Nothing says midsummer to me like creamy, cold, Swedish rice pudding with raspberry sauce on top, so I knew this had to be one of the desserts I made for my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party, as it's one of my favorite desserts. Rice pudding is very typically a Scandinavian Christmas dish, but I grew up eating it much more often at midsummer than any other time of year. Our local Swedish Society would always make vats of it (and still does!) for the Scandinavian Festival in my hometown every year. Although I've been offered it in the past, I sadly don't have that original recipe! So I did the best I could doctoring up my favorite recipe for rice pudding, and it turned out better than I imagined, so I'm not sure I'll ever go back.
Scandinavia has a long history of porridge - grains cooked in water or milk - and the stick-to-your-ribs-ness of porridge spills over into holiday traditions. Christmas was an especially important time to consume a lot of calories, not only to celebrate, but to keep warm. But rice is not native to Scandinavia, so what gives? This article gives a great overview of the history of Christmas rice pudding in Scandinavia in general, but suffice to say that, like most European Christmas traditions, it all goes back to the Medieval period and expensive imports from the Far East. Rice replaced locally grown grains like barley and its relative expense and scarcity joined other imported goods like cinnamon (and ginger, black pepper, and cardamom), sugar, raisins, and almonds supplemented by butter, cream, and milk to make up the bulk of holiday ingredients for what are now traditional Scandinavian treats. As Swedes got wealthier and rice and sugar got cheaper and more widely available, rice pudding became more of a year-round treat.
In the Midwest, you're more likely to find people with memories of eating "glorified rice" (basically a rice and cool whip "salad" with canned fruit, especially maraschino cherries) outside of the holidays than cold rice pudding. But although I also loved glorified rice growing up, it is the taste of creamy, cold, eggless rice pudding topped with sweet-tart raspberry sauce that brings back so many fond memories. It doesn't hurt that it's absolutely delicious.
Swedish Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce
This is a very straightforward recipe, with just a few changes from my original version. I also did 1.5 times the original recipe, as I knew I was serving a crowd. We still had quite a bit leftover, but I didn't mind in the least, and the leftovers disappeared after just a few days.
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (also known as "pudding rice" or "risotto rice")
9 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup golden raisins
1 cinnamon stick
1+ cups heavy cream
1 bag frozen raspberries, thawed
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rice, sugar, raisins, cinnamon stick, and milk, and give it a stir to make the rice separate. Bring the pot to a near-boil (the milk goes from flat to boiling over in an instant, so keep an eye on it!), stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking/burning, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently later on until most of the milk is absorbed and the remaining liquid has thickened into a sauce. Because you want to serve this chilled, leave it to be fairly soupy, as the rice will continue to absorb liquid as it cools.
Once the pudding is cool and you are ready to serve it, add the now very-thick rice pudding to a very large bowl (I used one closer in size to a punch bowl than a mixing bowl) and with a wooden spoon stir in heavy cream until the rice pudding is soft and creamy again. Open the bag of raspberries and add a few tablespoons of sugar and stir to combine. You can do this before you add the heavy cream to the rice pudding so that the thawed raspberries have time to macerate in the sugar.
When ready to serve, top the extra-creamy rice pudding with the raspberries and devour. You probably won't have the same memories I do, but your tastebuds will thank you.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.