BAKE ON SATURDAY
For many of the early settlers, each day had its own proper chores, especially for the women.
Saturday was the day when most pioneer women baked what the family would need for the coming week. It was an especially busy time when preparations were made for family and neighborhood holiday gatherings in December.
Norwegians in America adjusted to American ways but they maintained many Norwegian memories and customs especially with regard to food. Typical Norwegian dishes were retained and were especially associated with Christmas celebrations, which in pioneer days were observed for the entire Twelfth-night period, as in Norway.
Norwegians invited one another for Christmas celebrations where they had home-brewed ale, made from malt or molasses or sugar cane. Nearly everybody slaughtered for Christmas so that they could have meat and sausages. Then they had potatoes and flatbrød (flatbread) and smultringer (doughnuts) and sauce made from dried apples. And most of them had rømmegrøt (cream porridge). Of course, on these occasions transplanted Norwegians enjoyed telling stories about the old things in Norway.
Toward the end of the century lutefisk, dried Norwegian cod soaked in a lye solution, assumed a role as a characteristic Norwegian American dish. It was served at lodge meetings, festive banquets, and church suppers, most regularly during the Christmas season. The dish is served with lefse, a thin buttered pancake made from rolled dough using potatoes. Women serving at these festivities, especially revived the use of the colorful rural dress, the bunad, often wearing specific costumes of their old-country districts
As years passed, Norwegian cuisine was mainly limited to special occasions—family events like weddings and anniversaries, and such holidays as Christmas, when other customs were revived as well. The observance of the Christmas season began on Christmas Eve, when a big meal was served, followed by the reading of the Christmas gospel and the opening of gifts. Hymns and carols were sung later, accompanied in some families by the tradition of holding hands and circling the Christmas tree.
A typical old-country Christmas meal consisted of lutefisk, rømmegrøt, pork or mutton spare ribs with pork sausages, as well as fattigmann, a deep-fried diamond-shaped cookie; sandkake, a cookie made of butter, flour, and almonds, baked in small metal molds; krumkake, a wafer baked in a special iron and rolled into a cylindrical shape while still warm; julekake, a sweet bread containing raisins, citron, and cardamon, and the essential lefse, which appears in many regional variations.
Now Norwegian cookie baking activities, passed down from generation to generation, reflect on their deep historic roots and influences. Baking cookies first filled the pantry to guard against famine during fierce northern winters. The buttery treats were packed away in tins, awaiting the first Sunday in Advent and the official start of holiday entertaining. Welcoming travelers and guests with a fine feast demonstrated traditional Viking hospitality. The popularity of coffee in the 1860’s inspired after-dinner coffee table gatherings and in the 1880’s, finely milled flours, white sugar and spices became widely available to the average homemakers. Baking many kinds of cookies was also a carryover from the 19th century when the number reflected a family’s wealth and status.
It’s December and the serious Norwegian Christmas baking has begun.
God jul ! (“goo yewl”) – Merry Christmas