Monday, November 26, 2012

Oleanna book club: holiday cookie exchange!

A book club recently asked me about menu ideas for a December meeting to discuss Oleanna. What a great time of year to talk about life in Norway!

Norwegians have some fabulous traditions around the holidays, and of course many revolve around food. But I don't think you'll want to get into hours-long preparation of pinnekjøtt (salted lamb ribs) or julepølse (Christmas sausage) or lutefisk (ling cod soaked in lye...not that you'd want to).

So a great idea for an Oleanna book club meeting in December is a cookie exchange!

It is traditional in Norway to always serve seven kinds of cookies; if there are not seven, it's not been a proper holiday. The origins of this tradition are hazy; it possibly started in the coffee houses in Sweden in the 19th century, but in any case, it became an unofficial requirement for the holiday season in the 20th century. And the "official" list of seven is a bit hazy, too: it seems everyone has a slightly different list of the seven kinds.

Krumkake, Fattigman, and Spritz. Via Brianna at I Do All My Own Stunts.

As a Norwegian-American, I've kept up the spirit of the seven kinds, but not the specifics. I have a traditional krumkake iron, but...well, let's say I don't have the patience for using it properly. So, I usually make fudge, (my world-famous) chocolate chip, berlinerkranser (recipe from the 1930s via my grandmother), and spritz, while trying out three new recipes each year. I'm particularly fond of this Scottish shortbread, pfeffernuße, and Russian tea cakes.

For your Oleanna book club meeting, try out one or two of the traditional Norwegian cookies, and bring a cookie representative of your holiday traditions to share. If you're interested in Scandinavian baking, this book is fantastic.

Round out the festivities with strong, hot coffee (Norwegians have always loved it, and consume a lot of it—21 pounds per person, per year) or gløgg (mulled wine). As with most recipes, there's no definitive "right" way to make it, but here are two versions that look particularly yummy.

In addition to the Oleanna book club questions (opens a PDF), you might also consider these topics over your gløgg:
  • The long, cold nights of winter forced families indoors and enforced a lot of togetherness; Oleanna coped by learning to weave. How do you cope with the long dark of winter?
  • Traditions and rituals help bind a community together, and help bind families together. In Oleanna, Constitution Day is an important day to bind a country together. During this holiday season, what are the traditions that bring your family together? What are your community's traditions?
If you do have a cookie exchange, please let me know what kinds you shared. I'm always looking for new recipes to add to my seven kinds rotation!


  1. I need to have an Oleanna cookie exchange/book discussion stat. YUM. Delish books + snacks is always a win. I'm trying to do more of that in my life.

  2. :D

    If you do it, definitely let me know!