Pass the ketchup

During the holidays, many families come together around the dinner table to enjoy traditional meals from recipes passed down through generations. It's no secret some Scandinavian dishes are unique and appeal to only us die hard Swedes. This article looks at the humorous side of one family's insistence on making potatiskorv in order to carry on the family tradition. 

  • The author, Eric Olson (center), with the sausage makers: his father, David (right), and uncle, Richard.
  • The holidays at my family’s home are filled with laughter, beautiful decorations and a traditional family recipe so tasteless Santa’s reindeer would cringe. The aforementioned brings about the need for another family staple: a Costco size tub of ketchup.

  • The author, Eric Olson (center), with his father, David (right), and uncle, Richard.
  • (For what may be the more common treats on today's Swedish Christmas table, you may want to see Swedish Food; gravlax, herring, jansson... or go for the delicate Gravlax, the recipe right away. /Ed.)

    Let me explain:
    Our family, being of Swedish decent, has to endure the yearly ritual of the making of The Korv. This traditional Swedish dish has the flavor of carpet that can only be remedied with copious amounts of ketchup. I’ve found nothing brings a family together during the holidays like being force fed potato sausage hand made by my father and uncle in order to carry on the family tradition.
    The official name of this “delicacy” is potatis korv (potato sausage), a customary dish served by Swedes around the world during the Christmas holiday. Like many dishes passed down through generations, this peasant food came about out of a necessity. Many similar foods around the globe were made for the same reason, making use of what was available, like grains, root vegetables and other fillers. Taste, being the last ingredient, sadly never found its way into the dish.

  • Potato sausage (potatiskorv) is unknown to most modern Swedes but still a strong tradition under the name Christmas sausage (julkorv). You can make your own this weekend with Gammelgarden in Scandia, MN.
  • The date will be set shortly before Christmas by my father and uncle for the task of making the korv. The first step in making any type of sausage is buying the casings (intestines) which are not found at your everyday supermarket. A quick car ride down to Shiner’s Sausage Company in Phoenix will provide my family with the necessary evil. The look on the proprietor's face is one of respect and humor, knowing the difficulty that comes with making sausage the old school way. Casings smell more like a teenage boy’s sneaker and not something you’d want to hold your dinner. These days, there are synthetic casings that would be much more pleasant, as a family member always points out, but my uncle mumbles something in Swedish about tradition and the discussion is over.

  • The casings must be washed thoroughly before being placed on the ancient sausage stuffer that’s been in my uncle’s pantry for as long as I can remember. It looks like something out of a torture chamber and not an item intended for use in the kitchen.
    The cast iron handle provides more leverage than any defenseless meat could endure, and battle scars on the countertop are clearly visible from clamps securing its position over the years.
    My father and uncle proceed to reminisce and attempt to speak a little Swedish while the turnips and potatoes boil over on the stove nearby. Added to the mix is a variety of seasonings, none of which actually does its job of masking the flavor of the korv. A dash of this, a pinch of that and into a bowl goes some ground beef, pork and the filler of mashed potatoes and turnips to be hand-mixed by my uncle. This “kneading” of ingredients always evokes the conversation about my grandmother’s arms. Whether it’s dough for Swedish pancakes or the mixture of gruel for the korv, my dad and uncle always laugh about needing the extra weight of grandma’s healthy arms as the key to mixing properly.

  • I recall the intimidating presence of Grandma explaining the Swedish traditions to me while she roughed up our next meal. To say Grandma was a “full figured” gal would be an understatement. Her entire body weight would be forced down upon whatever poor food item was in the mixing bowl, and had we lived anywhere close to a seismic zone, no doubt the swaying of Grandma’s arm flab would have registered at least a 4.0 on the Richter scale. All joking aside, the woman sure could cook.

  • Once the sausage mixture has been assaulted by my uncle, my dad proceeds to mount the slimy casing on the stuffer while the gray matter is force fed into the orifice on top. The handle turns a giant screw inside the device which further pulverizes the mix as it oozes out into the awaiting casing.
    My father will be in charge of holding the casing properly on the stuffing machine’s nipple and monitoring the amount shot into each link while clumsily making sure the slimy wad of casing stays unknotted. This is a delicate process which takes serious hand-eye coordination which my father tends to lack.
    My uncle, cranking the handle with all his might will slam as much mixture into the top of the stuffer as possible to see if dad can keep up. A chaotic rhythm soon develops of hands flailing, sausage flying and my uncle and father butchering the Swedish language.

  • Once the links are stuffed, tied off and boiled to the color of a corpse, the giant grey tubes are auctioned off to the highest nonbidder. The conversation sounds a little like this:
    “No Uncle, I really couldn’t,” I say, trying to be polite.
    “Eric, this family needs you to carry on this tradition and you can freeze this for at least six months, then enjoy a korv sandwich,” counters my uncle.
    "No, seriously, I just can’t accept this gift.”
    “Eric, it’s delicious and I know you’ll want some later. Just take it!”
    As my uncle insists further, it’s a no win situation for me and I succumb to the pressure and accept the tasteless grey tube of meat. My guilt doesn’t allow me to throw it away and it’s not long before the ice cubes in my freezer start to taste a little like our family tradition.
    I’m hard on my family for making me feel guilty about the dinner of potatis korv. Most of us feel the same way but realize it’s important to carry on with this tradition out of respect for our elders and out of remembrance for who we are and where we come from.
    At the dinner table, the whole family gathers around and gives thanks for having each other and food on our plates. We all realize we are indeed lucky. Then, as the plate of potatis korv is passed, all eyes dart about wondering who will be the first to head to the pantry for the ketchup.

  • By Eric D. Olson

  • RECIPE (makes approx 5 pounds, serves 10-12 people)*

  • 2½ pounds ground pork butt
    ½ pound ground beef
    6 raw potatoes, grated
    1 cup scalded milk
    1 medium onion, grated
    1 tsp pepper
    4½ tsp salt
    ½ tsp allspice
    2 tsp ground ginger
    7 feet beef/pork casings

  • Mix all ingredients together and prepare the casings by washing thoroughly. Attach casings to the sausage stuffer and grind into 12 inch lengths. Tie off, leaving room for expansion in each length. Prick skins prior to cooking and submerge in lightly salted, boiling water for 45 minutes.

  • *This recipe, from my great great-grandmother, Hildur Olson, is dated from the mid 1800s and is still going strong.