I have never actually been to Sweden. But, funnily enough, I have always felt somehow connected to this country. You’ll ask why, I suppose. Well, when I was in primary school (aged probably somewhere between 8-9), one of the books we read was Astrid Lindgren’s The Six Bullerby Children (in America called The Children of Noisy Village). Not Pippi Longstocking, surprisingly (although I did read it and loved it, later on in life).
The Six Bullerby Children is a story set in 1930s rural Sweden, in a small village consisting of just three houses, in which six children live. Reading this book, one gets an image of a remote countryside, idyllic land where life is slow paced and everyone seems to be happy. Even the war is only mentioned briefly, as something what could possibly happen soon, but you sort of get a feeling that it’s not going to directly influence the life in this small village, so far away from big politics and the world’s most important events.
The six kids described in the book have created a ‘group role model’ for myself, when I was about their age. Living in a village, not having great resources or even access to the same things kids in the cities do, requires a fair share of creativity, of working harder than other kids to make your childhood interesting, to overcome overwhelming boredom. I myself grew up in a small village, not as remote as the one from the book though. Reading about these six kids was like a mine of ideas, for me and my friends. We would copy their ways of doing things: how they play, what do they do when bored, what do they eat, how do they celebrate Christmas or New Year.
When I was growing up, there was no computers, no mobile phones, no Internet. The world of the six kids from Bullerby fitted in perfectly in our lives. The author of the book, in an amazingly interesting way, takes us on a journey through customs, traditions, seasons of Sweden. I remember how hooked I was, reading this book when I was 9. I had never been abroad yet, I had never even met a foreigner. Reading about these kids from ‘far away Sweden’ (it felt like miles and miles away at the time), with foreign-sounding names, I realised that they are just like us – what a discovery for a 9-year old child!
I don’t even know if this book is still on the list of mandatory readings for primary school. It had such a big impact on my childhood and helped me expand my horizons, realise that there are kids just like us, everywhere in the world. Even though when I look back now, I do realise that the book had idealised the Swedish countryside, described it as a fairy-tale like land, omitting any problems which could and did probably arise. Nevertheless, the story in the book was told by Lisa, one of the kids, so automatically the readers identify themselves with her. She’s just like us!, they’d think. How can one expect a child to be aware of the possible issues occurring in adult life? The book creates a perfect children’s world, as seen by kids, the world of which every child wants to be a part of. And in a unnoticeable way the author teaches us all a lesson; a worthwhile lesson on true human values; in a simple, charming way she touches deep and important issues, conveying the universal wisdoms with a great deal of humour. Isn’t that a way of showing the readers (in this case, mostly kids) that it’s worth being a good person? And also, showing us, adults, how kids see the world and how we are supposed to protect them from that Big, Scary Place until they are ready to face it.
“You can put things in a book that o n l y children are amused by. You can certainly also have in it things that both children and adults enjoy, but you must never put things in a children’s book that amuse only adults. That would be rude to the child – who is going to read the book.“, said Astrid Lindgren. I’m thinking about my two little nieces, they are still too small to read but I do hope I can be the one who will give them amazing books to read, so their childhood will be that much richer. Kids nowadays make much less use of their imagination, I think. In the age of smartphones and video games, there is very little space left for imagining. Reading a book is a great practice: how to make these flat letters and sentences come to life? I hope my nieces love reading, when they are a bit bigger. Childhood is such an amazing time, the only time in life when we can simply enjoy living, without a single worry. And it’s our job, as adults, to make this time beautiful for children. I wish all the kids in the world had a happy childhood, I often think of those who are stuck in adults’ problems, conflicts, wars. I do realise that not everyone can become an activist and fight for children’s rights but I can’t help but thinking: if each of us tried a little bit harder, on a small scale, in our own family or local community, how much nicer the world could become? All it takes is to realise that things we take for granted, are someone else’s dream.
And now, the recipe for the famous Swedish cinnamon rolls. I made them quite a few times now, they are just perfect. Especially for the gloomy and chilly autumn evenings: nothing better than a cinnamon-smelling house. My sister requested me to post the recipe, I do hope she’ll make these pastries for the girls :)) I found a recipe ages ago, somewhere online, unfortunately I can’t find the address of the website now. It was such a long time ago! Even though I altered it a little, thank you for a great recipe, whoever posted it online :)
SWEDISH CINNAMON PASTRY
for the pastry
2 and 1/2 tsp dried yeast
2tbsp warm water
1 cup milk (or almond milk)
1tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk (reserve egg white)
1/3 cup sugar
2tsp freshly ground cardamon
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups flour
2tbsp vegetable oil
for the filling
1/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2tbsp warm milk
icing sugar, for dusting
HOW TO MAKE?
1. In a bowl, mix yeast, 2tbsp of water and 1tsp of sugar together and set aside for about 5-10 minutes. It’ll let the yeast activate.
2. In a small saucepan, heat up the milk, butter and vanilla extract, just so the butter melts. Careful not to boil the milk. Remove from heat and let it cool, should be lukewarm rather than hot. When it’s cooled down, mix the yeast mixture in.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together an egg, egg yolk, sugar, cardamon and salt, until well combined. Add milk and yeast mixture, mix well. Add the flour. At this point, I usually transfer the mixture to the pastry board and knead a soft and silky dough. If the dough is too loose (and it will probably be), add some more flour.
4. Grease a big bowl with 2tbsp of oil and place your freshly kneaded dough in a bowl. Cover with a cloth and set aside to rise, about 2 hours.
5. Prepare the filling. Mix the butter, sugars, warm milk and cinnamon until you get an even paste.
6. When the dough has risen, transfer it to a flour-dusted pastry board and divide into two parts. Roll out each part into a 30x20cm rectangle. Spread half of the filling on each of the rectangles.
7. Shape the rolls. To do so, fold each rectangle into thirds (like a business letter). Roll it out slightly. Cut the rectangles into 20cm long and about 2cm wide strips. Holding the strip with your both hands, stretch it lightly and twist it. Repeat with each strip.
8. Grab each twisted strip with one hand and coil the dough around your hand twice, then over the top. Tuck the loose end at the bottom. You can also look up a video of how to do it here.
9. Place shaped pastries on a baking tin lined with baking parchment. Set aside for about 12-15 minutes, letting them rise again.
10. Whisk the reserved egg white together with a few tablespoons of water. Brush each of the buns with the beaten egg whites and place in a preheated to 180 degrees Celsius oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
10. When chilled, sprinkle with some icing sugar. All done, enjoy!