On Swedish (American) Egg Coffee

The Salem Lutheran Church dining hall is a fixture at the Minnesota State Fair, which just concluded last weekend. Like many Lutheran churches, they tout "Swedish Egg Coffee," a beverage that baffles modern Swedes.

The Salem Lutheran Church dining hall is a fixture at the Minnesota State Fair, which just concluded last weekend. Like many Lutheran churches, they tout “Swedish Egg Coffee,” a beverage that baffles modern Swedes. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

If you spend enough time around older Scandinavian-Americans in Minnesota they eventually tell you about Swedish Egg Coffee. Then they make you drink it. They will not let you leave or change the subject until you agree that it is better than “regular” coffee.

What is Swedish Egg Coffee?

Don’t overthink it. It’s coffee brewed in a stovetop carafe, the kind where you boil the water with the grounds. Before you turn on the stove, you break an egg on top of the grounds. This keeps the grounds out of the coffee when you pour, and makes your coffee taste 99 percent like coffee and 1 percent like egg.

The recipe came from old Swedes, hence the Swedish name, but plenty of old Norwegians, Finns and assorted immigrant farmers were known to drink this beverage, passing the recipe down to their Americanized descendants. And at least according to one modern observer of Scandinavian culture, they all had one thing in common.

They were nuts.

One oar shy of a viking longship.

Two cod short of a lutefisk platter.

Three screws lost from a box of IKEA furniture.

Kristin Lundell is a pop culture writer in Stockholm. I met her in 2012 when she came to Hibbing to do a story about Bob Dylan. We kept in touch via social media. Once, I casually dropped a reference to Swedish Egg Coffee in a conversation. She reacted with stunned bemusement. She thought I was making it up.

So when I was at the Minnesota State Fair earlier this month I saw the Salem Lutheran Church Dining Hall still advertised “Swedish Egg Coffee” on its sign. I sent the picture to Kristin on Twitter:

She replied:

When I told her it was pretty much just coffee strained through a raw egg, she offered this:

It was a stunning revelation. What if this “Swedish Egg Coffee” was really just a poor immigrant’s DIY tip to keep grounds out of the coffee? For all we know, they came up with the idea in the steerage section of the passenger ship.

I’ve raised this point with Swedish Egg Coffee enthusiasts. No one likes to hear their beloved ethnic beverage has been forsaken by the homeland. Pushed hard enough, the egg pushers admit that the tradition probably died out in Sweden decades ago. Still, it persists here in America due to ethnic pride, they say.

That’s possible. Consider lutefisk. The idea of liquifying cod in lye could only emerge from a time before refrigeration. If you wanted to preserve fish for a long Nordic winter, lutefisk did the trick.

But then human beings developed ice boxes and eventually refrigerators. Lutefisk became a historical afterthought in Scandinavia. Nevertheless, here in Minnesota, scads of Andersons and Lundegaards still force it down the throats of justifiably skeptical new daughters- and sons-in-law.

But the point is that you don’t have to eat emulsified cod, just as you can brew smooth-drinking coffee without eggs.

Thus, we must consider the possibility that when our Scandinavian ancestors left for America a century ago, those watching from the docks might not have been all that upset.

“Sweet Odin’s Fury, we can drink decent coffee now!”

“By the hammer of Thor, we may eat properly cooked fish!”

Immigrants built America. No one said they were normal.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Comments

  1. Yet another reason why I am glad I no longer drink coffee! 🙂

  2. STEPHEN GUSTAFSON says:

    Great piece on “Swedish Egg Coffee”, and especially lutefisk! Having grown up with a 100% Swedish father and a half Greek mother, I can tell you that I really became quite fond of Swedish Meatballs around Christmas time. While my parents and grandparents would pile up the “slippery” lutefisk on their plates, my “punishment” for refusing to indulge in this tradition was a plate graced with Swedish meatballs. I think they saved my life!

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