Memories past and present: Potato sausage, rice pudding and family
I am not big on making New Year’s resolutions but I will admit, 2016 was a trying year both publicly and personally. Having lost both of my parents and the political investment intellectually and emotionally make the opportunity to start afresh in 2017, if no more than symbolically, a welcome respite.
The promise of hope and the illusion of creeping back into control of my life slowly but surely promise to make this year better.
The Friday before Christmas, I ventured into Cub Foods on my way back from running errands in the Twin Cities to pick up a short list of items for holiday meals.
Not surprisingly, the parking lot was quite full.
When I entered the vestibule to grab a shopping cart, I found it full of 10 or 12 people awaiting the next delivery of carts corralled from the parking lot.
Undeterred, I turned back to the parking lot only to find the first three cart kiosks I checked empty.
I returned to the vestibule just in time to grab the last shopping cart from a long line just collected from the parking lot.
I entered the store, took a moment to wipe the snow from my face, donned my reading glasses, pulled my crumpled list from my pocket and realized I was about to negotiate the busiest store I had ever encountered.
I thought twice about turning around and leaving but convinced myself that it probably would not get any better the next day, so I unzipped several layers, tucked my hat into my pocket, and prepared for battle.
If you have ever shopped at the Cub in Stillwater, you know the store is laid out in two halves with the fresh produce, meat and bakery on one side, separated by a peninsula containing the deli, from the frozen food, box and can goods, health care products and pharmacy on the other side.
That day, to get from one side to the other, you had to pass through a narrow gauntlet slightly more than a cart width wide separating the deli counter from the more than 15 checkout stations all jammed with lines of shoppers extending out from the cashiers until they bent uniformly toward the west end of the store.
It appeared daunting and I expected tempers to fray.
Despite the crowded conditions, everyone seemed pretty patient, resigned to the fact that things were going to move slowly, a gift in and of itself.
When I finally took my place in one of the checkout lines, about six carts back from the cashier, it only took 10 minutes to actually reach the cashier, mostly thanks to two young men who had volunteered to pack your groceries for a well-timed tip.
As I jockeyed my cart into line, more carts immediately filled in behind me keeping the que at least 10 to 15 carts long.
Though I did have the ingredients for my mother’s rice pudding recipe on my list I’d forgotten another of our family’s favorite holiday treats until I saw it hanging in the cooler above the sandwich meats — potato sausage.
Just seeing it sitting there conjured smells and tastes of Christmases past. It brought a smile to my face as I loaded a couple rings into my cart. It also gave me more than a meal to which to look forward.
It has been 10 years since we moved to Wisconsin and I will bet almost that long since I had tasted potato sausage.
In Chicago, there was a Swedish delicatessen, Wikstrom’s in Andersonville on Clark Street, that I would visit during the Christmas season to purchase my stash of potato sausage.
There were a number of good choices in that neighborhood when it come to potato sausage but Wikstrom’s was the closest I had found to the the sausage my grandmother used to serve. It was plump with a coarse grind of pork, beef and potatoes.
This was my first Christmas without my folks and I underestimated the comfort those memories of Christmas gatherings past would bring me.
My mother and her mother before her, labored long and lovingly in the kitchen to honor the traditions of Sweden.
The table would be filled with hot dishes from end to end, a smörgåsbord, including favorites like warm rice pudding, Swedish meatballs, limpa bread, herring, Knäckebröd (hardtack), and potato sausage.
What I remember most about that potato sausage was how it smelled — such a specific Christmas smell.
Maybe it was the hint of allspice, but it was also the color, a rosey pink inside and a paste like consistency unique to good potato sausage.
As uninviting as that consistency sounds, for an adopted Swede, it was love at first bite.
Growing up, I only knew rice pudding as a hot dish, a casserole made simply with eggs, milk, sugar, and rice topped with a pinch of fresh nutmeg. As an adult, I discovered a version of rice pudding served cold as a dessert. I am partial to the warm version and in particular my mother’s recipe which calls for a steamy spoonful of warm pudding to be accompanied by a spoonful of grape jelly if you like your bite to be sweet or jellied cranberries if you like it not so sweet.
That the recipe was written in her hand made it feel all the more like she was there looking over my shoulder making sure everything was just right.
These were moments when the past and the present connect so dearly, but pass too quickly.
As we prepared our Christmas dinner, just the two of us, our kitchen was filled with a hint of nutmeg in anticipation of the feast we were about to share. I felt a much-needed sense of healing in the air.
The unexpected discovery of potato sausage really made all the difference.
It filled not just my belly, but my heart, with such appreciation for what has been given to me and for all those with whom I share.