Skål! Swedish Glögg in the Nordquist tradition
Holiday traditions are as varied as the people that celebrate them. Ask any person what evokes that holiday spirit in them, and you will be given answers across the spectrum or sights and sounds and smells and tastes. For some it is that first cold day, or the first snowflake. For others it is the sound of carols being played on the radio or the decorations going up around the neighborhood. In our home, we always celebrated Christmas, and the real indicator that the holiday was close was when my father made his traditional Swedish meatballs and cooked up the family Glögg. To fully explain what Glögg is and means to those that participate in the tradition, I have to defer to my father’s own words on the subject.
I post this every year, usually right around the time I make my own batch… which is currently in progress…
“Glögg, with an umlaut over the “o,” and unpronounceable until imbibed, is a Swedish mulled wine drink that has been served in my family since the dawn of creation. I am told that “Glögg” means “glow” and comes from the traditional way of heating it by plunging a glowing poker from the fire into it. Like reality, Glögg is constructed, and like reality, mutable from one iteration to the next. The origins of the recipe are lost in the fog of Swedish woods, but this is how it goes today:
Take a big pot (size depends on how much you are going to make – multiply the following quantities to increase the volume) and put in a cup of water and a handful of raisins. Make several cheesecloth bags of spices containing about 5 cardamom seeds each (shell cracked) and 5 whole cloves each, as well as a large pinch of orange zest. Fling it in the pot along with 5 or 6 sticks of cinnamon. Over time you can experiment with spice proportions to mutate the taste to suit yours –a variation of “survival of the fittest”. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, add a cup of red wine, and simmer for 15 more minutes [to absorb the concentrated flavors of the spices]. Add a bottle of red wine, cheap but flavorful, and a bottle of port – I use tawny. Cover and heat until steaming, but not boiling. Simmering it uncovered and/or boiling it removes the alcohol, thus altering the fabric of space-time, and wasting everyone’s time.
Glögg can be drunk at anytime after completion, but it is best if it sits in the refrigerator for a few days before serving. Be careful when you reheat not to bring it to a boil. Keep it covered when hot. Serve it in a small cup, being sure to include a few raisins, along with a small spoon.
Part of the tradition is to reserve a small portion from year to year to add to each new vintage. This has all manner of metaphoric virtues. I like to think that I am drinking the same Glögg that my dad and I drank 50 years ago, and his father (“Far Far”) before him, and my son and daughter after me.” – John Nordquist (my father)
I have been making Glögg now for most of my adult life, having begun with the addition of a “starter” from my father. The aroma of the spices and wine filling the house have come to symbolize what the holidays mean to me: family, friendship, and an open home to all passers-by.