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The Smorgasbord

by Bertil Falk

As to the word smörgåsbord, it is very strange. Smör means ‘butter’, the word gås means ‘goose’ and the word bord means ‘table’: literally ‘butter-goose-table’.

Now, the first two words combined — smörgås — is the common Swedish word for an open sandwich. Its etymology goes back to the days when people churned and made their own butter in their cottages. When churning, small blobs of butter rose to the surface of the milk and drifted about like geese. And those geese (of butter) were perfect to put on a slice of bread, thus: smör + gås = ’butter-geese’, hence an open sandwich.

But the development of the smörgåsbord has its roots in the 16th century, when the so-called brännvinsbord (schnapps table) was common. It was actually a starter consisting of five parts plus schnapps as well as different kinds of bread, one or two kinds of cheese, fish like herrings, some sausage, etc.

In the 19th century, the brännvinsbord turned into the smörgåsbord. That can be overwhelming, at least in its ultimate incarnation, the julbord (the ‘Yule table’), which can be found everywhere in Sweden from November till Christmas. I think that there were almost 200 dishes on the biggest julbord ever made.

Last Xmas our family (nine people) went to the castle of Svaneholm (Swan Island), where they dished up a “smaller” julbord with just about 100+ dishes. In order to get good value for your money when eating an expensive smörgåsbord or julbord, you must be very choosy: stay away from the cheap sausages and meatballs and instead go for the cod liver pastry and similar delicacies.

Have a nice meal!


Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk

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