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CHRISTMAS

How to make your own Christmas julbord if you live outside Sweden

Planning a Swedish Christmas meal – the scrumptious julbord – outside of Sweden this year? Here are The Local's tips on how you can make your own julbord, and where to source essential ingredients.

a swedish julbord
How can you source your essential julbord ingredients outside of Sweden? Here's our guide. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT

Not sure what a julbord is? Here’s our guide.

Plan the menu

The first, and perhaps most obvious step, is to decide what you want to serve at your julbord. There’s no point making ten different kinds of herring if there will only be a few of you eating, and it may not be necessary to source real Swedish prinskorvar if your guests are happy with some cold cuts and Christmas ham.

You can also let your menu be dictated by what you can get hold of, and what you can manage to make yourself – homemade meatballs use relatively simple, easy-to-source ingredients, whereas you might have trouble sourcing sprats or ansjovis for Janssons temptation, depending on where you live.

A handy list of recipes for Swedish julbord staples can be found on John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website here. Simply pick your favourites from each category, and get cooking.

What can you buy ready-made?

Once you’ve planned your julbord and decided what you want to include, split your dishes up into what you can buy where you live and what you need to make yourself. In some countries, you may be lucky enough to have a dedicated Scandinavian food shop with delivery – such as Scandikitchen in the UK or Nordic House in the US – in which case you’ll have a wide range of foods to choose from.

Most sides, like red cabbage, brown cabbage, kale, potatoes and beetroot salad are made from easily-available ingredients which you should be able to source wherever you are, so they shouldn’t be an issue.

An Ikea food market in Norway. But did you realise you could buy your julskinka here? Photo: Heiko Junge/Scanpix/TT

A surprisingly good source for hard-to-find julbord essentials is Ikea, who offer meatballs (both normal and vegetarian), prinskorvar, Christmas ham, herring and salmon in their food markets, as well as julmust, pepparkakor, crispbread and Swedish cheeses. Their choice is limited and many of their items are frozen, so you may need to plan ahead to make sure you can get hold of everything you need in time.

What do you have to make yourself?

If you don’t have an Ikea or a Scandinavian food shop close by, then you’ll have to make some dishes yourself. Here’s what you should keep in mind for your Swedish Christmas essentials.

Christmas ham

A Swedish Christmas ham or julskinka is made from fresh, unsmoked, salt-cured ham. For best results, it should still include the pork skin and fat. Gammon joints are suitable for making julskinka as they are uncooked and unsmoked, but it may be a good idea to ask your butcher for help.

A Christmas ham is usually boiled and then glazed with mustard and breadcrumbs and finished in the oven, but you can also try roasting it – although this is not traditional. Here is The Local’s list of Christmas ham recipes for you to try.

Herring is an essential part of many Swedish holiday celebrations. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Herring

If you want to pickle your own herring, you have two options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

Ask your local fishmonger if they can source ready-salted herring fillets for pickling, and if they can’t help you, try looking in Polish, Dutch or German grocery shops (or your local supermarket if you’re based in one of these countries) – pickled herring is not only popular in Sweden, so you might get lucky.

Can’t find suitable herring? Consider a vegetarian alternative – recipes exist for pickled courgette, aubergine, tofu and mushroom. They obviously don’t taste exactly the same, but may be a better alternative than avoiding the herring course completely.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.

Meatballs

Swedish meatballs are relatively easy to make at home, but one important thing to note – especially if you are using a Swedish recipe – is that meatballs are often made from blandfärs in Sweden. This is simply a mixture of beef and pork mince – often a simple 50:50 ratio – so you can just mix the two types of mince yourself if this is not available where you live.

Here’s The Local’s Christmas meatball recipe.

Bread

Depending on the type of bread you want for your Christmas dinner, you may have to bake it yourself. Wort bread (or vörtbröd in Sweden) is made from wort, a by-product of beer-brewing, but you can try substituting a dark beer such as a porter if you can’t get hold of wort.

Fresh yeast – the most common type of yeast in Sweden – is not readily available in all countries, but this can be substituted for dry yeast. Just divide the amount of fresh yeast by three to find out how much dry yeast you should use. For example, a recipe requiring one 50g packet of fresh yeast would need around 17g of dry yeast.

Crispbread may also be hard to get hold of outside of Sweden. Try looking in delis or cheesemongers, or look for similar alternatives such as Ryvita. You can also bake your own – it requires no kneading and no yeast, so is a good project for beginner bread-bakers.

Here’s a recipe for homemade crispbread.

Tinned sprats or ansjovis are essential for a Jansson’s temptation. But what can you do if you can’t get hold of them? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Jansson’s temptation

Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, can be difficult to make if you can’t source Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead. This also has the benefit of giving you a vegetarian version of the popular casserole, which may be useful if any of your guests don’t eat meat.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Drinks

The main drinks offered at a julbord are julmust and glögg. Your best bet for sourcing julmust is probably Ikea, where they sell their own brand under the name vintersaga. If you can’t get hold of it, we’ve heard reports of people mixing low-alcohol beer and Coca Cola for a similar taste, although we have no idea if this tastes anything like the original, so try at your own risk… Otherwise, root beer is an option.

If you skip the julmust, it’s worth knowing that wine is not part of a traditional julbord, but beer is comme il faut.

You’ll be pleased to know that glögg is easy to make at home. Here’s a recipe from The Local’s archives.

Are there any julbord essentials we’ve missed? Let us know and we’ll be sure to update our guide if we can help!

Member comments

  1. Our family has always made potato sausage, potatis korv, for our Christmas meal. The recipe was brought from Sweden by my grandfather in the late 1800’s. We mix ground beef, ground pork, ground potatoes and onions, salt and pepper, and stuff it into casings. It is so delicious and is a lot of fun to make. I always made it with my mother, but now I enlist the help of friends who seem to enjoy the process, and the sausage, even if they are not Swedish!

  2. I live near Nordic House (linked in the article above) and unfortunately, they will be closing permanently next month. I was just there with my parents last week — the store was mobbed and we bought over $100 worth of food. If anyone wants to open a Scandinavian food market in the San Francisco Bay Area, please do — we will miss Nordic House! Their selection is SO much better than IKEA’s.

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DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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