David and Hjördis Niven’s Christmas recipes, 1967

David Niven in the kitchen, 1967
David Niven in the kitchen, 1967

“Traditionally we have Swedish food on Christmas Eve and toast each other with mugs of glögg,” David told ‘Celebrity Cookbook’ columnist Johna Blinn in 1967. “After doing the whole Swedish bit, we celebrate Christmas Day with a typical English dinner of turkey and plum pudding. We wind up tons heavier, not speaking to anyone.”

He then wheeled out one of his prize anecdotes, about Hjördis’ struggles with the English language back in 1948: “When we first were married, I was making a picture in California. My wife was determined to have the traditional Christmas Day dinner of roast suckling pig. She went to The Mayfair to order the piglet and ended up getting a 420 pound porker. The thing had to be cooked in sections like the Santa Fe Chief.”

“Through my influence, they have opened their eyes to Swedish cuisine and smörgåsbord is at the top of the culinary favourites,” Hjördis proudly wrote about her family of Nivens. “When we visit Sweden, David eats shrimp with every meal, but he loves all sorts of fish.”

“I’m afraid I have to admit that my husband is a much more skilled cook than I am, nobody can make omelettes as well as he can. So, whenever we happen to be alone at home without any help, David is responsible for the meals. Whenever we have a couple of friends for dinner, or a lot of people for a party, he supervises everything in the smallest detail. He is a great organizer, perhaps as a result of his years as a British army officer.” And he was also the one to provide Ms Blinn with the Swedish Christmas recipes for her column.

The recipes

“The best way to get into the holiday spirit is to have glögg.” (And also the best way to find yourself washed up on a deserted beach with no memory of the previous week, but I digress…)

Julglögg (Christmas wine)
  • Half bottle akvavit /aquavit (or vodka)
  • 1 bottle port
  • 1 bottle claret (or sherry)
  • 10 cardamom seeds
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 pieces cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
  • 4 figs (or pears), optional
  • 2 bitter orange peels
  • 1 cup blanched shredded almonds
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • Half cup of lump sugar
  • Cognac (or whisky) as desired

1. Use large decorative copper kettle. Pour in spirits, slowly bring to simmer. Place cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon and orange peel in cheesecloth bag; throw into the “glögg”, simmer slowly about 10 minutes.

2. Add fruit, simmer 10 minutes longer; remove from heat. Discard spice bag.

3. Place lump sugar in sieve over kettle. Moisten sugar, with cognac (or whisky); ignite sugar, holding match well away from the face. Ladle “glögg” over sugar lumps while sugar melts and drips down into kettle to sweeten the drink.

4. Extinguish flame by covering kettle. Serve hot in silver goblets (or ceramic mugs) with few raisins and almonds. If desired, skip the sugar cube process, and sweeten the glögg by adding sugar just before serving.

Glögg may be made several days in advance and cooled and stored in well-corked bottles. Reheat just before serving, but do not boil.

Afterthoughts: Ingredients are subject to infinite variation. Swedes often combine tart and sweet wines, one of which should be red. Schnapps only add to the potency of the brew. Traditionally the Swedes serve glögg in special copper kettles, but it can be poured steaming hot into a silver punch bowl.

Julgrot (Christmas rice pudding)
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 2 tbsps. sweet butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 5.5 cups milk, two pieces of cinnamon stick, each about 1.5 inches long
  • 1 tsp. salt, scant tbsp. sugar

1. Scald rice with boiling water. Melt half the amount of butter, add to rice and water. Boil 15 minutes (or until water is absorbed.)

2. Add milk, cinnamon stick, cook slowly about 45 minutes (or until rice is tender and milk has been absorbed) stir often to avoid scorching.

3. Season, add remaining butter. Pour the porridge into deep dish and serve with cold milk and sugar. Traditionally, the family cook adds a single almond to the rice. Tradition rules that the one who gets the almond is to be the next one married in the coming year. Serves six.

Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s temptation)

“My wife makes a simple little thing called Jansson’s Temptation that’s terribly good. It’s nothing more than a potato and onion thing done in cream…”

This recipe has been tried and approved by Silver Screen Suppers.

Next page: All so distinctive and ‘notice me’, 1968

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