Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Finns det några snälla barn här?"

Every Christmas Eve tomte, a troll-like mini-Santa, visits homes across Sweden and asks “Are there any good children here?” If the answer is “Yes!” tomte parcels out gifts. In return, families leave a bowl of rice pudding outside for tomte and if the bowl is empty on Christmas morning, good luck will reign all year.

On his Christmas trek tomte is often accompanied by a goat. Jul goats predate Christianity. Their pagan hooves trotted across northern Europe and Scandinavia and were befriended by everyone from Thor to modern tomte. Early goats were tricksters demanding treats. Contemporary goats carry tomte and his gifts to good children on Christmas Eve, although it isn't clear to me whether the goat partakes in tomte's rice pudding reward.

Goats not lucky enough to pal around with tomte can be found lounging under Christmas trees, observing as families prepare their homes for the holidays. I don't know what the goat does if the family fails to construct a flawless celebration, and I don't want to find out. There are currently three Jul goats in our house, waiting and watching (a slightly less disturbing version of Elf on the Shelf).

Barley pudding is rice pudding's ultra-hip grandmother.  Rice was not widely available to impoverished Swedes until the late nineteenth century.  Barley pudding was typical fare on Christmas and for other important celebrations.  As rice became popular among lower classes, it replaced barley.

Rice pudding lore includes a prophetic feature.  A variety of items are baked into the dish.  Bite into an almond and you are to be married, but bite into a butter almond and you'll become a spinster.  Bite into a brown bean and marry a widower or widow. Discover a silver coin and expect wealth (hopefully you won't lose a tooth in the bargain!).  Modern Swedes set a bowl of rice pudding outside on Christmas Eve for the tomte as thanks for his protection of the house and family.  An empty bowl in on Christmas morning predicts peace and prosperity for the coming year. 

Barley-Coconut Pudding
Serves 8
1 cup barley*
2 x 14 ounce cans coconut milk or cream
1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/3 cup diced dried mango, pineapple, or pear
Juice and zest from 1 small lime
Vanilla bean, halved and seeded
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon each ginger and fresh ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
Up to 1 cup of additional coconut milk, half-n-half, or pineapple juice
Optional garnish: toasted grated coconut and nutmeg

In wire mesh colander rinse raw barley with cold water until the water runs clear. Place barley in large pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Drain barley and return it to pot. Add coconut milk, dried fruit, lime juice, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, sugar, ginger, cardamom, and salt. Bring to simmer and then cover and cook on low until barley is tender and milk thickened, about 30 – 40 minutes; stirring occasionally.

Remove cover during final 10 minutes of cook time and add coconut milk, half–n-half or pineapple juice if pudding becomes dry. Remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Garnish with lime zest, toasted grated coconut, and nutmeg.

*Note: some barley may take up to 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook. Add additional cooking time to first boil accordingly.


Elizabeth Reishus said...

My hubby has a small pressure cooker for grains, but I fear it. It seems to me, though, it would speed up the process for this dish. Have you ever used a pressure cooker for grains? Any advice?

patrice said...

Hi Liz! I have never used a pressure cooker, but a rice maker works well with grains. Or use a quick-cooking barley. This recipe is one of my favorites. Happy New Year!