Feb 26, 2012

A fat hallelujah

I don’t know, but it actually sounds better in Swedish, Fettisdag, which is the same expression as Fat Tuesday, maybe because putting fat and Tuesday together creates a new word, also pronounced a bit different. Of course Mardi Gras has a whole different and more exotic ring to it, although it’s still means exactly the same thing. And it comes with traditions.

February in Sweden is way too cold for parades, and we aren’t much of a parading people anyway. Seattle did some of that in the late 70ies, but it ran amok and was first banned for a while, then too controlled and boring and therefore abandoned. Today though, Fat Tuesday in Seattle is a family-friendly face painting event, and lots of great music at the clubs down in Pioneer Square.

So, what do the non-parading Swedes do on Fat Tuesday? Well, we are performing a different and very well behaved kind of parade. All over the country people are lining up in pastry shops hoping for one of those seductively tasty buns impossible to eat without dipping your nose in that wonderful whipped cream. Or of course, you make them yourself, out of your grandmother’s recipe. In both cases, the first semla of the year is a  hallelujah moment. Those buns have a name: semla. In plural: semlor. The word probably comes from the German Semmel, rooted from Latin semila, which means light flour.

I grew up in a bakery. Yes I did. My father was a pastry chef. Yes he was. And yes, it was nothing but wonderful. And of course my father and his colleague’s semlor were the best. My childhood Februaries were a heavenly mix of snow, sun and dad's semlor. A semla is a round bun made from light wheat, spiced with cardamom. The bun is cut in half, so the upper part makes a top. In between there is this filling of whipped cream mixed with almond paste. Yes, hallelujah. And on top of the top part of the bun, a bit of icing sugar. Hallelujah. And there is no way you can eat this thing without getting white tasty stuff all over your face and hands. Triple hallelujah.

So, as my father is no more around and he never taught me how to make semlor (that’s another story) the Fat Tuesday that just passed I simply had to buy these desirable items that is something in between a pastry and a light wheat bread. At 4.30 pm the bakeries and coffee shops can be all out of semlor, big notes on the door and disappointed people walking away, dropping their heads to the chest in a big saddened sigh; day ruined! But I was lucky this year, a few of them still on the shelf. And I learned that only in this bakery 6000 semlor were produced during Fat Tuesday! There are six-seven bakeries in the Umeå area, assume they all made about 6000 semlor each, it adds up to around 40 000! Which actually isn’t that many, considering a desiring population of 115 000 people. So, do 75 000 of us make our own semlor the way our grandmas did? I need to do some research on that part until next year. And more important, I need to find out my father’s recipe. And make myself a February hallelujah moment.

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