July’s Gin of the Month box was a candy lover’s dream. Learn more about our favourite exports from a country that takes its sweets very seriously.
Here’s something you may not know about Sweden: the land of pickled herring and nettle soup is absolutely obsessed with sweets.
But Swedes tend to approach this great love with more than a little moderation. This uniquely Swedish style has given rise to lördasgodis – ‘Saturday candy’ in English – a tradition that sees whole families abstaining six days of the week and then loading up on the sweet stuff every Saturday afternoon.
Lördasgodis may stave off cavities, but it certainly doesn’t spare the waistline. In fact, on average, a Swedish family of four eats 1.2 kilos of candy every Saturday.
Both pick n’ mix classics, the candies in your box feature large in the lördasgodis festivities. But if you’d gone looking for these tasty sweets in the UK even a decade ago, they would have been nowhere to be found.
In 2006, two wayward Scandinavians – Bronte, from Denmark, and Jonas, from Sweden – scoured London for the food and treats they missed most from home and came up empty handed. That’s why they started ScandiKitchen, bringing the best of Nordic food to the UK for locals and expats alike.
They now stock delicacies from across the Scandinavian region, including the little bags of Dumle and polkagris our members received in July’s Gin of the Month box.
So what are these candies? Swedish classics, both, but very different.
The individually wrapped Dumles are soft toffee, coated in rich chocolate. First manufactured in 1945 by Mazetti, a chocolate and confectionary manufacturer based in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, they were renamed Dumle in 1960, possibly in reference to one of the first children’s shows broadcast on Swedish television.
The name isn’t the only thing that’s changed for these delicious little candies. Where once the toffee was hard, now it’s been softened. And new flavours have been introduced, including liquorice. Toffee flavoured Dumles like those found in July’s Gin of the Month box are now referred to as ‘Dumle Original’ in honour of their long history.
One thing that hasn’t seen much change since its invention is Polkagris, a red and white striped candy flavoured with peppermint and cut into neat little cushions.
Polkagris – whose name translates to ‘polka pig’, after the popular dance style – was invented in a tiny town called Gränna. To this day Gränna can boast just 2,500 permanent residents, but around a million people visit every single year. A nearby lake and proximity to a major highway don’t hurt, but polkagris – and the fascinating story of its invention – is the big draw.
Polkagris was introduced to Sweden in 1859 by Amalia Eriksson, a widow with a young daughter, Ida, to support. She was looking for a way to feed her family when she hit upon an idea: open a bakery and confectionary shop selling this distinctive candy. Nobody knows for sure where Eriksson got the recipe, though some believe that it came from Munich; either way, the mayor was so impressed that he gave Amalia permission to run the business on her own – simply extraordinary for a woman at that time in history.
After Amalia’s death, Ida took over and expanded the business, but still she kept her mother’s recipe a closely guarded secret. That secret got out eventually, and in the 1950s polkagris became the cornerstone of the entire town’s economy.
To this day, the vast majority of polkagris is made by hand in Gränna, where candy shops make a show of the traditional manufacturing method. Sugar dough is boiled and kneaded on a marble baking table, before being pulled and twisted by hand. It’s these twists that inspired the ‘polka’ portion of the candy’s name; the polka dance, with its many circles, was a fad at the time and has remained a popular genre of music and dance in Sweden.
Slowly but surely, things have started changing for this charming sweet.
In the 1970s one daring confectioner caused outrage by releasing a blue and yellow striped version of this classic candy (no doubt to honour the Swedish national colours) but today you can find more than 150 flavours. And in 2011 the first shop in the world to make polkagris outside of Gränna opened its doors, in the Old Town district of Stockholm.
But Gränna will never let the tradition stray too far. Every year on the 25th of July the town hosts the annual championship on the shores of nearby lake Vättern, where the perfect polkagris is sought: the winner must be handmade, with a weight of exactly 50g.
And while crazy colours and new flavours have sprung up, all Swedes know that these variations can never truly lay claim to the name; they’re simply candy sticks. Only the red and white peppermint pillows in your box can rightfully be called polkagris.