A family recipe from family across the pond.
In sixth grade history class, everyone had to complete a standard family tree, which was supposed to teach us . . . well, I’m not sure what it was supposed to teach us. That our ancestors were part of history, I guess. I had it pretty easy, as my great-aunt had already done the genealogy for my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, tracing our line back to Dolly Madison (valid), and with some major lacunae, William the Conqueror (not so valid). My maternal grandfather’s family was Swedish – his father, my great-great-grandfather, came to America from Sweden in the early part of the century. And when I was a seventh-grader – just a year after the Family Tree Showdown in history class – two of our relatives from Sweden, Svante and Per, came to visit us in Oregon.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the visit. I was sick for part of the time, which meant I couldn’t go white-water rafting with the rest of the family. That’s about as far as my memory goes. We’ve continued to trade Christmas gifts and letters with our relations from across the pond, though, and last year Svante sent a red-and-white checked cookbook with recipes – all converted from European measurements to American cups and teaspoons – for traditional Swedish cakes and cookies. The best part was the fact that his letter, typewritten in nearly perfect English that put my broken college-level Spanish to shame, walked us through all his favorite recipes, including the ones made often by his mother, Gard-Marie. I tried my hand at a few of the recipes, including sugar-free almond shells that we filled with strawberries and whipped cream for my diabetic grandfather, but that was before the era of Especially Edible. So this year, when Svante sent me a potholder tied up with a blue-and-yellow Swedish flag ribbon, I figured that was a sign from the universe to pick up the cookbook and say “thank you” for the potholder via a blog post.
It took me awhile to pick my first recipe. Most of the entries in the cookbook are as simple as my great-grandmother’s recipe for fruitcake – minimal ingredients, though with more directions than anything scrawled on the old index card from my grandma. Flour, butter, and almonds are all standouts. So it seemed perfectly natural to choose something called “Farmers’ Cookies” that Svante remembered his grandmother Astrid making often.
They didn’t come together easily. At first, the dough was too dry – I almost wished I’d stuck to my lazy ways and melted the butter instead of cutting it into the flour cold. Figuring that any combination of flour and butter bears at least some resemblance to pie crust, I added some cold water . . . which made the dough soupy . . . which led to a couple more scoops of flour.
Surprisingly, the Farmers’ Cookies turned out great. I don’t know if they tasted anything like Astrid’s, but to my own taste testers (my parents), they tasted like crispy almond biscotti. I halved the recipe, rolling only one log of dough instead of the two specified in the recipe, since the yield – 70 cookies – would leave my tiny family swimming in almond rounds.
As my cookies baked, I flipped through the cookbook, searching for my next recipe. I’d like to try some sort of pastry or torte, neither of which I’ve tried before – much less in translation from the Swedish. But for now this post will serve as my “thank you” to Svante for two years of (unbeknownst to him) perfect gifts.
Tack så mycket. (That better be Swedish for “thanks very much,” Google Translate.)