In New Mexico, which is very proud of its “tri-cultural” heritage, the contributions of Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglo-Americans are manifest in its languages, architecture, cuisine and cultural events. While New Mexico has certainly not shunned multi-culturalism, the lack of concentrated communities of residents from other heritages has meant those heritages aren’t celebrated as prominently, if at all. As much as my wife, a very proud Swede, has come to love New Mexico and the contributions of its tri-cultural population, she misses the availability of Swedish cuisine, products and the melodic, sing-song lilt of a Swedish accent.
Kim’s maternal grandparents immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s via Ryker’s Island. They settled in Chicago because of its considerable Swedish presence extending well back into the 19th century. The predominantly Swedish community of Andersonville, established in the 19th century, bids us Välkommen!” during many of our visits. Andersonville has been the home, since the late 1920s, of the Swedish Bakery, the ultimate Swedish neighborhood sweet shop and purveyor of the exquisite pastries, cakes and breads with which she grew up.
The amazing aromas of freshly baked products at the Swedish Bakery are such a potent medium for conjuring up memories of her childhood that my Kim can’t help but reminisce fondly of days long gone when such fragrances wafted from her grandmother’s kitchen. Watching her at the Swedish Bakery reminds me of the wide-eyed children who won a visit to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I’d also be disingenuous if I didn’t admit those aromas didn’t linger on my olfactory memories, too.
As enticing as those aromas are, the visual treat of ogling the bakery’s products under glass display cases provides an irresistible urge to sample some of everything: cakes; logs, rolls, slices; petits fours; pastries; loaves and bunds; coffeecakes; sweet rolls; donuts; pies and seasonal or holiday items. The Swedish Bakery is a veritable panacea for remedying the malaise we have when missing great Swedish foods.
Although the Swedish Bakery has an orderly process for filling orders, the queues of eager diners are usually long, particularly preceding the holiday season. You’re well advised to call in your order the day before so it will be available for pick up. If you do, however, you’re apt to miss having friendly discussions with fellow patrons, many of whom will be speaking with the unmistakable cadence of Swedish Americans. Despite the characteristically long lines, no one seems to lose patience as they wait their turn.
A must-have during a typical visit is limpa, a dense, moist Swedish rye bread flavored usually flavored with anise seed and molasses (and often cardamom and orange peel). This fragrant bread is perfect for toast, buttered lightly or slathered with your favorite jelly or marmalade. It’s hard to find limpa in the United States outside of Swedish communities like Andersonville. We covet this rare treat.
Another of our favorites is the fabulous cardamom coffee cake. Cardamom is an intense spice about which can be said that a little goes a long way. At the Swedish Bakery, the cardamom and cinnamon are perfectly proportioned to complement one another. This has become my very favorite coffee cake in the world.
5348 North Clark Street
LATEST VISIT: 22 November 2005
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Cardamom Coffee Cake, Limpa, Sweet Rolls, Donuts