Thick Sour Milk Makes My Day!

A bowl of filmjölk with corn flakes, meusli and blueberries.

   A bowl of filmjölk with corn flakes, meusli and blueberries.

I have waited a long time but it is finally here! Da-ta-da-dah! Filmjölk! When I first visited Sweden many years ago I was served a bowlful of the soured milk with flingor, corn flakes, flung on top with currents and a sprinkling of sugar. I loved it for breakfast or late evening snack.

Back in the U.S. nothing came close to the buttery, mild, clean flavor of filmjölk. Over the years I have experimented with many different brands of yogurt and kefir. Nothing came close. You would think that in Minnesota of all places, the land of the stereotyped Scandi-hoovian, we would have had access to this traditional food before now.

Just this week I found Siggi’s brand filmjölk at Whole Foods. Siggi’s is a dairy product line started by a homesick Icelandic man who, while living in the U.S., wanted something that tasted more like home. His first product was skyr, an ancient cultured milk product that is marketed in the U.S. as yogurt. (Basically it is fresh cheese because it is thickened with rennet, drained of whey and whisked to a shiny thick yogurt consistency.)

Happily Siggi’s has added a Swedish food to its line. According to researchers at the Nordic Centre of Excellence, the bacterial cultures used by commercial dairies to make filmjölk are actually taken from old Swedish farms. These bacteria are different than those found in yogurt or kefir. Another difference is that homemade filmjölk is fermented at room temperature while yoghurt is fermented at 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

In my grandma’s south Minneapolis home she made yet another variant of thickened milk that my family called tätmjölk. My dad remembers that she would receive a package in the mail from relatives in Sweden that seemd to contain a rag. She would wipe the interior of a clean glass jar with the rag, fill the jar with milk and let it sit in the pantry overnight. By morning they had thickened milk.

The marsh flower sileshårssläktet used in making thickened milk called tätmjölk.

The marsh flower sileshårssläktet used in making thickened milk called tätmjölk.

Maybe the rag had been soaked in juice from a plant or contained leaves. I have been told by older relatives in Sweden that a marsh plant was used—they didn’t say which. In my reading I find it could have been sileshårssläktet, sundew, or tätört, butterwort. My relative added that such plants are getting harder to find. Isn’t it funny that the immigrant generation, living in a verdant new place, sent away by mail for familiar plants?

Long story short, I enjoyed a bowlful of filmjölk today with flakes, homemade meusli and blueberries. I wish I could have found plain filmjolk but chose Siggi’s vanilla flavor. It is only slightly sweet and rather better than I expected. A lovely way to start the day–with a smile for happy memories of Grandma’s house and Sweden and a belly full of probiotics to boot.

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4 comments

  1. Dick Gustafson · · Reply

    I was that boy who couldn’t drink Tätmjölk because it tasted sour. Now I love Kefir and all yogurts. I even made my own for awhile. Maybe that’s why I’m still around at 84!

  2. I visited Iceland in Sept 2007 and was served a thick liquid with my morning museli that I was told was Skyr. This was served in every hotel we stayed at- a total of 8 hotels. It was also sold in the convenience stores and grocery stores as Skyr. Plain no sweetener. It was delicious. It reminded me of my husband’s grandmother who made something back in the 60’s just like it, in a enameled bowl on the porch. I thought it was curdled milk. Then finally along comes Siggi but he kept making his skyr thicker and thicker until it was like greek yogurt which was gaining popularity here in the states at that time. Then he came out with this more liquid concoction that he called Filmjolk and said it was Swedish. Well I am here to tell you that this concoction is the SKYR that I was served everywhere in Iceland in 2007. So bless his dear heart, Siggi finally delivered my beloved Skyr. So far I’ve only found it in Vanilla with sweetener added but I’ve asked the local food co-op if they could get it in Plain. Funny how our bodies remember something that pleased us so much, so long ago.

  3. I am reading a historic account of food served to slaves on plantations. It is described as soured milk – I wondered if it might be the same as what you are describing? I hope! Otherwise it doesn’t sound like it would be that tasty for the poor kids who were treated so inhumanely.

    “The kitchen was generally under the control of female slaves who did the cooking with the help of one or two more slaves and perhaps a boy to run errands. The woman in charge would most likely be called Aunt Dina, or Aunt somebody else, and was quite a personage upon the plantation, as she not only did the cooking but also looked out for the laundry work, and had the general charge of such of the slave children as did not live with their mothers, in separate cabins.

    These children did not have any regular allowances but went to the kitchen for their meals.

    The food being most commonly thick sour milk and hoe cake.

    The milk would be poured into a trough something like a pig’s trough. Then each child would be given a piece of hoe cake and an iron spoon and allowed to go to the trough and eat as much as they wanted.”

    RECOLLECTIONS OF SLAVERY TIMES, BY ALLEN PARKER.

    WORCESTER, MASS.: CHAS. W. BURBANK & CO., PRINTERS, 34 FRONT STREET. 1895.

    1. This is so interesting. Thank you for the comment. I was writing about our family food and traditions from Scandinavia. However, it makes sense that, in general, before refrigeration, sour-tasting, fermented milk was common anywhere people kept cows for their dairy product. Fresh milk, especially in a warm climate, would not keep very long. What we think of as buttermilk now may be close to what was eaten in the south. It may have been what was called clabber or clabbered milk. As for eating from a trough, I know that Swedish peasants, entire households (family members and servants) ate from a common bowl, each with their own spoon. Rye porridge (or when it was thinner it was called gruel) with a bit of butter on top was the common fare. People did not have ovens. They cooked food in pots over a fire place in the house.

      The food you describe may not have been so bad. Are hoe cakes corn bread or corn flour pancakes? I personally love yogurt and kefir, etc. I agree with you that children who had to work as slaves, separated from their families, was a terribly inhumane situation.

      A quick survey online shows me that fermented milk is a universal food. Amasi is the name of fermented milk products in South Africa. It is often served at breakfast with maize (corn flour) to make a porridge called pap. It could be that sour milk and hoe cakes was an adaptation of this traditional food from Africa.

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