Russian literary genius Aleksander Pushkin concluded one of his fairy tales with these words: “The tale is a lie, but there’s a hint in it, a lesson for the fine lads”… Indeed, we find that each fairy tale, while not exactly a true story, inevitably leaves us a breadcrumb trail of clues, tiny glimpses into the time when the story was created — be it detail of the dress, or description of the tools and housewares, particulars of the language, etiquette, holiday traditions, and of course food. In fact, there is lots of food in fairy tales; it’s everywhere — sometimes mentioned in passing, sometimes serving as a centerpiece of the story!
Denmark gave birth to one of the greatest storytellers of all times — Hans Christian Andersen. We grew up reading his stories, watching the movies based on his fairy tales. His works became so absorbed into other cultures that often we forget that he was Danish. He certainly belongs to the world. Yet, his stories and fairy tales bring to live remarkable number of very real details of everyday living — from blue checkered apron of the witch in The Tinder-Box, to the detailed description of the poor girl’s room in Five Peas From A Pod, to the worn out house slippers of the king in The Swineherd…
Speaking of The Swineherd… One of the centerpieces of the story is a magic kitchen-pot with little bells… The bells are chiming when it cooks, and if you hold your finger in the steam, you’ll immediately know what’s cooking in the kitchens around town — what a fine idea! And that little pot was the reason the spoiled arrogant princess allowed herself to kiss the swineherd: she wanted badly to know what everyone around her was cooking for dinner, now how is that for a little royal foodie? And now we find a little breadcrumb here… let’s read closely, shall we?
The pot was boiling the whole evening, and the whole of the following day. They knew perfectly well what was cooking at every fire throughout the city, from the chamberlain’s to the cobbler’s; the court-ladies danced and clapped their hands.
“We know who has soup, and who has pancakes for dinner to-day, who has cutlets, and who has eggs. How interesting!”
These sound like very real dishes — soup and pancakes, cutlets and eggs? Now wait a minute, I remember the story as it was translated into Russian, and it said sweet soup and crepes, pork cutlets and kasha… Hmm, it looks like both English and Russian translators took liberties with the menu… The original Andersen’s text is saying:
Vi ved hvem der skal have sød suppe og pandekage! Vi ved hvem der skal have grød og karbonade!
which literally translates as
We know who will eat sweet soup and pancake! We know who is to have porridge and cutlet!
So, it turns out that the soup was sweet, and it was eaten with a pancake? How interesting, indeed — a very real detail of very real Danish cookery!
Danish Sweet Soup is a delicate concoction made of varied dried fruit and tapioca (or white rice), gently cooked down with spices to a thick sauce or pudding consistency and served as dessert. Danish pancakes are very much like crepes — they are thin, not plump (which makes Russian version of the story certainly more accurate). And now picture this elegant dessert put together — thin rolled up crepes and creamy fruit pudding. Sounds like something possibly worth kissing a swineherd for…
Danish Sweet Soup & Pancakes
(Sød Suppe Og Pandekager)
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “Swineherd”
For the Soup:
- 1/2 cup dried apples
- 1/2 cup dried pears
- 20-25 pitted prunes, preferably unflavored
- 20 dried apricots
- 1/2 cup currants (small raisins)
- 1/2 cup goden raisins
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 anise star
- 2-3 whole dry cloves
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup fruit juice (completely optional)
- 2-3 slices of fresh lemon
- 4 heaping tbsp instant tapioca
- whipped cream or creme fraiche for garnish
- Slice dried apples and pears if necessary
- Combine all of the dried fruit, water and juice in a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
- Add spices and lemon slices, and continue simmering for about 10-15 minutes, until fruit softens
- Add tapioca, stir thoroughly, and continue cooking until tapioca becomes clear and thickens the soup, for about 10-15 minutes longer.
Sweet soup can be thickened further by adding more tapioca, and cooked until it’s pudding like consistency, in which case it can be served warm or cold as dessert, with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
For the Pancakes:
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp sugar (optional)
- 2 tbsp melted butter (1/4 stick)
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups milk
- melted butter or oil for greasing the skillet
- Whisk the first five ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
- Start adding milk slowly, little by little, whisking all the while, until batter reaches thin butter milk-like consistency. Reserve a bit more milk for later, just in case.
- Heat a cast iron or non-stick skillet on medium (electric stove was set between 6 and 7 for me).
- If using cast iron, grease the skillet using a brush.
- Once greased skillet starts smoking lightly, pour about 1/3 cup of batter in the middle of the skillet.
- Using your other hand, quickly grab the skillet and swirl the batter around, distributing it evenly on the bottom of the skillet. The first 1-2 pancakes will be your test. If you feel the batter doesn’t spread around quickly enough, add a bit more milk to the remaining batter and stir to distribute. By the third pancake, you should have it perfect.
- Once pancake is nicely browned on one side, flip it over using a sharp spatula and brown on the other side.
- Continue with the remaining batter. Stack cooked pancakes neatly — they will keep each other warm and nimble.
- Serve pancakes alongside sweet soup, with a bit of whipped cream or powdered sugar on top.