Swedish Krem: Inventing a Scandinavian Christmas Tradition

Story by Kathryn Duncan Johnson

My husband’s mother, a mostly-British-heritaged American, decided that her children needed to embrace their Swedish roots (great-grandparents, August and Annie Johannason, immigrated in the 1890’s). So Peggy went looking for a traditional Swedish recipe to serve at Christmas Eve dinner. She found Swedish Krem, a concoction of canned red plums, raisins and honey cooked into a thick pudding. She proudly served it in crystal dessert dishes with a generous dollop of whipped cream, and a tradition was born. In later decades, the women who married into the family (like me) got the recipe from Peggy and dove into the yearly challenge of finding canned plums or preserving our own in preparation. It simply wasn’t Christmas Eve without Swedish Krem. This tradition continued unchallenged for over 30 years, until the Christmas that our nephew brought home his Swedish fiancée and her family. None of them had ever eaten Krem or ever even heard of it. These new REAL Swedish relatives politely hid their bemusement at our cherished tradition, but the damage was done. Peggy died not long after that Christmas, and the mystery of the Krem recipe died with her. Attempts at researching its origins have failed, but we have had to conclude that whatever Krem is, it is NOT Swedish. We Johnsons still serve it on Christmas Eve because, like Santa Claus, childhood beliefs die hard. At this point, we serve it to honor the mother who was so committed to making memories for her family that she invented a tradition. Since her death, some members of the family have been bold enough to admit they never liked Krem. These people can just eat cheesecake.

Kathryn Duncan Johnson put aside her Scottish enmity of the Vikings and married into Nordic heritage in 1980. She and her husband, Pastor Wesley Johnson, have served churches in a network started by Swedish immigrants in the 1890’s. They travelled to Sweden in 2006 for their nephew’s wedding. On that trip, they met several of Wesley’s second cousins and enjoyed touring the family historic sites in southern Sweden. Kathryn teaches College Success classes at Everett Community College, and lives near the campus in north Everett.