The social kitchen

Welcome to the Swedish kitchen. It is not a sanctuary for a chef but rather a family room where people combine cooking with socialising, eating and drinking.

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Photo: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

The hob is the hub

Swedes like to meet – and cook – in the kitchen. That’s why flats and houses built today often have the kitchen as part of the dining area or living room, and not closed up behind walls.

The Swedish kitchen invites families and friends to prepare dinner together, each according to his or her abilities. A child might help out stirring a pot or setting the table, while an older sister or brother might chop vegetables. Even if you are not taking an active part, you are likely to keep the others company, and at least help to sample the food.

Pick it yourself

Swedish food culture is based on great access to local fresh ingredients provided by a countryside that ranges from farmlands to forests and includes a long coastline and a multitude of rivers and lakes. Most of Sweden’s open space remains essentially untouched, and the right of public access (allemansrätten) means that people are free to roam the forests in search for wild berries, herbs and mushrooms.

If you spot a family in the woods with plastic buckets and strange hand-held boxes with a comb-like edge, they are simply out gathering blueberries or lingonberries. Swedes often prefer picking mushrooms in groups, although a favourite secret chanterelle spot is rarely revealed.

Even top chefs in Sweden frequently gather their own herbs, mushrooms and berries for their restaurants.

Tradition is trendy

The hunting tradition is strong and game such as elk, deer and grouse make popular appearances in the Swedish kitchen. The south and east coasts, rivers and lakes supply a variety of fish such as perch, herring, salmon and trout, while the west coast archipelago is known for its shellfish. Those who have access to water nearby may well also catch their own fish.

It is no secret that Sweden has a long and dark winter, which puts a seasonal dent in local access to most foodstuffs. Despite efficient shipping and global culinary trends that all but eradicate regional food seasons, Swedish cooking still keeps to traditions that include different ways of storing food.

Historically a key to survival, food preservation today is used by foodies as an exciting means to culinary delights – preservation methods not only extend shelf life, they also add flavour. It is these particular flavours that attract Swedes to hold on to their methods.

Seasonal berry boost

In the spring, summer and autumn Swedes literally harvest more than they can eat. Whereas it used to be a rare delicacy bordering on sinful behaviour to eat fresh berries, Swedes today are more indulgent and able to gormandise in the moment. After all, if all berries from the family foraging in the woods were to be eaten fresh, jams can always be found at the shop.

Fruits and berries are still cooked and preserved, vegetables pickled, mushrooms dried, and meat and fish smoked, salted, fermented and marinated. Long-lasting breads such as dark rye, crisp breads and rusk biscuits have not fallen out of fashion.

The same is true of the Swedish fascination with root vegetables such as potatoes and beetroot, once conveniently stored in earth cellars. Fermented milk products are still a popular breakfast food enjoyed with cereals.

Cross-culinary cooking

The taste for tried and tested foodstuff stops at the ingredients. How they are used is quite a different story. Swedes always hunger for new ideas and inspiration, and often take a traditional ingredient and use it in an unexpected recipe. In this way the Swedish kitchen has managed to transform itself without losing touch with its origins.

Indeed, the Swedish cuisine has lately demanded the attention of the once so predictable culinary Europe, as evidenced by new top-class Swedish restaurants (both in Sweden and abroad), by recent successes at international culinary competitions such as the Culinary Olympics and the Bocuse d’Or, and by the attention given by international foodies and magazines.

In the kitchen of, say, the Average Anderssons, Swedish food traditions meet culinary treats from around the globe, creating what is the Swedish kitchen of today.

This text and recipe come from the Swedish Institute publication The Swedish Kitchen – from Fika to Cosy Friday. Order the printed publication from swedenbookshop.com.

Last updated: 15 June 2015

Liselotte Forslin, Rikard Lagerberg & Susanne Walström

Liselotte Forslin is a freelance food writer, food stylist and author of several cookbooks. ||| Rikard Lagerberg is a Swedish writer with roots in San Francisco, Stockholm and Sligo, who, after years of a typical Swedish diet, chose a vegetarian direction for himself in the 90s. ||| Susanne Walström is a photographer based in Sweden. Her personal documentary style has been applied to a multitude of subjects, including several books about food.