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Food Posture

There wasn't much variety of food in the good old days, but what we had must have been useful and strengthening. We became strong and had health, mostly perhaps due to the fact that we were moving all the time and had to help on the farm with what we could manage and in that way got a good appetite.

As far as I remember, we mostly lived on pancakes, pork, herring and potatoes. Vegetables came on the table when they were in season and when we sometimes bought canned peas and carrots. Something I deeply loathed was rye flour porridge. The reason for that was probably that when the porridge was stirred, Kåra-Jonas took me up on his lap and took a firm grip on one ear, brought a spoon blade to my mouth and twisted the ear until I opened my mouth. These days I suffer that porridge much better.

Usually the wives in Stene and Kåsjö baked thin bread and palt twice a year and as the bakery in Kåsjö was only 100 meters from the small school, we slipped in after school to get a soft cake with butter and mess butter straight from the oven. A "provost" of rolled up soft cake with lots of mess butter on it was a blessing. It was a little science to get the flatbread the right way. The oven had to be swept clean and then fired in advance with selected dry wood (it would be spruce) so that the entire masonry was warm through. The dough was put together the day before and shipped together with extra flour for the baking and extra firewood to keep the heat going in the oven. Dough blanks had to be arranged, rolled out to a millimeter thickness and then the creamer came with the large spatula, pryed the bread cake, which was upwards of a meter in diameter, onto the spatula and then quickly into the oven. After a few seconds, the turning shovel would go under the cake and then it was turned over and ready in about a minute. Up on the side table to be folded and put away. It was a collaboration that was well rehearsed. The items were neither too big nor too small, the rolling was the most important part of the whole thing, and the baking had to be carefully supervised. I was very proud that my mother was always rolling - there was little rank in that job. Baking ovens are becoming scarce these days and I am very happy to hear that BaggaBörje, who married my cousin, built a brand new baking oven to make her happy.

Blodpalt was - and is - a godsend that I miss very much in a distant land. Boiled in salted water until soft and served with white sauce with allspice and fried pork with lots of roasting fat. Scary to think what the cholesterol professors would think of that diet. It was also baked what we called Pingstvänspalt, i.e. blood without blood. This one was less popular - at least from my point of view.

Another dish that has been given a new lease of life is pear red with pork - nowadays also served in the better restaurants in Hälsingland. I have tried to make pear root myself both down here in Dubai and at home in England, but the difficulty is getting hold of old potatoes. We had our potato cellars where there was always what was needed.

Herring were bought in barrels and eaten all year round. It was quite rancid at the bottom, but it was eaten. My mother used to fry it and pour milk into the frying pan so that it became a lovely frying cloud to mash in the potatoes. The art of putting herring in vinegar was appreciated and many times it became the whole dinner - pickled herring with boiled potatoes and boiled egg.
Fresh fish was scarce. It is true that my father's uncle laid nets for pike and bream, but it was seldom that it came to the table, although I remember that my mother made fish balls from the bream and pork mince mixed.

I worked during the 70s down in Varberg on the west coast and became familiar with the fishermen down there and used to order in advance a bag of salted herring, some cod and a bucket of fresh herring - the latter frozen in barns - which I picked up at 4 o'clock on in the morning and took home to father and mother. Dad had a bit of a hard time with the fresh herring – "it doesn't quite taste the way it should", used as he was to the extra-salty variety.
When, after a car accident in 1965, I was on sick leave for a few years, I fished for big whitefish and whitefish up in Storsjön in Stavsätra, Harsasjön and Stora Dalsjon, which my father thought was good. He was a little suspicious of the whitefish at first, remembering the whitefish that the farmers used to fish for in Norsviken during his childhood. That fish was salted down and it also became very rancid and salty at the end.
I also had the advantage of working up Kiruna in the early 60s and on one occasion went up to Rastaujaure towards the Norwegian border with a happy fishing gang. We lived in a reindeer herder's cabin belonging to the Per Blind patch at Ommasjaure. That lake was incredibly "fishy". Usual morning routine was for the gang to walk down to the beach, one man made a fire and boiled water, one put on the coffee kettle and two cast out and caught fish. No one ever asked IF we would get anything, rather if it would be grayling or char. Then we had breakfast of fish and hard bread sandwiches and drank one or three cups of coffee cask (coffee laced with schnapps) and the day began. Not bad.

The result of that fishing trip was a bag of 35 kilos of salted grayling that I sent home with a train driver on SJ who promised that when they stopped in Järvsö he would tell the nearest person that they should call home to Kåra and request collection. Fortunately, Bengt Hultman from the neighboring farm Stenshammar was on the platform and he took over the bag. That hair made my dad happy for over half a year.

Strömming was relatively close by - 5 miles to Hudiksvall. In the old days, the farmers used to drive across the forest to Hudiksvall with a horse and sleigh and buy stream, As that town also had the nearest liquor store, the ration was also bought out, and it happened that the driver was not quite sober when he got home. Later, we had an old man, called the strømming dealer in Åkern, who from time to time had a few boxes of strømming delivered by car to Järvsö. He tied the sturgeon box to the bicycle and rode around the villages selling his sturgeon and the joy was great when sturgeon flounder was won for supper.

At Christmas we shook one or two pigs, 8 to 12 sheep (of which we sold all but two) and if suitable, a calf. The slaughter itself was then carried out at home by one of the butchers active in Järvsö - either Gösta or Gustav Wilkesson or Nisse Björk. A hell of a fire to get hot water and bring out tubs and buckets for blood, entrails and other useful things. The bodies were hung overnight and dismembered the next day. More tubs and more buckets. Since it was customary for the butcher to have a butcher's soup and he usually butchered four or five farms per day, he could become a little uncertain in the step forward in the evening. Then there was chopping and canning and in later years, freezing. In Järvsö in the 50s there was a German immigrant named Zurchner who claimed to have invented the preservation method which was very practical and was used by many households.
To begin with, meat and jams were preserved in metal cans that were about 15 cm high, fitted with sealed lids and boiled. When the jar was empty, Zurshner, the next year, cut off the top piece, cleaned the jar and used it again. In the end we had jars no more than a few centimeters high – suitable for liver pate.
When the canning and packaging were over, it was time for the sausage boil. All the animal skulls were scrubbed clean, kidneys and hearts were washed and everything was put into the biggest pot we had with some onions and spices and left to cook for 4 to 5 hours. After cooling, all the meat was cleaned from the bones and ground down with additional onions and raw potatoes. The kidneys somehow got lost in the handling because both Dad and us boys loved the foreign taste of boiled, semi-warm kidney. The ground meat was mixed in the same large pot with watered barley grits and cooked to the appropriate consistency. Goodness.
For Christmas, "sausages" were also cooked – a white type, groat sausage, and a black, blood sausage. The sausage was cooked in a linen sausage skin that was probably used for several 10s of years. My sister found the recipe for this sausage in an old cookbook. The question is whether nowadays we have the time and desire to spend a day to uphold the traditions. From the sausage, mother made semolina and blood pancakes to be eaten with pork on Christmas morning after the Christmas service in church.

I can still remember the smell and taste of these favorites – sausage, palt, sausage, groat cake, pear root and spare ribs. We lived well even if it was the result of our parents' incredible toil - early and late.

Kåra Lars-Erik