For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with IKEA’s role in Texas-Swedish culture.
The home furnishing giant, which started in Sweden in 1943 and opened its first Texas store in 2005, flourished in the U.S. more than 100 years after Swedish immigrants started settling here.
Swedes were hugely influential in Central Texas starting in the mid-1800s, and many of the streets, parks and landmarks, especially in Williamson County, are named after Swedish settlers. Even Austin Bergstrom International Airport is named after a Swede.
Yet we eat kolaches and not kanelbullar.
Not to say that Czech culture in Texas isn’t equally as important or worth preserving, but Texas-Czech culture is thriving in a way that Texas-Swedish culture is not. There is a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Austin, and Swedes in Elgin and New Sweden host mid-summer and St. Lucia celebrations, but for the most part, Austinites don’t see evidence of Swedish influence on Texas in the same way that we see German and Czech influences, especially when it comes to food.
Except when you go to IKEA.
At a midsummer celebration a few years ago, I was blown away to see so many Swedish expats, Swedish-Texans or people who just have an interest in Swedish culture gathering to eat Jansson’s Temptation (a creamy potato casserole) and sip on lingonberry soda.
Once I saw IKEA through a different lens, I started to love going there, specifically to buy food from the small grocery market near the exit. Right before my trip to Sweden, I stopped by IKEA to stock up on meatballs, cinnamon rolls, pear soda and lingonberry jam so that my kids, who were staying with my parents in Missouri, could have a taste of Scandinavia while I was gone.
Two weeks later, on the way home from picking them up after I returned, we stopped by IKEA again to drop another $60 on Swedish food. Call it an at-home souvenir.
I tried the veggie balls during this week’s Facebook livestream — I do these every Wednesday at noon — and as you can see, I was not a fan. At the store, they serve the veggie balls with an Indian-spiced sweet potato sauce that might improve their flavor, but when simply baked in the oven, they tasted like pea paste studded with pieces of corn and bell peppers. I’ve had a few people tell me they like these veggie balls, but maybe I just don’t love the taste of peas enough to like them.
Or maybe I love their regular meatballs too much to be able to fairly judge them.
The second new product was this multi-grain baking mix that comes in what looks like a square milk carton. I had this bread several times in Sweden, where it is generally called seeded rye bread. The mix has wheat and rye flours, wheat and rye flakes, sunflower seeds, linseed, malt and yeast, and to make it, you pour hot water directly in the carton, close it up and shake the heck out of it for 45 seconds. Pour the batter into a bread pan, let rise for 45 minutes and then bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.
I should have pulled the loaf out after about 50 minutes because it’s extra crusty on top and a little too chewy on the edges, but in general, this is a good approximation of the dense, hearty bread you’ll find served with hard-boiled eggs, salmon, tiny shrimp or ham for breakfast, lunch or fika, the afternoon snack.
What are we doing with the rest of the haul? Making elderflower kombucha, celebrating the end of the school week with the sparkling pear cider and trying to limit our intake of the chocolate heart cookies and the heart-shaped waffles. (I already finished the package of dill gravlax.)
What do you like from the IKEA restaurant or food store? Where are the hidden pockets of Swedish culture that I’ve been looking for? Have a good recipe for Swedish meatballs to share?