Tastes of Scandinavian Heritage: Recipes & Research

Fruit Soup: The Forgotten Strength of Scandinavia

             While foods such as lefse, lutefisk, and krumkake have reached a cult popularity in the United States as the poster-children of Scandinavian cuisine, there are many “forgotten” dishes that have slid into the background of Scandinavian-American culture. However, they are no less important or representative of the Scandinavian culture and taste. One of these “forgotten” foods is the old world standard of Fruit Soup.
            This soup is typically made with tapioca, prunes, dried apricots, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes cream. In the winter, it is served warm, but in the summer months it is chilled before serving.
            In an interview with Marcy Kvittem, a fourth generation Swedish-American, she recalled her experience with fruit soup:

Well I first learned about fruit soup from my mom because she made it a lot. Especially in the winter… I grew up during the Depression, so if anything was expensive, we didn’t have it… prunes were inexpensive at that time and so it was kind of a staple food.  And she’d make a great big kettle of it and it would be sitting on the wood burning stove, just kind of simmering during the day. And we used it, maybe had a sandwich and soup for a meal. Or it could be used as a dessert. [1]

            This dish, variants of which are served in all Scandinavian cultures, was a staple in many Scandinavian-American households. [2]  “In the United States, we think of fruit soup as a dessert, but in Scandinavia it is offered on winter breakfast buffets, along with thick cream, which is poured over each serving.” [3] While still served regularly in Scandinavia, fruit soup used to be thought of as a kind of super-food. “This sengemat, literally bed food, was a tradition brought over by the immigrants and likely dates back to the Vikings as a way for the tired mothers to take a much needed break and be pampered by the community. Sometimes flotegrot (sweet cream porridge) or floisegrod (milk porridge) was substituted, and soon fruit soup (kjaering suppe) was added as bed food for the new mother.”[4] The Scandinavians often brought fruit soup to the home of a new mother because it is light, easy to digest, and thought to give strength. [5]

            Though all Scandinavian countries serve fruit soup, there are a number of regional variations on the recipe and preparation:

Each Scandinavian group had its own version: Finns used cinnamon, prunes, apricots, and raisins or other dried fruits. Norwegians claim that Swedes make their fruit or sweet soups from “lighter” ingredients - golden raisins, pears, peaches, and so forth - while the Norse version calls for prunes, black raisins, and other darker fruits. Swedish Americans reply that they have no fixed preferences. Danish Americans toss any fruit in the household into their sodsuppe: home-canned, dried, store-bought, without distinction. All groups agree, however, that this soup, nearly a compote, can serve as a one-dish meal. [6]

            Marcy Kvittem agreed that even in current Scandinavian-American communities, variations still exist in the making of fruit soup:

Since I moved to a Norwegian community I find they do make it a little differently. I don’t know if it makes a difference so much. I use ingredients that I like to eat, but I do find the soups that  they serve in the Norwegian churches here are a little different than I make it. They like pearl tapioca which I don’t like. And they often have grape juice in it, which is alright, but I don’t do that. So there’s probably a difference in the ingredients. And mother only used prunes and raisins. And I’ve elaborated that to apricots, which I liked, and after dried cranberries came into being, they’re really a good addition, and I changed from dark raisins to golden raisins because I thought they were more flavorful. [7]

            Fruit soup can be served for all sorts of occasions, such as Christmas and St. Martin’s day, but it can also be used as an everyday main course. However, it is regularly well-presented, regardless of occasion. A possible reason for this presentation is that “in the old days in Scandinavia, fruit was a luxury reserved for special occasions.” [8]

            The table was set with crisp white linens. The baked cheese came to us sizzling from the oven, and we spooned souffle-like portions onto our plates. She accompanied the cheese with red beet salad, rye buns, and, for dessert, Finnish Plum Pudding, a thick cinnamon-and-rum flavored fruit soup made with prunes. In the living room afterward, we had ginger cookies and coffee. It was a most memorable lunch. [9]
For a guest in Sweden, whether in a friend’s home on in a country inn, breakfast is an event to remember. Not only is there fruit juice and fresh fruit or berries (especially in the summertime) but fruit soup, too. [10]
            The preparation of standard fruit soup is fairly straight forward and yields a soup conducive to freezing:

Cut the apricots and prunes into quarters and place in a 2½-quart saucepan. Add the golden and dark raisins, currants, cinnamon stick, orange peel and tapioca. Add the juice or water and let stand for one hour. Stir in the sugar. Place over moderate heat and heat to boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the soup is thickened. Add the apple and cook for 10 minutes, or until the apple is tender. Remove from heat and cool. Pour the soup into a serving bowl, cover, and chill. Serve with cream. [11]

            In addition to the regional differences of fruit soup, time has also had its effect on the recipe. New recipes revamping fruit soup can be found in many ethnic cookbooks, specialty shops, and culinary magazines. Some variations of fruit soup are the Danish Krasesuppe, Cherry Riesling Soup, and Berry Pudding with Cream or Rodgrod med Flode.

[1] Kvittem, Marcy. Interview by Grace Murray. Personal interview. Kenyon, October 26, 2015.
[2] Beatrice A. Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts: Celebrating Traditions throughout the Year (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2001), 262.
[3] Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts, 10.
[4] Eric Dregni, Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2011), 31.
[5] Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (New York: Knopf, 1994), 160.
[6] Dregni, Vikings in the Attic,39.
[7] Kvittem, Marcy. Interview by Grace Murray. Personal interview. Kenyon, October 26, 2015.
[8] Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts, 169.
[9] Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts, 143.
[10] Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts, 9.
[11] Ojakangas, Scandinavian Feasts, 10.