The time between Santa Lucia and Christmas Eve, Julafton, the day we celebrate Christmas there, was spent getting ready. Cooking wasn't really my mother's thing, but she would make several dishes for Christmas. Fortunately what my mother lacked in cooking interest and skill was made up hugely by my paternal grandmother and her sister. They were the most fabulous bakers and cooks.
In olden days in Sweden, a bride needed to know how to prepare herring in at least 25 different ways. My mother knew a couple, but the one I remember best only appeared at Christmas time: Matjes herring pickled in vinegar, sugar, with Coleman's dry mustard, onions and a lot of white pepper corns added. It's called Skarpsill. I still make it when I can find the ingredients.
Then there was the Lutfisk, or Lye fish, which is a peculiar dish that originated in Norway. I remember the big slab of dried/salted cod or a cod relative, called ling (I have no idea what a ling is, but it said so in my book, so there it is) that was left to soak in lye in our basement laundry room. This room had huge vats for boiling and rinsing clothes – before washing machines, doing laundry was quite a chore. After soaking, the cod turned white and flaky, as I remember. While I can understand how the then plentiful cod, salted and dried, helped provide people with food during the long winters, I cannot understand all the trouble women went through for this dish. I guess some love it or it is just a tradition that must be carried on. A pretty good sauce went with it and made it tasty as far as I can remember.
With the exception of the traditional gingerbread cookies, pepparkakor, I don't remember much baking going on at our house. I'm sure my grandmother and her sister baked everything and brought all the goodies with them to the Christmas dinner.
After the smorgasbord and the lutfish came the main course, the glazed Christmas ham, jul skinkan. A ham prepared this way is absolutely delicious. In Los Angeles, I lived close by the only Swedish delicatessen in town, owned by a Mr. Olson. When the Christmas hams arrived, all the Swedes in Southern California appeared at one time and there were long, long lines around the block. A really fun time in L. A. for me.
Back in Sweden, after the meal came the dessert, which in our house was a traditional rice pudding. The pudding contained one almond and it was said that if an unmarried person got the almond, he/she would get married in the coming year.