw the line at pickled herring or herring in white sauce as breakfast food.

And pancakes and French toast tend to be served with butter and powdered sugar not syrup. Dad had to have syrup and it had to be maple, mom would switch to boysenberry syrup since Ikea hadn’t invaded yet to add lingonberries to our diet.

The Scandinavians are the largest consumers of dairy per capita in the world, Finland and Sweden are numbers one and two. The Dutch are number three. I just laughed when the doctor suggested I was allergic to milk and he did admit he had never seen a Swede that was. We have evolved to tolerate it and the only way you lose it is by losing the bacteria to digest it. If you start drinking it again and establish the flora you are back in the game.

You also get a lot of fish and potatoes, meatballs in white sauce and pea soup. Mom had to learn to cook for dad since he was raised on a farm in the Midwest and she would just have shitfits sometimes over the things he would cook for himself like fried mash potatoes in bacon grease. When he was sick we could always tell because he would start making Navy bean soup and as a child I could never figure out why it wasn’t blue, it was Navy bean wasn’t it? He also was always eating things my mother would consider spoiled like green on cheese, he would cut the green off and keep eating.

Dad wanted red meat and potatoes and as few vegetables except beans as he could get away with. Mom occasionally would like to experiment. The night she first made tacos for dad was interesting to say the least. Mom knew tacos, she was born in LA in 1922, her parents were the immigrants. Dad was not certain until he ate them what she was trying to feed him. He liked them so they became a regular dinner item.

We always ate dinner as a family and before my mom went back to work when my sister was old enough to go to school all day, breakfast too. We were allowed to read at the table sometimes but you had to explain why you thought the book was good enough to do that and dad had to not be wanting to read the paper.

Swedes are big on coffee and the Scots are more likely to have tea. Mom served coffee for she and dad, hers was black, his with lots of milk, truthfully more milk than coffee. When I spent the summer with my maternal grandparents, Grandma and I had tea and Grandpa had coffee. Grandma would make it in really concentrated distilled batches once a week and then would use it to make his coffee in the morning.

Grandpa wanted his Danish in the morning, his herring and coffee and toast. Grandma would make oatmeal or Cream of wheat or some hot cereal for herself and I got the sugar cereal I wasn’t allowed to eat at home until there my sister came along. Grandpa had a sweet tooth and would buy sweetened cereals and save the toys. That was his excuse he was saving the toys for the grandkids. He could not be persuaded to homemade Muesli or other cow grazing cereals.

I have no idea why we were allowed sweetened cereal until Alison came along except that if mom was working finally when I was in high school she could shove that at us and then she could get ready for work. We only got if they could afford it and there was a toy my brother and I couldn’t live without. I still would rather have a pastry for breakfast, thank heavens, for Sunday trips after church to Martino’s bakery for bread and a week’s worth of breakfast pastries and tea cakes.

I still go over to Gelsons on Saturday or Sunday mornings because they have fresh Danish right out of the oven and if I can get there early enough I can snag a lemon one before they run out. If I have a vice it’s fresh lemon Danish and milk.

So sometimes when American allegedly Norse worshipping pagans start claiming to know how Scandinavians eat other than mead, most are eating weird shit that probably had no resemblance to what the Norse really ate.  I want to see them eat lutefisk. Hah! The minute my great-grandma Hilde/Halde died at 92 the Sjobergs eliminated it from all family holiday menus. That shit is nasty and I like most fish.

Most American pagans don’t think of cultural appropriation in terms of European cultures but I think it can be if you don’t know the culture and the history of the reason behind the ways of doing things. Sometimes it’s like the house wife who always cut the end off the roast because her mother did and she finally asks her mother why she did it and her mother tells her that she didn’t have a pan big enough so she had to take the end off.

I have to admit I was very comfortable eating in the UK except for haggis because they were cooking like mom. They used butter instead of mayo for instance. Just try getting a sandwich here with butter instead of mayo. The fish was amazing and I think plaice is the best fish on the planet.

Until recently most families ate the same way their families always did. If your mother made it, your grandmothers probably had too and on back. Now our eating patterns are all disturbed with fast food, instant meals in microwaves and you don’t eat with your family and you don’t talk to your elders and learn the stories or how and why they think a certain way. We talked about what we had learned in school, what we were reading, what the country was doing, current events, family history, I learned to pun at the dinner table. I learned when I disagreed sometimes I didn’t know when to shut up if dad was in one of his moods and sometimes I did it anyway but we were really talking to each other and not at each other. If your don’t eat as a family, how do you even know who your family members are?

We are a product and a continuation of all the family members who came before us, and the only way we learn who they were is by talking to the people in the family.

I have memories of so many holiday dinners. I remember the last Christmas dinner with my great – grandmother. When she had brought the family to America from Sweden her requirement was that they learn English. They had landed in Duluth and they joined the local Presbyterian church because it was the only church that held services in English and not some Scandinavian language. The minute they all learned English she moved them to LA sometime between 1900 and 1910 according to census data. But Grandpa said it was because she was not going to live some place colder than Sweden. The problem with only speaking English was when she was in her 90s she would revert to Swedish occasionally and I can still remember sitting at the table with my Uncle Don and him saying to her when she had asked for the jam and the jelly. “Say jam and jelly, Grandma.” And she dutifully said, “Jam and jelly, now pass me the yam and the yelly”. Even at 5 this struck me as being hilarious.

Beloved Dead


My grandmother, Nola and my Uncle Frank

Today’s Beloved Dead is the grandmother I never got to meet. She died after getting the Spanish Flu after her youngest son was born. I wish I could have met her and if she had lived my father would have been a much different person. After she died, my grandfather left to build the Panama Canal and the kids were raised by my great-grandmother who was totally unfit to raise them in my opinion. She beat the shit out of my dad and when he broke his wrist driving a pony cart he didn’t have permission to drive, she refused to let his other grandfather set it and it gave him a good deal of pain the rest of his life.

The other reason I would want her around would have been to talk to her, to find out about her father. Family stories say her father was a Native American, He had to have been adopted and when I’ve done research he appears in the first census as Tomas and then as an adult, Thomas. The story about him was that he would not talk about himself or where he had come from just that he was some sort of Native American. Dad thought he was half Native American and Thomas’ father allegedly had 10 children and it wouldn’t have been that hard to sneak one in with that many children. And the records at one point list him as being born “around 1858” but no exact date. At that point on history, Native Americans in Illinois and Kentucky were treated very badly and I suspect he was passing when he got into Iowa Medical School and became a doctor.  His mother was said to be the first white girl born in the county.

Anyway, my dad had a profile like an Indian head nickel, beak and all but he had no idea what tribe his grandfather would have belonged to and I know that drove him a little nuts because he knew the genealogy of the Robbs back before immigration in 1723.

When I went to camp the first time, the camp was a Church camp that was named Indian Village and they did teach a lot of Native customs such as bead work and bead weaving. I loved learning that. I can still do it. Every afternoon we had story telling that first year with a gentleman that said he was a Kiowa chief and he used to show us the bulletholes in his leg from where he had been shot early in his life, before he learned the white father’s religion. It was the only year he was there. He was weathered and the best description I can apply to him from my childhood memories was he was he felt like earth.

This is also the week I heard the tree talk to me and this week went a long way to setting me on a pagan path. So much for Church camp.

One afternoon, I was sitting listening to him and he stopped his story and looked at me. He just stared and then he asked me what tribe I belonged to, I have no idea why he would ask a strawberry blonde, whiter than milk kid that question but he did. He told me he knew I was of his people and nodded to me and that was that. It was never mentioned again. All my friends wanted to know why he had done that because he hadn’t talked individually to anyone else and as far as I know he never did that week because it got around that he had talked to me.

I was 9 and dad had just been telling us what he knew about his grandfather so I said I didn’t know. I was nine and I remember going home at the end of the week and telling dad and dad just told me again, he didn’t know.

I’ve always been very careful not to take anything from Native cultures because I wasn’t raised in the context of those cultures. My spirituality is mainly Celtic and Norse based because of my mom being half and half and the rest of dad’s heritage is Scottish but sometimes I long to know more of that part of my DNA but it isn’t mine to know in this life.