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.