Tradition: Bodycakes for Christmas
“Bodycakes.” We also knew them as Kroppkaka – sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? No one anywhere had ever heard of them – except my relatives in the Iverson family who all have their own version. Got to hankering for some the other day, and I have never claimed to like them. But for some reason, I wanted to taste them again. Searching for a good recipe – never did write down how my mom, Violet Iverson Woodland, made them – I found a website that actually calls them “bodycakes.” Amazing.
Mine didn’t turn out as pretty as these amazing cakes, mine lacked the “body.” Mine looked more like pitiful falling-apart fingerlings. They still tasted good; adding the allspice to the sausage gave it the taste I craved. Forgot to put some of the starch back into the grated potatoes, so a couple fell apart during the boiling process.
Had a small tiff with a friend once about the name of this Swedish dish. She said it was called palt. Pitepalt is the traditional Swedish potato dumpling,the specialty of the city of Piteå, in northern Sweden, though variants are eaten in the whole country. In my search for a good recipe, I found people have as many different names for them as they do making them: Doughbellys, Krubs, Kroppkaka (singular of Kroppkakor), Kumle, and Kumpas. Some use mashed potatoes, others use raw. Some put bacon and onion in the center, others use ham, sausage or pork cubes. Some add bread crumbs and eggs to the potato mixture, where the pure recipe is only potatoes and flour. Some add nutmeg. Bodycakes made in Öland, Sweden use allspice, and that’s the taste which makes them a specialty there. It was a fun discovery to know my great grandmother, Emma Peterson, born and raised in Öland before she and her husband Pele’ sailed to the United States in 1904, brought this family recipe with her. It has passed down through four and five generations now, although each family seems to have revised it a bit.
I grew up thinking these things were called “crumpcrockers.” When I was small, this meal was our traditional Christmas feast. Two to three whole days were devoted to the preparation of this delicacy. My mother diced pork loin, and then seasoned it with allspice, salt and pepper, and allowed it to cure overnight. The next day, all the ladies gathered to grate potatoes by hand—a whole 100 pounds of them. There was a saying that “if you didn’t get part of your finger into the mixture, it just wasn’t any good.” That was because the younger ones always nicked their fingers on the metal grater.
We put the grated potatoes into a flour sack or kitchen clean dish towel and strained until all the juice was out. Potato starch which settled to the bottom would be added back into the potatoes along with some flour to give it “body.” One by one, a bit of the potato base was rolled into a ball, an indenture made in the center, and some of the pork mixture added. Sealing it back together into a ball to encase the meat, the bodycake was then placed in boiling water. After an hour or so, they float to the top indicating they were done and ready to eat. The men in our family had a contest to see who could eat the most. Lots of butter and cream added to them make them a very heavy meal. Traditionally, the Swedes eat lingonberry jam with them. I remember Mom made fresh cranberry relish as a side dish. The best part was slicing them the next morning and frying them in butter. Maybe that’s why we made so many.
When I married a Swede, I was amazed to find the Simonson family had the same tradition every Christmas. The only difference is the name and the shape: they called them Kumpas and form them into oblong shapes instead of into a ball. The recipe is exactly the same.
Sweden still has many shops and it is quite big business. If you really want an authentic, orthodox bodycake, one can buy them packaged for as little as $89 for three cakes. See how they are professionally made on a large scale – this place churns out several thousand a day.
What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Write it in the comments below!