Heavenly baking large part of a Norwegian Christmas

Christmas Traditions > Heavenly baking large part of a Norwegian Christmas

Merry Christmas or God Jul as they would say in the home of Toby and Barb Dahl. Barb’s talent is well known, not only in the White Fox area, but all across Saskatchewan for her fabulous artwork. What only a lucky few know though, is that she is also talented at cooking a great traditional Norwegian Christmas meal.

When Barb and Toby got married 47 years ago, he had been in Canada for about three years. They went to his native Norway for their honeymoon and it just happened to be over Christmas. Barb tasted the food first hand and got to know the culture.

“It was a great experience,” said Barb “in order to adapt to someone else’s culture, you really have to know where they come from and why they do the things they do. Christmas is a big celebration there. It’s not huge in the gift giving area, but it’s huge in the traditional foods.”

And adapt she did. The numbers vary from year to year, but they have served Christmas Eve supper for up to 40 friends and family members. In fact, when their house was built, they specifically built it with a large archway between the dining room and the living room so they could have room to put a long table up for Christmas. “Everybody sits together, including the children,” Barb says firmly.

The table is set up with 12 silver candlesticks, which are lit for the meal. “When the lights are out and the candles are lit it is bright as day,” said Toby “it is beautiful.” Since singing is so much nicer than just saying it, grace is always sung by Toby in Norwegian.

Barb makes a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve supper. “Pork ribs, but not cut like we do, they are cut into cubes with the bone in and the rind off,” she explains. “The ribs and sausage are put in the oven and served with cranberry sauce and Norwegian sauerkraut that is like a sweet and sour fresh cabbage with caraway seeds. The sauerkraut is left simmering on the back of the stove for about five hours so it gets the flavor of the caraway. It has a heavenly aroma that fills the house.” Usually potatoes that are boiled with the skins on are also served.

Then comes dessert! They usually have what they call Varden’s Best, which Barb claims is the world’s best. It is a thin cake with meringue and a cloudberry-whipped cream mixture on top. Cloudberries are like a raspberry except they are yellow (they are red before they ripen and as they ripen, they turn yellow). They are very seedy and grow close to the ground. Cloudberry is very hard to find which is why this dessert can not always be served. This year they found some in Edmonton so it will be on the menu.

Christmas Eve is the big celebration with Christmas day being the time to relax. “They just lean back and take er easy,” laughs Toby. The Dahl’s have started their own family tradition of having lutefisk for Christmas supper when they celebrate the day at home. This is codfish that is cured in lye and put on racks to dry for preservation. You used to have to buy it dried, but now you can buy it presoftened. Lutefisk has to be cooked in cheesecloth because it tends to disintegrate quickly if it is boiled too long.

“You serve it with melted butter and salt and pepper and it smells terrible and it tastes really bland and really good” Barb says. “People could be offended by the smell and the texture (it looks jellylike) but once you get past that it is good. You do have to acquire a taste for a lot of the foods.”

The Christmas baking usually starts in October so Barb can have it ready for the open house she has in her art gallery. She likes to set it out so people can sample it. There is a lot of work involved. Pretty much everything, with the exception of the Norwegian Christmas cake, is done individually. Each piece has to be rolled and cooked.

When they came back from Norway, Barb had a hard time adapting the recipes she had learned from Toby’s relatives. The flour that was used there at that time was much heavier and less refined than what was available here. They had different yeast and their measurements were different.

“There was a lot of trial and error and frustration,” recalls Barb. She laughs as she tells the story of the first time she made donuts. “We needed to use horn salt which is a baking ammonia. We put it in according to the recipe, or so we thought, and when we dropped them into the water, they disintegrated! They just boiled away.”

But she persevered and learned how to make them perfectly. From there, she went on to learn to make the kromkaker. “You need a special pan to make those,” explains Barb. “A thin batter is made and teaspoon full is poured into the pan. The lid is then closed which squashes the dough and both sides are heated by turning the pan on the burner. Once it is brown, you take it out with a knife and flip it over to Toby and he rolls it onto a cone-shaped stick. If you don’t work fast, it will harden and crack.”

The diegoro also takes a special pan that will make three at a time. Like all electrical items from Norway, this pan has a 220 amp power cord. The Dahl’s had a 220-amp plug built into their kitchen to accommodate this. The dough for diegoro is rolled out, cut to put into the pan and the lid is closed to cook it.

Another great favorite is the lefse. It is made quite simply with potatoes (russet only or it gets gooey), salt, and flour but it is an all day job. A special grooved rolling pin that leaves air pockets is used to roll out the dough. Then you need to use another special griddle because regular griddles don’t get hot enough. The Dahls have one of their own and they usually borrow one from Toby’s brother so they can have two cooking at once. They make a lot using two five-gallon pails of potatoes. This year they ended up with 160 lefse. Lefse is usually eaten with butter or sugar sprinkled on it. Some people however, like to roll up a sausage or other meat inside of it, which turns it into lefsebus.

The recipes have come gradually. Once Barb gets a recipe and perfects it, it is added to the yearly baking list. She has learned a lot from Toby’s relatives. When his oldest sister came to Canada to visit, Toby asked her to make an old favorite he remembered called toebrod. She was happy not only to make it, but also to teach Barb how, and now it too is made every year.

All of the work involved is worth it. The baking is heavenly, it just melts in your mouth. People would enjoy it no matter what culture they come from. So if you ever wanted to try something different, talk to Barb. If she has the time, she could teach you a lot.