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by Lori Grossman

How long has it been since you whipped up a batch of pepperkaker? Or some mouth-watering krumkaker? If you've never tried (or even heard of) these Swedish delights, head for that hotbed of Scandinavian food and culture - the great state of Texas.

Immigrants came to Texas from many parts of Europe during the mid-to-late 1800's. German settlers made a large contribution to their new homeland, but Scandinavians made their mark, too.

Swedes found the area to the north and northeast of Austin to their liking, establishing colonies such as Govalle, Hutto, New Sweden, Manor, Manda and Lund. A smaller group of Norwegians settled in Bosque (pronounced "Bosk-ee") County to the west of Waco. The area, which includes the towns of Norse, Clifton and Cranfills Gap, is known today as the Norse Historical District.

The largest Danish colony was Danevang, located in Wharton County southwest of Houston. One Dane, Charles Zanco, arrived in Texas early enough to earn the distinction of being the only Scandinavian defender of the Alamo. Zanco died there on March 6, 1836, at the Battle of the Alamo.

These newcomers, far from home in a strange new land, found comfort in familiar customs and foods - especially at Christmas. For Swedes, the festivities begin on December 13, St. Lucia's Day. To honor the young girl martyred in the 4th century, the oldest daughter of the family rises early and serves her parents coffee and sweet buns. Traditionally, the crown of greenery on her head would be studded with seven lighted candles. The custom has been updated a bit - the candles now run on batteries. Local Swedish organizations sponsor Lucia pageants or festivals in the Lutheran church.

Since Danevang was founded in 1894, a unique custom has been observed. In homes and at the town meeting hall, celebrants of all ages form circles around a traditionally decorated Christmas tree and sing carols while dancing around the tree. Twelve-foot-long garlands with small national flags are popular tree decorations among Scandinavian Texans. Straw ornaments, including stars and goats, are old favorites. They have a special significance, as straw is believed to have magical qualities.

Texans of Norwegian descent start the festivities on the first weekend of December with the Norwegian Country Christmas celebration in Clifton. Folks enjoy a nighttime Christmas parade (complete with Santa, who arrives in a Viking ship), lots of crafts demonstrations, folk dancing and great food. The highlight for many is the annual Lutefisk Dinner, where the traditional fish dish (which took early settlers days to prepare) is served along with special side dishes.

One custom dear to any Scandinavian is the "little people" or elves (smaller Scandinavian forerunners of Santa Claus). Norwegians and Danes call them Julenissar; the Swedes have Juletomtar. Finns refer to the mischievous creatures as Joulu Pukki. Children leave a bowl of rice porridge - not cookies -- for them, then check on Christmas morning to see if the bowl is empty.

The aforementioned rice porridge (or pudding) is enjoyed by all Scandinavians - not just the "little people." By tradition, an almond is hidden in the bowl, and then it's served into smaller bowls. Whoever finds the almond is supposed to have good luck in the coming year.

Cookies are a special part of any Scandinavian Christmas. Gwen Workman grew up in a small Minnesota town and helped her Norwegian mother make many variations of Scandinavian cookies. "The big thing with Christmas is the cookies," she says. "A good Scandinavian hostess will have seven different kinds of cookies prepared for the holiday season. Why seven? I can't tell you; it's just tradition."

Is there any cookie that is particularly popular with all Scandinavians? Workman has her opinion. "Probably the sandbakkel (similar to our sand tarts) would be more universal. Each country has its own favorite. Norwegians have a cookie that's deep fat fried, called fattigman. The Danes make a similar cookie, called klener."

And the Swedes? "Probably spritz is the most popular - it has many variations. Or the pepperkaker, a Swedish ginger cookie. This cookie is very traditional. From it comes gingerbread people. They are used as tree decorations, too."

Gwen and husband, Jim, moved to Plano, Texas in 1985. "I suffered from a bit of culture shock. Every aspect of life seemed to differ from what I had known in Minnesota. I began using my cookies as an icebreaker."

When the Workmans opened the Wooden Spoon, a Scandinavian shop and cultural center, Gwen offered each visitor coffee and a cookie. Soon, she felt more at home and now jokingly refers to herself as "Texwegian."

Along with co-author Virginia Jonas, Ms. Workman wrote a cookbook, A Cooky Journal. I've included two of her cookie recipes. The first - Pepperkaker (or gingersnap) - is not only yummy, it's also easy to make. Krumkaker - a special Christmas cookie - is delicious and beautiful to look at, but you must have a krumkaker iron to make it. Both the krumkaker iron (subject to availability) and the cookbook can be ordered by phone (1-800-2-NORDIC) or from their website (www.woodenspoon.ws).

Pepperkaker (Gingersnap)

Recipe by Gwen Workman
  • 1-1/2 cups buttery Crisco
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
Beat together the Crisco and sugar until well incorporated. Set aside.

Stir together the molasses and eggs. Set aside.

Combine remaining dry ingredients. Set aside.

Add the dry ingredients to the Crisco mixture alternately with the molasses mixture, mixing well.

Take a tablespoon of dough, roll it into a ball, dip in white sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes. Makes 4-6 dozen cookies.


Recipe by Gwen Workman
(You will need a krumkaker iron to make these. Also, a wooden cone or other cone-shaped object to wrap the cookies around while they cool.)
    Beat until fluffy and lemon-colored
  • 3 whole eggs Add:
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon flavoring (lemon, almond, vanilla or cardamom)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Beat the eggs until fluffy and lemon-colored. Gradually add remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Heat krumkaker iron according to manufacturer's directions. It will make a difference if you are using an electric or non-electric iron.

Put a teaspoon of batter on the iron, and close the lid. Bake until slightly browned, or when light on iron goes out. Remove from iron and wrap around a wooden cone. Cool. Remove from cone.

Continue this process until all batter is used.

Store in airtight container. These may be eaten plain, or filled with whipped cream and fruit.

Note: Fill just before serving to prevent the krumkaker from becoming soft. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

You might want to put a few of these aside for Santa - the rest will go fast!

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