By Wenda Grabau
Looking back on my life, I have enjoyed several Christmas memories. Let me list a few of them for you.
At Thanksgiving, aunts, uncles, cousins, mom, dad, brothers, sister and I, with Grandma and Grandpa put our names in a hat. Each person drew the name of one person for whom to buy a Christmas gift. All gifts would be roughly the same cost. The name exchange started the excitement for the coming Christmas party, a delight that stretched over the following month until we got together again.
On Christmas Eve, we gathered in Grandma and Grandpa’s small house. I remember the trimmed and lit Christmas tree. Dozens of gifts, gaily decorated, lay in heaps beneath it.
The main course of the menu consisted of lutefisk with milk gravy. As a child I considered the lutefisk to be tasteless. I thought it compared to the taste of unsalted, boiled egg whites. As I grew, I came to enjoy it.
After dinner, a skinny Santa Claus came to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to hand out the gifts. I recall that Santa was a crabby guy. When he called my name to go up and get my present, he held tight to it and would not let me get it without a struggle. He scared me.
Every Christmas my Sunday School had a Christmas program. I had a recitation to say as my part of the program which told about Jesus’ birth. Sometimes, I sang a song with other children. When the program was finished, the deacons waited for us at the church door and gave each of us a huge, shiny red Christmas apple to take home. Mom and Dad promised that when we arrived home from the program, we could open one gift. The black night and the sparkling snow decorated the winter landscape, adding to the anticipated fun of the rest of the evening.
Mom particularly liked decorating our house with outdoor decorations. When I was a teen, I remember mom got a job at a Christmas wreath factory. We had a patio door in our northern Wisconsin home. She got us a 60-inch balsam Christmas wreath for the door. The wreath was painted white and adorned with red decorations and Christmas lights.
Our family sang Christmas carols in the car as we drove during the holiday season. That is how those songs sank deep into my heart.
One memory I have been privileged to make for my family has been making and serving Swedish Cardamom Bread.
Swedish Cardamom Bread
1 package yeast
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ cup warm water
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups scalded milk, cooled (not chilled)
1 ½ teaspoon cardamom
1 ½ cup butter, melted and cooled
8 cups flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon soft butter
1-2 Tablespoons cream
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. (I use a 24-cup or 32-cup mixing bowl.) In a sauce pan, scald the milk. As the milk cools, add butter. When the milk mixture is sufficiently cooled, add the beaten egg, salt and cardamom to it. Mix well.
Add the milk mixture to the yeast and water in the large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add flour a few cups at a time. Stir in with a wooden spoon. As the dough thickens, knead it by hand while the dough is still in the bowl. Add flour until the dough feels elastic-like. Form dough into a large ball. Grease the inside of the bowl and the dough. Place the ball of dough back in the bowl to rise. Let dough rise till double in bulk.
Cut dough into 2-3 pieces. (Three balls yield 3 loaves.) From each piece, make three 15-18” ropes. Braid the ropes loosely together. Form the braid into a ring. Pinch ends of braid together tightly. Place ring on greased baking sheet. Let rise.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.
When cooled, freeze or frost.
For frosting, mix together the sugar, butter and vanilla. Add cream gradually till reaching a smooth, spreadable consistency. After frosting has hardened a bit, decorate with halved red and green candied cherries.