A wonderful Swedish treat for the holidays (and any other time of year) is Polkagris, a candy that was invented 159 years ago.
In 1859, in the town of Gränna, Amalia Eriksson, at the age of 35, became a widow a week after she gave birth to her daughter Ida. Knowing she needed to support herself and her family, she began making pastries and treats in her home for holidays and special occasions such as weddings.
That worked for a while but then Ida came down with a severe cold. According to Jonas Walldow, a Swedish candy maker, in an interview with The Local:
“Amalia had no money for medicine, so she decided to make her own,” Walldow says.
Eriksson bought peppermint oil from the local pharmacy and combined it with sugar and vinegar, attempting to concoct an effective medicine that Ida would eat.
“And Ida just gulped down the medicine,” Walldow remarks. “And she started thinking, if a sick little girl takes her medicine with that sort of hefty appetite, then maybe even healthy people would give her a few kronor for it.”
So the mum wrote a letter to the mayor, requesting permission to start her own business – despite her gender. And the mayor agreed.
“She was the first real female entrepreneur in Sweden,” Walldow says, “and she died a very wealthy woman.”
She kept the recipe secret and it was only revealed upon her death at 99 in 1923.
Polkgris is made of sugar dough which is boiled, kneaded on a marble baking table, pulled, and twisted by hand to the right size.
The candies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, but the red and white peppermint flavored sticks are the classic original polkagris.
The town of Gränna has only 2,500 residents, but its convenient location off one of the most traveled highways in Sweden attracts over a million visitors per year, many of them drawn by the famous candy, which has been a tradition for more than 150 years.
The name “polkagris” refers to the polka, which was quite the novelty when the polkagris was invented. “Gris” means “pig,” which at that time was an expression for candy.
There are also rumors (oh you know those gossipy candy makers) that polkagist was the first time a red stripe was included. Until the 1900s candy canes were pure white but the polkagist always had a red stripe.
In the same article, Walldow said:
… [there is] an important difference that sets Sweden’s beloved polkagris apart from the simple candy cane.
“The key is vinegar,” he explains, referring to an ingredient not included in other candy cane varieties. “The vinegar makes it softer and chewier.”
It also makes the life expectancy shorter – whereas American-style candy canes may last as long as four years, Walldow says the shelf-life of polkagris is just four to six weeks. “It’s fresher and also richer.
Gränna has became well-known for candy, and today there are at least a dozen shops producing 10 million (yes million) candy canes a year – all handmade..
And if you like peppermint you should also check out some peppermint glögg. Glögg is a spiced, usually alcoholic drink, served warm. The original form of glögi, a spiced liquor, was used to revive messengers and postmen who travelled on horseback or skis in cold weather in Scandinavia.
Saturnus peppermint glögg mix (founded in 1893) starts with spices, herbs and other natural ingredients, often sourced not so far from its factory in Malmö, Sweden, to produce a variety of thirst quenchers for discriminating customers. There is a subtle unique flavor of peppermint in Saturnus Peppermint Glögg Mix. Just add your favorite wine or spirits. Have some on hand in case a messenger or postal worker arrives at your door on horseback of skis.