Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Christmas Fare

Vilhelm Moberg (1898-1973), The Settlers, tr. Gustaf Lannestock (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995), pp. 117-118:
Ulrika offered her guests old-fashioned Swedish Christmas dishes: boiled pig's head, preserved and rolled pork, stewed pork, meatballs, chopped calf liver. She had made sausage of lamb and veal, prepared sweet cheese and cheesecake. This was not ordinary food, it was holiday abundance, not meager, everyday fare but sumptuous Christmas dishes—the Christmas delicacies of Sweden served to the Swedes in the St. Croix Valley.

The guests helped themselves from the smörgåsbord and found places to sit down with their overflowing plates. They ate in silence. The fat rolled pork melted in their mouths, their tongues savored the aftertaste, the jellied pork from the pig's head trembled on their plates, the smell from the sweet cheese penetrated their nostrils. It was a revelation: they had forgotten this taste. They had forgotten how wonderful all these dishes were. But after a few bites memory returned and they ate in silence and reverence; it was the taste of Christmas in Sweden!

Only a few times had they eaten these dishes since they left their homeland. After having been away for so long this feast became to them a return home, as it were. They saw, they tasted, they smelled Christmas in the homeland. It penetrated their eyes, mouths, and noses. The Christmas fare they devoured affected them more than physically—it penetrated the souls of the immigrants.

Memories from that land where they had eaten these dishes every Christmas filled the minds of the guests. A vision of that land suddenly fled before them with Christmas tables and festivities, with close relatives, intimate neighbors, forgotten friends. In their vision, they sat down with people they would never again see; they were sitting in a company who no longer belonged to the living. They remembered that year, and that Christmas, and that party—what festivity and hilarity! But she? She was at that party, and she is dead now. And he? I'll never see him again.

To the Swedish settlers in Minnesota Territory Ulrika's party became a party of memories; their old-country past caught up with them in the new, dwelt with them in this room. Ulrika's table brought back their homeland in concrete reality. They had left that country, but the country was still with them.

Here they sat at memory's table, in the company of the living and the dead. And they talked of the country they never again would see.
In the second paragraph, I asked myself if the second plates ("trembled on their plates") was a mistake for palates, but I checked and tallriken (plates) is in the Swedish original.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?