Most Swedish flavours are related to the way food was preserved in olden times. Slaughtering was done in the fall, and in order to preserve meat and fish during the long winter they were dried, smoked or salted.
Acidification and sugar-curing were other methods of preservation. In the past, sour milk or whey was used for acidification; later, wine vinegar was introduced from Germany. In Sweden, vinegar is produced from alcohol that is allowed to ferment into acetic acid and is mixed with water. This produces a completely colourless and alcohol-free vinegar that is not made anywhere else in the world.
Sugar and vinegar are used in the pickling of herring, but also for vegetables such as cucumber, beetroots, mushrooms and tomatoes. Some dishes are seasoned with sugar, or treacle and vinegar, such as dillkött
(boiled mutton or veal with dill sauce), bruna bönor
(Swedish brown beans), gravlax
(cured salmon) and sillbullar med korintsås
(herring balls with currant sauce). It is said that, apart from China, Sweden is the only country to make sweet-sour dishes.
Drying is less common nowadays, except for reindeer meat. On the other hand, we have many smoked foodstuffs, primarily salmon, eel and Baltic herring, and of course sausages, pork, ham and all kinds of meat.
Salted or sugar-salted pork and beef form a part of plain Swedish fare. The Christmas ham is sugar-salted, for instance. We also use this method for herring and for curing gravlax
Swedish flavours also include dill, which is used abundantly, as are parsley and chives, mustard, allspice, bay leaf, horseradish and treacle, a liquid solution of sugar. Anchovies, small spiced sprats not to be confused with Mediterranean anchovies, can also be used to season sauces, casseroles and fish dishes.
Visitors from abroad are usually surprised to find that we use lingonberry sauce to accompany meatballs, black pudding, Baltic herring and other dishes. Could this be evidence of our love of the sweet-sour? Lingonberries were in any case a significant source of vitamin C long before our need of vitamins was known.
©oenoforos. Christine Samuelson.