Sunday, November 29, 2020

Quick Swedish Rye Bread

My great aunt, Bertha Åström, emigrated to the U.S. from Boden, Sweden (the far north) in the early 20th century. She had become pregnant out of wedlock when she was just 13-- statutory rape, at the very least. It was decided for her, I think, that she should emigrate and leave the child behind. Her eldest brother, Isak, my grandfather, had already come over, and he'd become a hard-rock gold miner, first at the Homestake Mine in the Dakotas, then in Colorado, and finally in Northern California--Grass Valley, Allegheny, and Sierra City. Bertha followed him for a while working as a cook and nanny, before settling in the Bay Area, where she became a nanny. 

Eventually she married, and in the mid-1920s she and her husband built a resort in the Lakes Basin above Sierra City, specifically at Packer Lake. They and some laborers built a log-lodge and some log-cabins. Bertha cooked meals for the guests on a big wood stove. Many people of wealth liked to spend a week or two their in the summers, and they didn't mind roughing it a bit: it wasn't a Hilton. 

By the way, her son Erik eventually made his way to America, and lived in Sierra City for the remainder of his life (and hers).

Before her life was totally disrupted, Bertha was training as a cook in a Boden hotel, and one of the recipes she brought over was for Swedish rye bread, which is quite different from Central European rye breads. It includes molasses, prunes, and anise seeds, and finely diced orange peels, mixed with dark rye flour, white flour, and a few mashed potatoes. My mother learned the recipe from Bertha and passed it along to other generations. It's a yeast bread which requires three risings, so it's an all-day task, pretty much. I adapted the recipe to a quick bread, and it captures the flavor and texture of the original pretty well. Sweet but not too sweet, aromatic, dense. Of course, there's nothing like yeast bread. The recipe:

Quick Swedish Rye Bread

This is a quick version of Bertha Åström’s Swedish (Ostrom’s) yeast) rye bread. The consistency is slightly denser, but the flavor is the same.


2 cups white flour

2 cups dark rye flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup low-fat buttermilk [if you don't have buttermilk, add white vinegar to milk]

½ cup molasses

½ cup prune juice

2-3 tablespoons of grated orange peel

1 tablespoon dried anise seeds


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

It’s best to sift the flour. Mix flour, salt, soda, orange peel, and anise seeds well.

Mix prune juice and molasses and briefly warm the mixture in a pan.

Add buttermilk and prune juice/molasses to the flour (etc.) and mix. The dough will be quite sticky. Add more buttermilk if necessary.

Briefly kneed the dough and shape it into a circular/oval loaf on a floured surface. Cut an X into the top with a sharp knife.

Place on floured baking tin. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or slightly longer. Remove from oven and let loaf cool on rack.

Hans Ostrom 11/2019


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