My favorite part of the holidays is the food. It starts with a Thanksgiving feast and ends with a New Year’s Day brunch. For me, it’s no longer about one specific day. Instead, I reach out to friends and family the entire month to share a holiday meal.
When I was a child in Chicago, the holiday dinner had a Swedish theme since my grandparents immigrated through Ellis Island from Sweden. On Christmas Eve, a large table would be set with fine china, silver flatware, and crystal goblets. The kids would be sitting on thick telephone books. We’d always start with an appetizer of tomato juice with a lemon wedge. Then came the herring, Swedish meatballs, Swedish rye bread known as Limpa, and the dreaded smelly lutefisk. (I was always thankful they cooked that in the basement. Just catching a whiff of the lye-soaked fish coming up the stairs was enough.)
That was a long time ago. Since then, to keep with tradition, a family member will wake up at 6 a.m. on December 23 and stand in line outside the Swedish Bakery in Andersonville (in Chicago) to buy cardamom dough coffee cake with almond and cinnamon sugar filling, Limpa bread, and other Swedish delights to share on Christmas Eve.
In February 2017, the bakery closed after 88 years in business. When the owner was asked by a reporter why the bakery closed, he said, “The food scene in Chicago is competitive. People are not interested in history. They’re interested in making their own history, and that’s understandable.”
So, this year we’ll be attempting to make our own cardamom coffee cake and Limpa bread. Who knows, maybe passing on the “baking experience” will inspire the young family members to keep the tradition alive. One can only hope.