1 Bottle White Wine (Riesling)
1 Small Piece of Ginger or 0.25 oz Powdered Ginger
1 Bay Laurel Leaf
0.5 Cup Remy Martin VSOP
Peel lemon, removing as little of the pith as possible
Add all ingredients (sugar to taste) to a sauce pan and bring to a simmer over low heat
Remove remaining pith from peeled lemon and section
Serve warm, garnished with a lemon section
Note: Once you have the flavor the like, get the solids out of the punch asap, especially the cloves.
Yield: 3.5 Cups
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If you read our post on Glӧgg, you know that I’m (mostly) Swedish. That heritage has always been important to me and my family. Christmas means meatballs, lefse, pickled herring, krumkake, and rosettes – an American hodgepodge of various Scandinavian traditions. Although we claim to be fiercely Swedish, in reality any good Nordic tradition is welcome – which explains how I once found myself making a documentary about a group of Finnish folkdancers.
True, it’s seemingly one of the stranger creative moments in my life (I also once made a teddy bear – sewing and stuffing and all – but in my defense I was about seven at the time), but there’s a very good reason behind it. Mostly, that reason was me trying to pass off one final for two distinct classes. See, I was a film student at UCLA, and in my senior year, I had yet to take my documentary film class or fulfill my elective requirement. As my unofficial minor was comparative mythology (I simply took as many mythology classes as I could fit in), my first choice for the elective was Swedish Folklore – which would have been great, if such a class had been offered. No, the closest thing was Finnish Folklore – but, really, how different could it be?
I was beside myself. Where were Thor, Odin, and Loki? Where was Baldur? I had made the obvious mistake most Americans make; I had assumed that Finland was part of Scandinavia. After all, it had a similar flag. And, if it wasn’t sibling to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, what the heck was it doing up there in the top-right corner of Europe? Trying to mind its own business, it seems. I won’t go into a deep history of Finland here; for the point of our story, Finland was traded back and forth between the Swedes and the Russians until it finally won its independence from Russia in 1917, not wanting to be part of the newly forming Soviet Union (which actually came about a few years later, but you get the idea). Since gaining that independence, the Finns have fiercely protected it, and key to their strength was a newly fostered sense of nationalism — which stemmed directly from the epic poem “The Kalevala”.
Unlike Norse or Greek myths, “The Kalevala” is unique in that it is a modern invention. To clarify, the stories contained within it are old, but no one had taken the time to collect and document what were, up until then, purely oral traditions — until a chap named Elias Lönnrot came along. Lönnrot was a medical student with a deep love of Finnish poetry and the traditional Finnish relationship between medicine and magic. This was only strengthened by Lönnrot’s position as a medical officer during the Helsinki cholera epidemic of 1831 as well as subsequent waves of famine, dysentery, and typhoid fever that struck the region. It was at about this time that Lönnrot began the first of his eleven walking tours of Finland, Lapland, Estonia, and parts of Russia with the aim of collecting, unifying, and documenting the oral traditions of his people.
The first edition of “The Kalevala” was published in 1835, with an expanded version coming in 1849. The basic story follows the adventures of various demigods/ heroes — Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkainen (the Brad Pitt role) – as they battle the evil Louhi, a witch from the north. Central to the conflict is a magic mill, called the Sampo, which magically produced salt, flour, and gold. Throughout the story, the Sampo trades hands between our heroes and Louhi, until in a final battle, it is smashed to pieces. What’s most interesting about the myth is the use of song as an ultimate power –applied both as weapon and medicine, as needed. To say that Lönnrot’s work was well received would be a gross understatement. For the first time in their history, his people had their own cultural identity – no longer were they merely the subjects of Swedish or Russian rule. They were Finns.
Nationalistic art and music and culture followed, and it was this wave of identity which ultimately lead to the Finn’s independence from Russia – although, many of the areas where Lönnrot had gathered his stories still remained, until recently, locked behind the Iron Curtain. As is the want of any people, the Finns spread out over the world, with the group central to our story having settled in the greater Los Angeles area.
It was the 1984 Summer Olympics that had brought these Finns together. As part of the cultural festivals surrounding the games, Finland needed a group to represent its national traditions, and so a pack of Southern California Finns – some immigrants, some American-born – gathered to form a folk dancing ensemble. Many of them had never danced before, particularly not the Finnish polkas. It was five years after the Olympics that I set out (with my intrepid producer Bonnie Negrete – credit where credit is due) to catch-up with the group for our documentary/class-final Pieces of the Sampo. Much to our surprise, the group was, by-and-large, still dancing together. The members, as you might expect, were comprised of people from all walks of life, and they spoke to us of how, no matter who they were or where life took them, they were not unlike those broken pieces of the Sampo – cast adrift but part of something larger and magical all the same. Among those that we interviewed (I apologize here because the name escapes me), was the former chef to Finnish Consul General. Suffice it to say, we were well fed.
Ever since that period, now some twenty years ago, I have had an affinity for Finnish food. So, when we assembled our drinks list for Christmas, and I happened upon this Finnish variation of Glӧgg, I decided to include it. While, structurally, it is similar to the red Glӧgg, the ingredients make for a vastly different animal. I especially like the inclusion of the bay leaf. The recipe we borrowed from Finnguide.fi doesn’t specify a specific varietal of white wine, but our instinct was to go with a German Riesling, stellar examples of which can be had for very little money ($20 or so). Look for a nice Kabinett or Spätlese, which range from having a hint of sweetness to a medium sweetness depending on the year. Add sugar as you like, noting that the sweeter the wine, the less sugar you’ll obviously need. We added four cubes of raw, brown sugar, which was perfect for me. Lesley opted for more. And, of course, enjoy – with its strong citrus profile, this on makes for a great palate cleanser if you’re serving richer foods (it would pair perfectly with gravlax).
Just as there are red wine drinkers and white wine drinkers – as well as those of us who love both—we thought we’d offer up a couple of options for your holiday Glӧgg. Just be sure to make enough to get your guests singing – at which point, you’ll be celebrating like true Finns.
Esoterica: There’s some debate as to whether Tolkien’s Gandalf wasn’t actually based on Vainamoinen.