Emma’s Buttermilk Rye (Swedish Limpa)


heirloom grain

we share the last slice

of buttermilk rye

The above haiku was written by my dad’s cousin Lesley, an accomplished and award-winning poet, and was inspired by my great-grandmother’s buttermilk rye bread.  My great-grandmother, Emma, grew up on the southern tip of Sweden within sight of the sea.  Her father owned the local flour and saw mill and also tended to fruit orchards on their land.  The microclimate where they lived was relatively mild and hospitable to growing fruits such as apples, plums, tart cherries, currants and berries.  As a child Emma travelled all over Sweden by train with her father selling the fruit they had grown.

In her early teens, Emma fell in love with a local boy, Sven, who was not as well off as she.  He was determined to go to America and make a better life for himself and eventually Emma.  Sven left Sweden and sailed to America, settling in Illinois.  He changed his name to Swan and found work on a farm, learning to speak English in the process.  He eventually returned to Sweden to get Emma and bring her back to America with him.  The two were married in 1911.

The couple decided to settle in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area as it was home to many Scandinavian immigrants and had a climate and landscape that felt familiar to them. Because of his English speaking experience, Swan was able to find a good job in Minneapolis.  He worked as a chauffeur for a wealthy man who was a director for General Mills.  Emma was quite social and became known for her afternoon fika gatherings, charming the local women with her baked goods and hospitality.

This buttermilk rye bread is one of her recipes that has found its way into my baking rotation.  A tender crumb thanks to the buttermilk and a hint of orange and anise make this an exceptionally warm and comforting bread, perfect for wintertime.  It definitely has a festive, Christmasy quality to it, but it could certainly be made throughout the fall and winter months…and beyond!  The combination of rye, orange and anise is as addictive as it is unusual.  I often find myself craving a slice, slightly warm from the oven, spread with a generous layer of salted butter.  And a cup of coffee, of course.  Despite its citrus and spice notes, Swedish Limpa can serve as a base for your smørrebrød, as long as the sandwich ingredients you use compliment the warmth of the bread.  I have also heard it suggested that you use Swedish Limpa crumbs in your Swedish meatballs, but I have yet to try it.

I am so grateful for recipes like this, handed down through the generations with stories attached to them.  Making this simple bread is a very tangible way to connect with my great-grandmother, revisit her stories and honor her legacy.  What can you make in your kitchen that will connect you with your ancestors?  What recipes do you need to write down in the hopes that they will be carried forward to future generations?  Food can be such an extraordinarily powerful link between past, present and future.

Emma’s Buttermilk Rye Bread (Swedish Limpa)

Makes one loaf

1 Cup buttermilk

1/4 Teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons molasses

The zest of 1 orange

1 Teaspoon anise seed, toasted briefly in a dry skillet and then ground, or 1 teaspoon ground anise seed

1 Teaspoon fine salt

2 Teaspoons instant yeast

1 Cup dark rye flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand)

2 Cups bread flour

  1. Combine buttermilk and baking soda in a liquid measuring cup.
  2. Combine butter, water, molasses and orange zest in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. Add buttermilk mixture and molasses mixture to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
  4. Add ground anise seed, salt, yeast and rye flour to the bowl.
  5. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low until ingredients are combined.  Add bread flour and continue to mix on low until the dough is fully combined and clearing the side of the bowl.
  6. Switching to the dough hook attachment, knead dough on low for approximately 4 minutes.  If you are mixing and kneading the dough by hand, the kneading process will take longer.
  7. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it as desired on a piece of parchment paper.  I like the oval shape, pictured above, or you can make it into a circle or even place it in a greased standard-sized loaf pan.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another 45 minutes to an hour.
  9. Remove plastic wrap and decoratively score dough with a razor blade or a sharp knife.  Place on a baking sheet (or directly on a baking stone if you have one) and bake for 30-35 minutes.  The internal temperature of the dough should be at least 198 degrees when it is done baking.
  10. Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

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