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'Real' Swedish meatballs good enough for the King of Sweden - can my family complain?

By John Edward YoungStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 18, 1983

Christmas smorgasbord always ends up being a happy occasion at my house. It's those long weeks between Thanksgiving night and Christmas Eve when things get a little traumatic.

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There used to be two lingering questions that brought seasonal shudders to the family.

The first was what to get our spinster cousin Lydia for Christmas. Fortunately, the family grew to such proportions that we voted several years ago not to exchange gifts.

This has only made the remaining question loom larger. It is: ''Who will make the Swedish meatballs?''

Meatballs may be meatballs to you, but in Swedish families like mine the meatball isn't just eaten, it is practically lionized. Whoever is goaded into making them assumes an enormous responsiblity.

This is how it always goes:

We have just put away a Thanksgiving dinner of appropriate magnitude at my sister Jeanne's rambling old Currier & Ives cape in New Hampshire. (Thanksgiving is always there). The entire family is gathered around the huge fieldstone fireplace in a state of suspended somnambulance. The silence is broken.

''Where should we have our Christmas smorgasbord this year?'' someone asks.

''Well I think we should have it at John's house this year,'' another answers. (It's been at my house for 30 years!)

''That's fine with me as long as everyone helps out and brings something,'' I groan.

Silence again.

''That's fine with me as long as everyone helps out and brings something,'' a little louder this time.

''Well, OK, I'll bring a tossed salad,'' someone offers. ''And I'll bring a roast ham and some pickled herring,'' says another. And so it goes down to, and except for, The Swedish Meatballs.

''Well, who wants to make the meatballs?'' I ask?

More silence.

''The meatballs, who's going to make the Swedish meatballs? We can't have a smorgasbord without the meatballs.'' My voice assumes a decided pitch here.

Finally, someone bites the bullet, and with beaded brow announces. ''OK, I will.''

Then, come Christmas Eve - at my house, of course - the meatballs are ceremoniously placed in the family brass and pewter chafing dish just to the right of the centerpiece.

Everyone grabs for the toothpicks, stabs a meatball, downs it, nods and agrees - publicly - ''They're good.''

But when the crowd dissipates, little criticisms are inevitably heard in corners.

''Yes, they were good, but they're not like Grandmother's meatballs.''

Or, ''Well, I think they're better than last year's. Who made them last year, anyway?''

Or, ''They're good but they're still not real Swedish meatballs.''

And so it has gone ever since I can remember. Until now.

Enter Chef Per Nilsson - just in time.

Nilsson and staff have flown over from Stockholm to open the Sheraton-Boston's new Boylston Park Cafe. And for two weeks, under the lights and mirrors of this glittering new restaurant, the Swedish chefs have laid on a ''Royal Swedish Smorgasbord.''

''What makes a smorgasbord a smorgasbord?'' I asked Chef Nilsson.

''Herring, it's got to have herring. There's no such thing as a smorgasbord without herring.'' he said.

And it's ''royal'' because it was assembled under the direction of Tore Wretman - culinary adviser to the Royal Swedish Court. Master Chef Wretman has been named commander of the Vasa Order, Sweden's equivalent of knighthood, for his efforts. Certainly a man who knows his meatballs.