Did you know that the Swedish consume the second most coffee in the world per capita? They fall behind only Finland. This explains a lot to me when I learned of this. Growing up it seemed the adults around seemed to always be drinking coffee. I didn’t understand it. It tasted bitter and the last thing I wanted to drink when the heat index was over 100 degrees was hot coffee.
I have a friend who recently got her Swedish citizenship and she was always talking about fika (pronounced “fee-ka” I believe) and from what I could gather it seemed like tea to me, but it seemed like she would partake in this activity many times a day. I never did ask her what it was. Then right before my mom’s visit we picked up a book from the Univeristy of Minnesota Press at a great local kitchen store called The Swedish Table. The first section of the books contains memories of the traditions the author partook in when she was growing up in the north of Sweden and in there she described fika as a break from your activities in which you drink coffee and eat a sweet. Wow, did that hit home for me!
I grew up on the old family farm where my great-great aunt Emma and her brothers Aaron and Karl lived. My paternal grandparents built a house across the gravel road just before my parents got married and my father moved down the hallway from a kid room to the master bedroom. When I was little and we had to hire neighbor boys and the like (well, young men really) to aid in farm work such as putting up hay. It was expected that all the workers would be provided not only lunch, but also a morning coffee and an afternoon coffee. I realized they were working hard and it was often quite hot and definitely stifling for whomever was in the hayloft, but it always kind of surprised me how much work they could get done when they were stopping all the time to eat and drink. Now, the young men usually had lemonade with thier cinnamon roll or cookies, but the older men almost always had coffee, no matter how hot it was.
Helene Henderson describes fika as “The most important custom in Sweden… The day begins and ends with fika, and it also happens many times between, while you talk about the weather, the all time favorite topic of conversation for most Swedes (in the north at least).” That is why everything in my home church in Svea (we pronounce it sa-veh’-ah but it should be pronounced svee’-ah) revolved around coffee and cookies, no matter the time of day! And that is why to this day grandma Irma has coffee and rusks at 10am and 2pm!
Fika can be elaborate with the requisite 7 kinds of cookies (a traditional measure of one’s housekeeping skills) and sweet rolls and the like, or it can be simple and just be coffee and a rusk as grandma Irma often does. Henderson said in her family fika almost always included a pastry called bullar, so we gave her bullar recipe a try and invited a couple friends over on a whim for fika on Saturday.
Bullar is similar to our cinnamon rolls. It consists of a yeast-raised dough that is slightly sweet. The dough is rolled out after the first raise, slathered with butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon, cardomom, and sugar recipe. Then it is folded in half and cut into 1-inch wide strips. You take the strips and twist them and then wrap them around your index finger. They rise for a second time and then you bake them. Traditionally they are washed with egg and sprinkled with pearl sugar, though we did not have any pearl sugar on hand so we opted for a powdered sugar glaze. They are lighter and less sweet than most American cinnamon rolls and there is of course that nice addition of cardomom. The recipe recommends fresh cadomom, but I’m not sure where we might be able to get some, so we used fresh ground dried at the amount recommended. We did decide we would up it a bit as it was hard to pick up on that nice change.
DH has decided he won’t mind partaking in fika on a regular basis as long as he can substitute tea. So we’ll be trying some of the other recipes for baked goods in The Swedish Table in coming weeks or until it gets too hot to bake. Once we’ve had an opportunity to try more of the recipes I’ll formulate a more formal book review of it.
Along with my greater exploration of my Swedish heritage and customs I’ve also taken on the goal of writing to grandma Irma weekly. I realized when writing her thank you for my birthday card last week that once you blow the font up 20pt and bold it that it doesn’t take that much writing to make a decent letter and as long as it is large and bold she can read it much easier than we can talk on the phone. I can also send along full-page photos so she can see what I’m up to. Last week I sent her some Chicken Soup for the Souls that I dubbed to tapes and two photos of me and my shawl. This week I’m going to send a picture of our bullar and ask her if she remembers great-great aunt Emma making anything similar.