I recently shared this story in our Firelight Camps newsletter. It was a revelation for me, so I wanted to make sure I shared it with you as well! If you’ve already read it, skip below to the recipe. //
Do you know the history of the Christmas tree? Neither did I until a few days ago.
For the first time, our two-year-old daughter is aware of the holiday spirit, and Bobby and I have been exploring how to build new traditions as a family. Like many people in the American melting pot, Bobby and I grew up with various cultural practices. Both of us had Christmas trees skirted with presents, even in Bobby’s Jewish family. (His mother’s family is of German descent, and Germany is credited with founding the Christmas tree tradition.)
I felt like I needed to have a deeper understanding of our traditions, so we could pass them onto Ayla with intention.
So I asked my stepmother-in-law, a history buff, “why do we have Christmas trees?”
It turns out, the tradition of bringing greenery into the home at this time of year was an ancient practice amongst Egyptians, Romans, Vikings and Celts. Evergreen boughs were a reminder of the green plants to come with the sun’s return, which was marked by the Winter Solstice. In Europe’s Iron Age, the “yule” log was burned to cleanse the air and bring warmth into the home, around which families would feast and celebrate the days growing longer.
The presence of greenery, light, family, and good food remains at the core of modern-day holidays, ranging from Hanukkah to Christmas, both of which we celebrate.
Presents come and go, but the experience is eternal. No matter where we come from, or what we practice, we are equally drawn to creating a sense of warmth and light in the darkest time of the year.
There is a Danish word for this feeling of coziness and warmth: hygge (pronounced hue-gah). The idea of hygge is second nature to people living in Nordic countries, where winter is longer and more grueling than our own (if you can believe it).
So now that our home is filled with greenery, lights, wreaths, and other spirited adornments, I wanted to create a recipe that would also embody hygge. What better way to do so than with a potato salad that brightens the table and inspires a sense of comfort.
Adapted from Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking, this dish was originally served around Christmas (how perfect!). It features the usual cast of winter characters: potatoes, beets, carrots, and apples. In my recipe, the final dish is livened up with pickled beet brine, which you can substitute for dill pickle brine from store-bought pickles. I love the notion of using up the mouth-puckering, spice-infused dregs of a pickle jar (like this pickle juice dressing).
While this recipe draws on fairly common ingredients, many of Darra Goldstein’s recipes capture how wild foraging is an authentic, integral part of Nordic cooking. For the wild foragers out there, pick up Fire and Ice for inspiration as we march towards spring.
Wishing you all an abundant, bright, and cozy holiday!
XO // Emma
The saltiness of your pickle brine will determine whether to salt your final dish more thoroughly. Though it may seem a touch laborious to prepare all the roots in this dish, the result is a worthwhile crowd-pleaser. Don’t bother peeling organic potatoes or carrots; the skins are rich in nutrition! Use a crisp snacking apple, such as Mutsu, Honeycrisp, or Granny Smith.
- 6 medium potatoes, such as russet
- 4 large carrots
- 4 medium beets, any variety
- 3 apples, cored and diced
- 1 leek
- 8 dill cucumber pickles, diced
- 1/2 cup minced dill
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup pickled beet brine or dill pickle brine
- 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Scrub the potatoes and carrots clean. Chop them into 1/2-inch cubes so they are roughly uniform in size. Place the potatoes and carrots in a large pot of cold water, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, until fork-tender but not mushy. Drain in a colander and set aside to cool.
- Scrub the beets clean and trim the roots and stems. In a separate pot submerge the beets in cold water, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 35 to 40 minutes, until a fork can easily pierce the beets. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool. Once cool, use your hands to peel the skin--it will come away easily. Chop into 1/2-inch cubes.
- Halve the leek and rinse meticulously between the leaves, where grit and sand like to cling. Slice thinly and add to a large serving bowl.
- Add the potatoes, carrots, beets, diced apples, diced pickles and minced dill to the same bowl, combining with your hands. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
- Just before serving, prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, pickle brine, salt, and pepper. Fold the dressing into the salad and serve chilled.
- Store leftovers in a sealed container for up to 7 days.
Adapted from Fire + Ice, by Darra Goldstein