Monday, November 20, 2006

Nordic heritage

My father's family came over from Sweden in the 1880s and settled in the village of Falconer (just outside of Jamestown) in the Southwestern corner of New York State.

My grandfather, who ran a small village grocery, was for a while the mayor of Falconer. He was a very pleasant, generous man who helped many families in town make it through the Depression years. Much of his spare time was spent at the Methodist church (right next door to their house) where he served on various committees and sang bass in the choir. Many of our cousins lived on the same street; visiting involved walking a few doors down.

In Jamestown proper, cousins of ours ran a large grocery store with a full meat market and delicatessen. There they sold sulta, korv, their signature pickled herring, and lutefisk. Every fall my mom and dad and I would drive from Washington D.C. up to Falconer to stock up on provisions. We'd call ahead to the Jamestown Swedish bakery and they'd make a batch of cardamom breads for us. We'd pick up large boxes of the breads on our way out of town, put them in the trunk, and freeze them as soon as we got home.

I loved visiting Falconer. It was pretty much the Lake Wobegon of my childhood.

I get to recapture some of that experience every November at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. This past weekend was their holiday fair, and I had lunch at their cafe two days in a row. The first day, I had a herring-and-hardboiled egg sandwich, followed by rommegrot (pudding with cinnamon, butter and sugar); the second day it was a meatball sandwich with carmelized onions and beets. I always get the coffee, which tastes just like the coffee in Falconer (and not much like the coffee at Starbucks).

Some of the crafts are Nordic; all of the crafts are very high quality. Three floors of the museum are filled with crafts booths. On the first floor the crafts tables are integrated into the exhibit space, so you are crossing bridges and wandering through ships as you shop. There's a bake sale on the first floor. I brought home a small container of Swedish Dreams, a light, lacy meringue cookie with almond flavoring.

In addition to shopping and eating, I eavesdrop. In the cafe line I listened to two older men discussing the intricacies of driving in the rain for what must have been 10 minutes. One of them pronounced "puddles" as "poodles." It sounded just like Falconer.

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