There is a long tradition of holiday baking mistakes in my family, a mantle I’m proud to continue year after year. One of my fondest (and frequently reoccurring) memories from my childhood involved the annual “Making of the Ostakaka.” My uncle and aunt would drive up from Iowa, and after a few dozen cups of coffee around the kitchen table, talk would invariably turn to the Making of the Ostakaka. For you non-Scandahoovians, Ostakaka (also spelled Ostkaka) is a Swedish cheesecake served with lingonberries, though us kids always had it with strawberries, except for my brother, who always acted older than his years.
My uncle’s questioning would begin starting with whether my mother had procured the rennet. Since this is a family blog (okay, not really) I won’t gross you out with what rennet actually is, instead, suffice it to say, it is an essential ingredient in the making of cheese, or in this case, Swedish cheesecake. A quick note on the procuring part. I have discovered since moving to the East Coast, you can’t just go to your local Lunds or Byerly’s (two favorite Mpls grocery store chains) and buy it. What would we do without the Internet? No Ostakaka, that’s for sure. Wait, that may be a good thing….
Back to the story, the questioning would continue to the buying of sufficient milk.
“Do you have plenty of whole milk this year?”
“Yes, I have plenty of whole milk,” my mother would assure him.
“But you remember last year…”
The words “last year” being more figurative than literal because we never had a sufficient quantity of whole milk in the house for the Making of the Ostakaka. Osatkaka requires 2 gallons of whole milk but that would assume success could be accomplished by making only a single batch.
Once the ingredient list had been sufficiently discussed, including the availability of lingonberries that year, the process would begin. The process is as mysterious to me today, as it was back then. Any recipe that requires you to “turn the whey off and put curds into a pan” (see recipe below), should not be attempted by mere mortals such as I (my mother and uncle being, of course, from higher and sterner stock).
Tensions were usually high during the process, swearing may have been involved, and then, waiting, waiting and waiting some more. Would this be the year? Would we finally get it to curdle on the first try?
“Try more rennet!”
“Why the &%*@ won’t this separate?”
Could it be the milk? Maybe? Poor quality rennet? Probably. The chefs in the kitchen…NEVER.
A trip to the store would ensue, sufficient gallons of milk bought for a second, and hopefully, final try.
Although I’m well into my fourth decade, I still have not attempted this finicky Swedish dessert. My much younger cousin who lives in Kansas frequently “attempts” it to varying degrees of success. Christmas is not Christmas in our family without at least one failed Ostakaka.
So, this year, it’s my turn. I have included the recipe from our family cookbook (circa 1980) for the nostalgics and masochists in the group who want to join me. The rennet is ordered courtesy of Amazon.com and I’ve made room in the refrigerator for multiple gallons of whole milk. C’mon Ostakaka show me what you got! And as my mother’s aunt said in the recipe below “the lingon covers any sins!”