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Sharing Conversation About Christmas Traditions

-By Beth Finnson


The highlight of Samtal Hour on December 19th was Icelandic Christmas traditions here in North America. That said, the main topic was a lively discussion about traditional food-and most especially laufabrauð (leafbread) and Vínarterta.


Laufabrauð is a very thin round bread with beautiful decorative leafy designs. It originated in the early 18th century. Bryndís Víglundsdóttir told us how scarce flour was in the old days. This often dictated how thin the bread was so as to make enough for all the children present! This was the only treat that the children received. We learned that there are songs about the laufabrauð and Bryndís treated us to a short song.


Traditionally, families make it together on Sunday before Advent. It is fried and served with butter and hangikjöt (smoked lamb). Northern Icelanders traditionally flavor it with cumin, others with caraway.



Vínarterta is a many-layered cake with fruit filling. Depending on who makes it, it is either 5, 6, or 7 layers. My Amma Steina made 7 round layers and I still have her hand-written recipe. Others make it square or rectangular in shape. The traditional filling is made from dried prunes flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes cardamom. One of the more modern fillings is rhubarb. Sometimes the vínarterta is frosted or served plain, again that depends on who makes it! Terri shared a gluten-free version (the recipe is at the end of this article), that she said is just as moist as the old original recipe.



We also talked about Icelandic Brown Bread. I think there are as many variations of it as for vínarterta. Susan Atwood bakes it from her mother‘s recipe (see below).


There are several recipes on the Icelandic Roots website. Just type ‘recipes‘ into the search box on the main menu page and you will find a couple of other brown bread recipes, one of which is from Bryndís. Becky has already shared some recipes on our Facebook page and will make sure they are also on the main IR website.


Additionally, there are more recipes on the Icelandic Roots Membership Facebook homepage. Just click on ‘Guides‘ underneath the row of pictures of members and enjoy deciding which you will try!


One of the cookbooks mentioned was The Culinary Saga of New Iceland: Recipes from the Shores of Lake Winnipeg, by Kristin Olafson-Jenkyns.