MEALS AND CUSTOMS
Once again, the predominant word for this
discussion on meal patterns is "ritual." Incredible as it may seem for
such a sophisticated people, the Swedes delight not only in drinking
according to prescribed ritual (as in the shoal tradition) but they eat
certain foods in a specifically prescribed way, and they prepare festive
foods exactly in the traditional way following centuries-old patterns.
The ritual of the smorgasbord is but one example. Accompanied by suitable
skoals, salty herring dishes with tiny potatoes are always the first foods
eaten from the huge array of selections. Each subsequent "course" follows
a special order (never varied) and is eaten from a separate clean plate:
other fish dishes and cold marinated salads, cold meats and varieties of
pickles, a selection of hot dishes containing meats, eggs, fish and
finally, on still another plate, a dessert of sliced cheeses and fruits.
It is even more interesting that this type of ordered procedure also
applies to individual dishes. The familiar smaland ostkaka (previously
made at home in a copper mold, but now available in stores everywhere in
Sweden) is a rich but delicate molded cheesecake savored as a special
dessert. Even at a party, the custom is for each person to taste a
spoonful of the various ostkakas on display, but to take their taste from
the center of the mold so that the cake may be fruit-filled the next day
and served as a new dessert.
The potato dumplings of northern Sweden demand their own special ritual,
too. A wedge is cut into the dumpling and the center filling of ground
seasoned pork is removed to be immediately replaced with a golden lump of
butter. As the butter melts in its warm potato cavern, the diner cuts off
small pieces of filling and dumpling and after dunking each into the
melted butter, pops them into the mouth.
Aside from carefully preserved traditions in drinking and eating, the
Swedes also have a cherished way of thanking their hostess for a meal. The
guest to the left of the hostess expresses thanks first, followed in order
by every person around the table.
There are eating rituals for certain days of the week as well.
Traditionally, on Thursday night, it is said that everyone in Sweden, from
the king on down, enjoys a supper of yellow pea soup with pork, followed
by tiny pancakes with lingonberry preserves. And on every Tuesday during
Lent, the dessert can be counted on to be buns filled with almond cream (semlor)
enjoyed with a glass of milk.
The Swedish day begins with coffee, which is essential for breakfast. One
or two open-face sandwiches with coffee will likely take the hardworking
Swedes happily off to their jobs, but those at home and children will
often have yeast coffee cakes or bread and butter with their morning
coffee. Children often take milk.
Lunch is most likely to be a small basic
version of the smorgasbord called simply sos, meaning herring, cheese,
and bread with butter. Or it may be the full splendor of the smorgasbord
The evening meal, most often taken at home together with the family, is
the hot meal of the day, often featuring a satisfying soup or a hearty
meat or fish casserole always accompanied by potatoes. It finishes with a
dessert and strong black coffee.
Throughout the day, coffee and pastry shops, sandwich shops, and fruit
stands are all arrayed to tempt the unwary: It is certain that the Swede
will have at least one coffee and pastry bread in the day. And at the
close of a pleasant evening with guests, there is sure to be an offering
once again of coffee and pastries or a savory hot casserole with beer as a
nattmatt (nightcap) to assure that the guests will not suffer hunger pangs
on the way home!