A manifeasto from Nene Ormes, new Cooking the Books Correspondent

This summer, Malmo, Sweden-based author and foodie Nene Ormes and I were talking about food (as one does) and fiction (ditto). I mentioned to her my desire to widen the table at Cooking the Books. Her response was brilliant and delicious, as you might expect. I’m so pleased to share with you the news that Nene will be joining Cooking the Books, bringing tasty literary treats from Scandanavia now and then.

we are very excited.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce the wonderful Nene Ormes by letting her tell you a little about herself.

Cooking the Books goes to Scandinavia, or a Manifeasto

By Nene Ormes (twitter / blog)

When asked about Swedish food culture I immediately reach for the old things, the festive things, the feast of old. We see a lot of it represented in books and movies, in fairytale and myth.

We have the smorgasbord of our Christmases that echoes the feasts of our viking ancestry, with mead and pork, as well as that of our farming communities before industrialisation, with the celebration of lighter times to come. Christmas spreads have been immortalized in literature for old and young and we still serve most of the things on that were on the table for Christmas and Easter in the 1800s – pickled herring, boiled egg, ham or lamb, meatballs and sausages, other pickled stuff, a sweet brew called ‘must’ (that were, and still are, so popular with Swedes that Coca Cola couldn’t compete), bread and cheese, and the sweetest sweets for dessert.

Our summers also have their own food traditions: Midsummer’s Eve with pickled herring (don’t be surprised), potatoes, sausages, strawberries and cream. Crayfish pemiere in August that consists of mostly drinking and crayfish, followed by the incomprehensible tradition of sour pickled fish and it’s premiere (very much an acquired taste). All of this is served with an insane amount of alcohol, and the drinking culture isn’t something that we can dispute.

But even if the old Sweden is the one with at least five kinds of pickled herring for the feast tables, and meatballs so famous even Muppets eat them, and a culture of serving seven kinds of small cookies and one soft cake for any birthday coffee worth it’s name, it’s not the only part of our food culture and it’s not the thing you face when visiting Sweden.

We also have extremely bland Chinese food that was formalized in Sweden the 70’s to fit Swedish tastes, we have pizza joints everywhere that always serve pizza with fruit on it, we have kebab and falafel as part of our late night post-party snacks or our fast-food lunches, and porridge or hard-bread probably is the most Swedish of breakfasts, not to mention the fish-egg paste in a tube, dried-pea soup on Thursdays (always followed by pancakes or waffles), Sunday steak dinners, noodle soup as student fare and fruit break in pre-school. All of this is typical Swedish for me.

But of all the things that says Sweden food culture most to me it’s our ‘fika’.

Even if I’m proud that we’ve exported words and concepts such as smorgasbord and ombudsman, it’s fika that I wish were commonly known. Fika means to sit down with coffee or tea, maybe something sweet to eat, and have an extended chat. A break with coffee. Not a running cup, not an espresso over the counter, but a sit-down over a hot beverage and some good talking.

Coffee culture is very much part of Sweden and we are among the top consumers in the world, and if you spent any winter time here you’d know why: it gets depressingly dark and cold and dreary, we need all the pick-me-up we can get. Our beurocracy runs on the stuff, people on parental leave have a cup in one hand and their stroller in the other, no meal is complete if there isn’t coffee at the end and the Swede abroad is know to ask for Swedish coffee at the hotels no matter where they take their vacation (embarrassing, but there it is). We take it strong and often and the most common thing on any city centre street is a coffee shop.

The glue that holds our society together is very much coffee-flavoured.

So when Fran asked me if I would like to do guest posts on Swedish books I said “Does a municipal bureaucrat drink coffee five times a day?” which of course means yes, and I hope to find writers that will have a fika with me over their books and all the food in them. And I hope you’ll find them interesting as well.

(Note from Fran: Nene’s Innaugural Cooking the Books Recipe is something I asked for specifically, a Swedish favorite of mine.) 

Kung Oskars pepparkakor (King Oscar’s gingerbread)
This is the recipe my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandmother, Kerstin Möller, used to do in the late 1800’s and the family have done since then. My maternal grandmother’s father, also named Oskar as it happens, preferred these to any store bought gingerbread since these held their shape when dipped in coffee (as kids we do it in milk), while all others just fell apart (and honestly, who want cookie mush at the bottom of their cup?).
Since it’s an old recipe it’s easy on the spices and my mother (the fourth generation to use the recipe) would suggest increasing the spices a bit, maybe as much as half again. It’s also a recipe for a large batch of cookies, but the dough will keep in the fridge at least a week, usually two, so whenever the need strikes you just take out a piece of it and make new cookies. You can also freeze the dough and then it’ll keep a lot longer.
This is what you’ll need (and the measurements is in metric):
3 deciliter whole cream (what we call whip cream)
3 deciliter dark syrup (like molasses but from sugar beets instead of cane)
1 egg
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
500-600 gram sugar (granulated white sugar)
400 gram butter
1,5 tablespoon bikarbonat (is that bicarbonate or baking soda?)
1 kilo wheat flour + another 1 kilo for rolling the cookies
This is what you’ll do (note that the degree is celsius):
Whip the cream until hard, then stir in a whipped egg, the syrup, spices and suger.
In another bowl mix bicarbonate and flour and then mash in the butter (with your fingers) until it’s finely granulated.
Blend the flour mix into your syrup batter until it’s all even and smooth and flexible. Let it rest in a cool place (in the fridge under clingwrap) over night.
Try not to eat too much of the batter. It’s hard, but try.
To actually make the cookies you need to blend the dough with an even amount of flour so you can roll it out. This is very much something you get a feel for while doing it and it’s hard to explain. But the dough will become very pliable while you work in the flour and when you can roll it out really, REALLY, thin you have the right amount.
When my grandmother did them she used a tablecloth with a waxed surface and a red and white checkered print, and when we could see the pattern through the dough it’s thin enough! Cut out the cookies with any shapes you like. These make better hearts and flowers and stars than men and women (since it’s so thin the legs and arms will burn when you bake them).
Bake them in the middle, lower middle, of the oven at 200 degrees celsius for 4-5 minutes.
If you haven’t eaten too much of the dough (I won’t hold it against you) and you’ve done your work with the rolling pin and the flour, you should get a minimum of 500 cookies, and my mother have made as much as 800 from one batch. So you can see why it’s something to stick in the freezer and use little by little. Of course it depends on the size you cut them into as well, but they are supposed to be on the small side, about 5-6 centimeters across. All the better to eat many of them.


Nene and Fran at LonCon, summer 2014!
Nene and Fran plotting at LonCon, summer 2014!

Nene Ormes published her first novel, Udda verklighet, in 2010, and her second, Särskild, in 2012. She says: “It’s urban fantasy set in Malmö, my home town and Sweden’s third-largest city.” She has also participated in some anthologies on different subjects, for example one with feminist voices in Malmö. She served on the Tiptree jury for 2013.Nene is a board member of the Swedish Authors Association and works in a genre bookstore called Science Fiction Bokhandeln. She spreads the good word about genre books while doing lectures in schools and on libraries as well as in the store and on the blog there. Born and raised in the southern part of Sweden, her first degree is as an archaeologist and she spent a handful of years as a tourguide in Egypt, among other places. She does a podcast on writing fantastical fiction in Swedish with a bunch of other authors spread out over Sweden and Finland (from their Swedish speaking minority) called Fantastisk Podd (http://fantastiskpodd.se).

She is steeped in food culture of the old school and the cultural heritage of cream and butter. She’s also a sucker for “Swedish christmas treats like mulled wine and pepparkakor (served with cheese, blue or green cheese for those so inclined), almond pastries with cream and jam, marzipan bread with dried fruit and rice pudding with frozen strawberry slush. Mmm… Sooooon… And I love herring. And anything smoked.”

Nene will return soon to Cooking the Books. Meantime, you can find her at neneormes.wordpress.com (all in Swedish), on twitter: @lindorm (mostly in English), on Facebook: /nene.ormes (mostly in Swedish, but some in English), and at her agent’s (information on books in English:)  http://www.grandagency.se/authors/nene_ormes/index.htm

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