Darra Goldstein Brings Classic Nordic Cooking to Life with Fire + Ice

By Amanda Balagur

Reindeer StewAlthough she’s best known as the Founding Editor of Gastronomica and Professor of Russian at Williams College, Darra Goldstein has a long-standing history with Scandinavian cooking. She first ventured to that part of the world in 1972, when she flew to Finland and took a weekend bus from Helsinki to Leningrad (she was studying Russian then). In 1980, she had plans to go to Moscow to research her dissertation, but unforeseen circumstances related to the U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics resulted in a change of plans — she and her husband, newly married, ended up going to Stockholm, Sweden instead. Goldstein describes herself as being quite taken by Scandinavia, calling her latest cookbook, Fire + Ice, a “cultural excursion into the way people actually eat there” in contrast to the often innovative and highly conceptual New Nordic cuisine.

The cookbook focuses on four core countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark Fisherwomanand Norway. The name Fire + Ice reflects the two key elements that define the region. Photos of snowy landscapes, silvery architecture and windows glowing with amber warmth gave the Pepin Lecture audience a feel for Goldstein’s inspiration as she described the local cuisine. Cold and warmth are reflected in traditional beverages such as glug, which is mulled wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom served warm in the wintertime, and schnapps or aquavit, a distilled liquor made from grain and flavored with caraway, ginger, cardamom or even young birch leaves.

SmorgasbordGoldstein explained the evolution of one of the most familiar Scandinavian offerings, the Smörgåsbord. It started out as a table displaying an array of schnapps, to which food was added until it became institutionalized as the feast we think of today. According to Goldstein, there is a certain way to eat at a Smorgasbord, which is broken up into five courses: his majesty the herring (a fish so important to local cuisine it’s admired in isolation like royalty!), other fish and seafood, cold meats and salads, hot dishes and desserts. After the Smörgåsbord was introduced to the U.S. at the 1939 World’s Fair, it became all the rage and eventually turned into the all-you-can eat buffets and salad bars that pepper the American landscape to this day.

Other items of importance in Scandinavian cuisine include brown bread, Dried Fishmade from grains like barley, oats and rye, which ranges from chewy sourdough to delicate crispbread, and pickled, salted and fermented fish, which range from mild (gravlax) to pungent (suströmming). Additional favorites include foraged greens, mushrooms and berries, and dairy products like cheese and butter. The region’s cuisine reflects seasonality, indigenous influences and Viking conquests – it’s no coincidence that spices like cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg, encountered centuries ago via the Silk Road, are now associated with Scandinavian cuisine. The art of preserving food, shaping anthropomorphic Christmas cookies and infusing liqueurs is as much a part of life in this realm as the extremes of light and dark. To learn more about Darra Goldstein and Fire + Ice, click here. Book Signing




Smörgåbord Nordic Food Festival

by Alex Cheser

Gastronomy student Alex Cheser shares his experiences from last weekend’s event

image While the crowd might not have outnumbered the one at the Boston IKEA on a Saturday in September, the very first Smörgåbord Nordic Food Festival debuted with great success. The event is one of many new efforts by The Scandinavian Cultural Center in West Newton to highlight Nordic culture and offer a place for Nordic peoples in Boston to meet and celebrate their heritage and, most importantly, the food.

Scandinavian cuisine, new and old, could be found across the grounds of the Center from the prinskorv station with pølse (sausages) and Swedish meatballs to yellow pea soup served by a man dressed as the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. As a ticket holder, you could also sample the scrumptious pastries from The Danish Pastry House and Crown Bakery including coffee breads, macaroons, and the irresistible kringle – that Danish treat of puff pastry, marzipan, butter, and almonds.

image_3By far one of the most exciting parts of the festival were the tasting stations where four Boston area chefs presented their interpretation of New Nordic inspired cuisine. Offerings ranged from vodka cured salmon blinis, the favorite of the other Gastronomy students who attended, to birch smoked Norwegian cod served with a cauliflower puree and finished with a smokey barley-dulse-mussel sauce.

The winner was a dish of salmon two ways by Chef Peter Hansen from The Cottage in Newton, which consisted of hot smoked Norwegian salmon with pickled beets, mustard glaze, and juniper and peppercorn cured Norwegian salmon belly. This was served on a potato pancake with horseradish cream and caramelized apple. According to Juliane Dybkjaer, a new Gastronomy student from Denmark, this dish stayed more in line with older, Nordic home cooking styles while the others were more high end.

Gastronomy students Abigail Clement, Jessie Hazzard, and Juliane Dybkjaer

The sold out event also hosted several local vendors selling a range of Scandinavian and Baltic products like nøkkelost, sausages, Estonian chocolate, soup mixes, and various troll inspired knickknacks and Christmas ornaments.

If you purchased a Nordic Foodie ticket there were even two more grand events. The first was a book talk by Chef Sami Tallberg, a Finn who is noted for his use of wild herbs in his cooking. His new book, aptly titled The Wild Herb Cookbook, highlights ways to use wild plants like Japanese rose, sorrel, and others. Foraging is a huge component to New Nordic cuisine, and some of the chefs from the tasting stations had even foraged herbs and pine needles for their dishes.

image_2The last event of the day was a salmon cook off between Peter Hansen and Tim Fahy, two of the chefs from the tasting stations, that was judged by Chef Tallberg and two representatives from the Norwegian Seafood Council – a major sponsor of the event and the reason salmon was the biggest ingredient of the day. It was great fun, and Chef Peter Hansen won this competition as well, walking away with the biggest bragging rights of the day.

Hopefully this event becomes a mainstay for the Scandinavian Cultural Center, and more people in Boston can tune into the amazing food inspired by fjords, forests, and marzipan.