Kolbulle. One of those things I didn’t realize even existed until moving to Sweden. And one of those things that instantly became one of our favorite Swedish foods. I mean, how can you really go wrong with bacon, batter, and lingon berries?!
We first discovered Kolbulle at Skansen’s Christmas market and have since gone back every time they have a market, just to get this dish (ok, and maybe their donuts too). The kolbulle translates to “coal bun” (although it is definitely more of a pancake) because it should be cooked over an open fire. Using a cast-iron pan over the flames, you begin by frying up some chunks of bacon, then adding in some simple batter (flour + water + salt), and finally topping everything with lingon berries.
I have since learned that this traditional dish was eaten in the olden days by loggers throughout the Nordic countries because it was easy to make without a kitchen and none of the ingredients required refrigeration. After watching them make kolbullar at Skansen, and after reading about the simplicity of the ingredients, Chris and I decided to give this dish a try…
There are a few reasons why we decided to make kolbulle over this particular weekend. First, it was BEAUTIFUL weather here in Stockholm, so we finally set-up our backyard with new outdoor furniture, a hammock, and… a fire pit! So we thought making this dish might be the perfect way to break in the new fire pit.
Second, this weekend was Valborg, or Walpurgis Night in English, one of the best hidden holidays in Sweden. Valborg dates back to pagan times and is all about welcoming in spring (yes, spring here seems to start in May!), celebrated throughout Sweden with large bonfires and songs about winter’s end. Back in the day the fires were also meant to ward off evil spirits… but today it’s really just about gathering with your community to celebrate the fact that the long, Swedish winter is FINALLY over.
There are two very different ways to celebrate this holiday, and Chris and I have been lucky to experience both.
Last year, we did the student-style celebration of Valborg by going up to Uppsala. This is probably the most famous place to celebrate, with huge crowds of students participating in boat races, champagne spraying, and having picnics (and a bit too much to drink) in the parks, before going out in the night. We were lucky to have amazing weather last year and spent most of the day lounging in the park with a few thousands other students. We met up with some friends from Stockholm University, as well as my cousin and his friends from the KTH (a well-regarded technical college in Stockholm) … which is where we learned about these awesome jumpsuits. Apparently each department at KTH has their own color jumpsuit, and as the students complete different “challenges” or go to different events, they earn patches to sew onto the jumpsuit… it’s like scout badges for college students! I’m sure I don’t even want to know what was done to earn some of the badges, but I think the idea is fun :).
Then this year we got to spend Valborg the other way… with a neigborhood community. My aunt invited us over for a delicious BBQ (traditional Valborg dinner if the weather is nice) with some friends and family. After the meal, we all walked down to a local park with what seemed like the entire neighborhood, to watch the scouts (the kid version) light fire to a gigantic pile of branches.
The result was a spectacular, enormous bonfire.
All the while, there was a choir singing traditional spring songs in the background, kids running around with cotton candy, and a feeling of happiness (and warmth) from watching the fire burn bright. It was a wonderful way to celebrate this special holiday.
And another bonus… everyone has the next day off work! So the day after Valborg was really when Chris and I decided to set up the fire pit and give this recipe a go. We also have a smoker, so we went a little above and beyond by smoking the steak of bacon first…
We made a few rounds of the kolbulle… the first one got a bit burnt (but actually tasted ok!)… the second one was in a bigger pan and didn’t get cooked all the way through before flipping… and the third one seemed to be just right (the fire was less hot and we added a bit more bacon for fat). Honestly, this recipe isn’t perfect, but it really was more of way to share some Swedish culture and tradition more than anything else… and I think it served that purpose :).
Although, I think this could really be the perfect camping recipe… if it worked for the loggers back in the day, it should work for campers!
So maybe you’ll get to enjoy this traditional Swedish dish on your next camping adventure… or maybe in your own home fire pit… or even at Skansen! Or at the very least, I hope you enjoyed reading about the history of Valborg and Kolbulle :).
- 3 cups water / 7 dl vatten
- 2 cups flour / 4.7 dl vetemjöl
- 1 teaspoon salt / salt
- ½ pound bacon / 0.25 kg bacon
- Cut the bacon into thick chunks, about 1 cm.
- Mix flour, water, and salt together, whisking to get any chunks out.
- Fry the bacon in a cast iron pan over a fire, cooking part way.
- Using a ladle, add a scoop or two of batter into the pan, until it has covered the bottom of the pan and partially covered the bacon pieces.
- Wait about 3 minutes, then flip the pancake over and cook another 2-3 minutes.
- Add lingon berries on top, and enjoy!