When I first came to Denmark, I thought it was going to be something out of the Safety Dance music video: A bunch of medieval sprites singing 80’s New Wave hits in the Midsummer Night. It was fine until I heard Danish. Before I met my husband, I never heard Danish before. I assumed it sounded like the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show. “Aweenda shmure da froog's legs. Börk Börk Börk!" How hard could it be to talk like the Swedish Chef?
Plenty, as I found out through months of language classes. While the grammar was fairly simple (it’s a lot like English), and the vocabulary was much like German, the pronunciation was like nothing I had ever heard before. I thought I was a language-idiot, until a linguist told me pronouncing Danish was notoriously difficult. For several months, various situations occurred that made me look like a raving lunatic with animal sounds. There was the trip to the Halal butcher in which I made bleating sounds, while hopping on one leg and holding up three fingers. The milk “situation” had me trying to do charades for low-fat organic milk. And the worst was the bakery. I was so frustrated trying to get my loaf of dark rye bread (rugbrød) that I had a crying fit sputtering the words “ruuuggggg-brrrrroooot” for 20 minutes around the block.
I received all sorts of advice on how to improve my Danish pronunciation, such as:
“Well, uh, imagine walruses talking. It kinda sounds like that.”
“Take a giant piece of cotton, stuff into your mouth, then talk.”
“Stick your tongue out. That helps.”
But the best was when Danes, either as a cruel joke or linguistics through fire, tried to have me pronounce this phrase: Rødgrød med fløde.
It’s the 8th circle of hell. It had the soft “d”, the throaty “r” and seemingly endless glottal stops. After years of trying to deal with this shibboleth, I basically decided that I was going to be resigned to mispronouncing Danish. At a certain point I realized if I stuck with food I was only able to pronounce I would be an anemic, scurvy ridden mess.
But every summer fills me with enunciative dread. Why? Because rødgrød med fløde is the unofficial summer dessert of Denmark. And I still can’t pronounce it correctly.
But does it matter? I live in a country that has some of the most progressive tax systems in the world. In terms of environmental policies, Denmark is hailed as a model for sustainable living. I can take public transportation or bike anywhere. And cars are considered unnecessary.
If you ask me, rødgrød med fløde is a small price to pay for better quality of life. I could only wish that it could so easy for the rest of the world.
Rødgrød med Fløde
Rødgrød med fløde is a summer berry compote with cream. Although it’s impossible to pronounce, it’s rather easy to make, especially now that it is berry season. And if you have freshly foraged berries, all the better. And it really doesn’t matter which fruits you have – any combination will be delicious. Just remember to have ripe berries and be sure to chill it thoroughly; otherwise the compote will be too loose. And try to avoid the ultra-pasteurized cream or cream with stabilizers in it. Guar gum does not go well with fruit. And if you have any left over, you can use it in yogurt, as a topping for pancakes, or make some biscuits for a quick shortcake.
3 pds. various soft fruit (red or black currants, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, rhubarb, blueberries, etc.)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
3 tbs. of cornstarch
6 tbs. cold water
1 c. heavy cream
1 tbs. vanilla sugar
1. If using rhubarb, chop rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Place fruit, sugar and water in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water into a slurry. When the fruit has started to break down, add cornstarch mixture and stir until the fruit mixture has started to thicken to the consistency of a heavy syrup.
3. Take fruit mixture off heat, cover, and chill for at least 2 hours, until cold.When ready to serve, combine vanilla sugar with cream. (You can also whip your cream to soft peaks if you like). Place fruit mixture into individual serving bowls and top with cream.