April is a capricious month in Stockholm. On one hand there is a hint of spring, with the brave appearance of snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodil blades piercing through the frozen soil, on the other there are brief flurries of snow, which dance and whirl with malevolent glee. Thick coats and boots are still needed when stepping out, and the lake waters surrounding the city are still partially frozen.
The clocks have been turned forward, and we welcome the rapidly increasing sunlight. The gravel, laid on the sidewalks to prevent one from slipping on the frozen snow, is swept away. This is traditionally a sign that winter is finally over, and we are advised not to clean the windows until the gravel-sweepers, which throw up much dust, have finished their work. The snow begins to recede, leaving thin strips in the parks, and in secret pockets in shady hollows.
Påsk (Easter) usually takes place in April, and the flower stalls begin to fill with Päskliljor (Easter lilies, or daffodils), tulips, sprigs of pussy-willow, and brightly-coloured feathers – a Swedish Easter tradition. The Swedes have been decorating birch trees since the 19th century, a practice that originally served as a reminder of Christ’s suffering.
As elsewhere in the Christian world, sweet shops display fabulous arrays of chocolates in every shape and form. Large cardboard eggs are filled with smaller chocolate eggs and other godis (candies) and given as gifts.
Fresh eggs are also enjoyed, hard-boiled and stuffed, or topped with mayonnaise, shrimps, caviar and chopped chives.
The Swedish children dress up as “witches”, with rosy-painted cheeks and freckles, wearing discarded adults’ clothes and gaily-coloured headscarves. They go from door to door procuring sweets, rather like the American children during Hallowe’en. Some families let the children search for the eggs they have hidden themselves, while others have the “Easter Witch” fly through and hide them in the garden. On Skärtorsdag (Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday), children can be seen with their painted faces and broomsticks.
This spring festival pre-dates Christian times, and legend has it that witches flew around on broomsticks and danced with the devil at a meadow called Blåkulla.
A traditional Swedish Easter smörgasbord (literally “sandwich table”, or buffet) is laid with a delicious array of delicacies: herrings – usually centreplace at every festive Swedish meal – prepared in a variety of different ways: with pickled onions, in a mustard sauce, with cloves and spices (Fransk sill – my favourite), with citrus peel, or in a rich creamy sauce, and served with boiled new potatoes, several cheeses, salmon tartar, slices of crispy baguette, and bowls of fish roe, chopped red onion, chopped spring onions, and crème fraîche.
Another typical festive dish is Solöga (Sun Eye), consisting of an attractive arrangement of anchovies (salted sprats), finely chopped red onion, pickled beetroot, dill and capers, topped with a raw egg yolk.
The table is laid with a bright yellow cloth and decorated with flowers, birch twigs and coloured feathers. Each guest receives a coloured hard-boiled egg, and a game ensues during which they tap the egg of their neighbour, while attempting to keep their own shell intact. The guest whose shell is still unbroken at the end of the game is the winner.
Traditional drinking songs, each accompanied by a shot of bitter snapps, are sung throughout the meal, ensuring hearty merriment and a warm feeling of fellowship.
Dessert is vanilla ice-cream served with hot liqourice or chocolate sauce.
At the English Church, St. Peter’s and St. Sigfrid’s, the Easter Sunday service is filled joy and light: candles are lit and bright yellow feathers and daffodils adorn the interior. There is much glorious music sung by the choir, one of which is accompanied by a trumpet.
The church is packed with worshipers from all over the English-speaking world, working in or visiting Stockholm. All have come to celebrate the joy of the Risen Christ. Pastor Nick encourages everyone to ring bells, blow party-blowers, and pop party-poppers in celebration of the Good News. Joyful hymns are sung, peace wished upon one another, and prayers are said for those less fortunate.
Afterwards, there is coffee and conversation in the hall, while the children rush around the garden, ablaze with Blåsippe, vintergäck, scilla and crocuses, in search of Easter eggs.
200 g smoked salmon
200 g gravad lax (prepared or cured salmon)
2 tablespoons dill
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoon crushed rose pepper
40 g red fish roe
Salt to taste
Red roe, lemon, white pepper
Chopped lettuce and dill to garnish
- Dice the salmon with a sharp knife
- Finely chop the dill and mix it in a bowl with the crème fraîche, mustard, rose pepper, salt and dill.
- Carefully fold in the salmon and the fish roe
- Serve the salmon mixture on a bed of chopped lettuce (or pieces of bread), and garnish with slices of lemon, pepper, dill and a dollop of red roe.
This serves as a delicious appetizer before dinner, served with halved, stuffed hard-boiled eggs.
JESSICA’S SEMLOR or FETTISDAGBULLAR (Shrove Tuesday SEMLA BUNS)
(makes 18 large or 30 small)
In Sweden there is a saying: Kärt barn har många namn, which means there we have many names for the things we love!
This is the case with the Mardi Gras (“fat Tuesday”) bun, or in Swedish Fastlagsbulle, Fettisdagsbulle or simply, Semla – plural Semlor. These buns begin appearing in the supermarkets and bakeries after New Year, reaching a crescendo in early March. Some eat their Semla with hot milk, in which case it is called Hetvägg (from the German heisse Wecken, as it was originally a wedge-shaped bun that was boiled, and eaten hot.) During the 19th century the centre of the bun was scooped out and filled with cream, marzipan or butter.
Set the oven to 200° C
2 tsp ground cardamom (kardemumma)
300 ml milk
50g fresh yeast
½ tsp salt
150g soft butter
1 egg, beaten
1100 -1200 ml flour
1. Melt the butter, add the milk and heat to 37° Celsius.
2. Crumble the yeast into a bowl and let it dissolve with the milk mixture adding the sugar, cardamom, salt and egg.
3. Add the flour (a little at a time) and work into a smooth dough. Let it rise to double the size under a towel for about 40-50 minutes.
4. When ready – turn out the dough on a floured table. Divide the dough into 18 pieces and roll them into round balls. (I prefer small ones so approx. 30).
5. Place them on baking paper on a baking tray and leave to rise under a kitchen towel for another 45-60 minutes.
6. When they have risen, brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 6-7 minutes.
HOME MADE ALMOND PASTE
250 g almonds, blanched
A touch of ground cardamom
Confectioner’s/icing sugar to taste
1. Blanch and peel the almonds, if not already blanched and peeled.
2. Crush the almonds to a fine powder in a blender.
3. Add sugar and cardamom and mix until it becomes a smooth paste. You can add a bit of cream to make it smoother. Once the buns have cooled. Cut out a triangular “hat” from each, and fill the hole with some of your home-made almond paste. Add some sweetened whipped cream on top of the filling, replace the “hat”, dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.
See Jessica’s website to learn more about her recipes, events and activities: http://www.tostockholm.com/