Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rice Porridge “Risgrynsgröt” and Swedish Santa “Jultomten”

Swedish Santa is a cross between St. Nicholas and the Swedish “farm-tomte,” a gnome, a imagined miniature spirit who used to help out on the farms in the old days.

St. Nicholas was a Turk. At least, that is where a modem map places his native Patara, where he first saw the light of day in 270.  Patara at that time was a Greek trading town.  Today only ruins remain.  After studying in Egypt and Nicholas eventually became ordained priest, then bishop of the city of Myra, just south of his native town which today also remains only as ruins.

During his lifetime, and after his death, Nicholas performed many miracles, such as stilling the waves of the sea to rescue ships in distress.  He soon became the patron saint of sailors, invoked by them in time of trouble and recompensed with the donation of a coin to his church in Maya.  Italian merchants, realizing what a treasure Myra was sitting on, went there to collect the remains of  St. Nicholas.  Despite fierce resistance from the citizens of Myra, they managed to carry off most of the relics of the saint, which were then re-buried in Bari, Italy.

Sailors weren’t the only ones who worshipped St. Nicholas.  School boys did too, in honor of his resurrection of three small boys who has been brutally murdered.  They celebrated his death day on the 6th December. On that day an adult would dress up like St. Nicholas, in Episcopal robes and long beards, and dole out presents to the pupils who had done best. Unsatisfactory students were instead given a taste of the Devil’s broom, which no doubt ensured that they did better next term.  Nowadays, Santa Claus leaves good children presents in their stockings.  This is a custom that never really caught on in Sweden.

St. Nicholas caught on in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and the USA, but in Sweden, at first he was conspicuous only by hi absence.  Which is not to say that there were no presents.  At first they were given out on Christmas Eve by no-one in particular.  But then, a half-moon face began knocking on the doors of cottages and handing over various gifts.  That was in the 18th century, and later he was superseded by the “jultomte” with his read hood, long beard, and lantern in on hand and sack on his back.

Drawings by Jenny Nyström

There were already signs in the early Middle Ages of people believing in supernatural beings who live on the homestead and had to be kept happy. But the Swedish “farm-tomte” gnome didn’t seem to have all the much to do with Swedish Christmas celebrations. At the same time, it was important not to forget the “farm-tomte” when Christmas was coming, a time when you had to be extra generous to people and animals and give out presents.  You mustn’t overdo the presents either, because then the “farm-tomte” might get lazy. You had to keep in good term with “farm-tomte” otherwise he might get the idea to head out elsewhere, taking your good fortune with him. The “farm-tomte” kept an eye on the farm work, made sure that everything was neat and tidy and guaranteed prosperity.  Those who have seen the “farm-tomte” said he looked like a gnome. And it was a requirement to leave rice porridge for him on Christmas Eve. If you didn’t you had no idea what would happen to your farm.

No one really knows how the Swedish jultome evolved but he seems, in any case, to be a mixture of the Swedish “farm-tomte” and his colleague St. Nicholas.

To this day I love the “farm-tomte” and have little gnomes in my house on Christmas.

Rice porridge “Risgrynsgröt”

Yields: Serves 4 to 6 | Prep: 50 minutes

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups short-grained rice
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp butter
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick

For Serving:

Boil the water in a heavy bottomed pot, add the rice and salt. Stir once, cover. Turn heat down to lowest setting and simmer 20 minutes without removing cover. When rice is done, pour on half the milk and cinnamon stick.  Simmer over a low flame, stirring carefully after about fifteen minutes.

Continue to simmer, gradually adding the rest of the milk and cream stirring every now and then to keep the porridge from sticking.

Mix in the butter and sugar, add salt to taste and add more sugar if required.

After cooking for about 40-50 minutes, the porridge should be a creamy consistency.  Add more milk if needed.

Remove from heat.

Pour into serving bowl, sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar in a cross-hatch pattern on top, serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time.

If you need to reheat the porridge you can add more milk to the porridge and reheat it in a pot.

“Julbord” Christmas smörgåsbord Recipes:

Cured Salmon “Gravlax” and Mustard Sauce “Hovmästarsås”
Swedish Meatballs “Köttbullar”
Saffron Buns “Lussekatter”

Red cabbage ”rödkål” and Swedish Christmas Traditions

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14 Responses to “Rice Porridge “Risgrynsgröt” and Swedish Santa “Jultomten””

  1. 1

    Grace — December 23, 2010 @ 9:30 am

    As I start tp prepare our smorgasbord for Christmas Eve I find joy in reading your traditional Swedish recipes.

    • Delishhh replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

      Grace, so glad someone is enjoying them 🙂 I had a blast putting these together. I get questions all the time so it is nice for me to just refer them to the site now 🙂 Is there anything special that you make for your smorgasbord? Happy New Year!

  2. 2

    Tweets that mention Rice Porridge “Risgrynsgröt” and Swedish Santa “Jultomten” — Delishhh -- — December 23, 2010 @ 9:42 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Johanna Pedranti and Delishhh. Delishhh said: Rice Porridge “Risgrynsgröt” and Swedish Santa “Jultomten” […]

  3. 3

    Splendid Willow — December 23, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    Hi sweet friend, “Tomten” will be making his visit tomorrow! Today we are busy wrapping gifts and making a fancy ginger cookie house!

    Thank you for your friendship and your support. I adore you!

    Merry Christmas to you and hubby!

    Champagne here VERY SOON!

    Love to you,


    • Delishhh replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

      Monika – Hope you had a fabulous Jul and see you soon! Happy New Year to you! Lots of hugs!

  4. 4

    Privet and Holly — December 23, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    This recipe sounds soooo cozy
    and sweet and yummy!
    I love Jenny Nystrom. We
    have a Swedish-American museum
    where I live and it is a real
    gem at Christmastime; Jenny’s
    work is always featured.
    The Tomten is a fun little
    guy and we have a few in
    our house : ) Merry Christmas
    and thank you for this VERY
    informative and well-written
    xx Suzanne

    • Delishhh replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

      Suzanne, Merry Christmas to you! Did you have a good time? That is nice to have a Swedish-American museum, anything else good in there? Here in Seattle there is a Nordic museum but it is just ok. I love gnomes 🙂 I wish i could have them all year around.

  5. 5

    Anniversary and Giveaway! — Delishhh — February 13, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    […] Swedish Santa “Jultomten” […]

  6. 6

    Rugelach — Delishhh — December 21, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    […] One Year Ago: Rice Porridge “Risgrynsgröt” and Swedish Santa Claus “Jultomten” […]

  7. 7

    sem calcinha — February 27, 2012 @ 8:13 am

    Adoro me mostrar peladinha na web cam

  8. 8

    angela — December 24, 2013 @ 3:42 am

    So many pleasant memories this brings. My family has an almond buried in it and whichever of the daughters who eats it will marry that year! I’m making mine now. Thanks a lot! Love your recipes and the ideas for Xmas decor ala sverige!

    • Delishhh replied: — December 28th, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

      Angela – So glad to hear – i can not live without my rice porridge on Christmas! Happy New Year!

  9. 9

    Erica Totzke — December 20, 2014 @ 2:00 am

    I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this in my hunt for something concerning this.

  10. 10

    a magical visitor | Raising Jane Journal — December 24, 2014 @ 12:10 am

    […] And, if you want to include a bowl of tomten porridge alongside the cookies and milk you leave for Santa this Christmas Eve, you can find a tummy-warming recipe here. […]

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