As somebody with Swedish ancestry, I’ve increasingly found myself intrigued by Swedish history and cooking. While vintage shopping I was thrilled to stumble across The Princesses Cook Book, known as Princessornas Kokbok in Sweeden, first published in 1930. The author, Jenny Åkerström, dedicated the book to sisters Princess Margaret of Denmark, Crown Princess Martha of Norway and Crown Princess Astrid of Belgium. The princesses were students at Mrs. Åkerström’s cooking school in Stockholm and are said to have been the inspiration behind the famous green Princess Cake that is still popular in Sweden. A recipe for the cake appeared in the cookbook’s first edition, but unfortunately did not make it into the pages of the American version.
The Swedish princesses featured on the cover of the book were the daughters of Prince Carl of Sweden, the Duke of Vastergotland, and his wife, Princess Ingeborg of Denmark (see the Swedish royal family lineage here). They raised the girls with a strong sense of compassion for the sick, poor and less fortunate. In addition to cooking at Mrs. Åkerström’s school, they were also educated in nursing and childcare. The Duke and his wife urged their daughters to marry for love. Princess Martha married her first cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, thus uniting two Scandinavian royal families. As the new Crown Princess of Norway, Martha put her education to use by becoming involved with charities. The public admired her devotion to both her country and her family. Princess Astrid went on to become Queen of Belgium after meeting and falling in love with King Leopold III. When they married, the Belgian people took to calling her the “snow queen” for her Scandinavian beauty. Astrid also became involved with charity, arranging donations for the unemployed during the depression in the 1930s. Princess Margaretha, the eldest of the three, became Princess of Denmark after her marriage to Prince Axel of Denmark. Like her sisters, Margaretha was well liked by the public and took part in charitable organizations.
Photo of the three Swedish princesses – Margareta, Märta and Astrid – 1910. Source: Wikimedia Commons
According to the foreword in the cookbook, written by a woman named Gudrun Carlson, the recipes that appear in the American version were chosen based on which were “most typically Swedish.” I was surprised, given that the book was published in 1936, to see the attention given to the translation, particularly when it comes to measurements.
“Every recipe given has been thoroughly tested in the renowned cooking school owned and managed by Mrs. Jenny Åkerström in Stockholm, Sweden. Consideration has been given both to the ordinary food preparation in the home and to more elaborate service. For this reason directions for simplifying or elaborating a recipe are in many instances added. To make the recipes practical and easy to follow the metric weights commonly used in Sweden, have been converted into American measurements.”
I chose to make a recipe entitled Lamb Stew with Pears. The concept sounded intriguing and very “autumn” to me. When reading through the recipe, a few things caught my attention. The ingredients list “lamb breast,” a cut which I could not find at any of my local butchers. Instead I used lamb shoulder meat, which I’ve used in the past in stews with great success. As I perused the recipe, I felt that some of the methods might lend themselves to blandness… there was no searing of the meat, which sacrifices a lot of flavor. In essence, the ingredients are simply simmered together. The next recipe in the book, Lamb Stew with Rice, seemed to have a more flavorful preparation method. I decided to combine elements of the two recipes (seen below) to make a more flavorful Lamb Stew with Pears. There seemed to be far too many pears and potatoes for an average sized Dutch oven or heavy pot, so I cut those down a bit. I added an herb “bouquet” and sauteed onion/garlic to the mix, and I did end up searing the meat, which gave the stew lots of brown bits and a gorgeous aroma.
The result was a tender and really flavorful stew. I arranged the meat on a platter surrounded by pears and green beans. It made an impressive presentation… truly a dish fit for a Swedish princess. Enjoy!
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Lamb and Pear Stew
- 4 lbs lamb shoulder meat cut into chunks (if your butcher has some lamb bone chunks, you can throw those into the stew for more flavor)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 pears, peeled, cored and halved
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 2/3 lb string beans, trimmed
- 6 cups water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 sprig parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Season the meat with salt and pepper.
- In a dutch oven, brown the lamb pieces in olive oil till they form a dark crust. Remove and set aside.
- In the same pan, brown the onions and garlic. Be sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Once the onions and garlic and tender and have some color, return the lamb to the pan.
- Make an herb bouquet by tying the thyme, parsley and bay leaf together with cooking twine.
- Add 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, herb bouquet and enough water to cover. I used 6 cups of water, but this may vary slightly based on the size of your pan.
- Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and add the pears, potatoes and string beans to the pan.
- Cover and cook for an additional hour, or longer if needed, till lamb is very tender and pears, potatoes and beans are cooked through and tender.
- Remove the meat and lay in a mound in the center of a serving dish. Surround with the vegetables and pears.
- Remove the herb bundle from the sauce. The book suggests thickening the sauce into gravy by ricing one of the potatoes and adding it to the cooking liquid. I tried this, but it was still a bit on the thin side, so instead I added 1 tbsp of corn starch mixed with a little cold water (corn starch wasn't commonly used as a thickener till after this cookbook was published, so this was a slight modernization). I simmered it in the remaining sauce till it thickened into a nice gravy. You can add more cornstarch mixed with water to thicken it further, if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I used lots of pepper!).
- Serve the stew with hot gravy to pour over each serving. Serve.
Åkerström, Jenny (1936). The Princesses Cook Book. Albert Bonnier Publishing House, Chicago, IL.
Aronson, Theo (1968). The Coburgs of Belgium. Cassell & Company Ltd.
Aronson, Theo (1976). A Family of Kings: The Descendants of Christian IX of Denmark. Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated.
Wilsford, David (1995). Political Leaders of Contemporary Western Europe. Greenwood Press. Westport, CT.