It has been dark for hours…. The house smells delicious, of all sorts of food cooking on the stove, several casseroles, fresh salad, moose steak stew, reindeer meat, and rye bread and potatoes….. Out side, the darkness is -10 Fahrenheit. The snow is deep, and the darkness has swallowed up the world beyond the inside of the house and the delicious smell of cooking food on the stove.
Inside, in the brick oven that forms the division between the Scandinavian open concept living room and dining room, the ham bakes away for several hours while the Glogi is drunk, while the Christmas Peace is declared, first in Finnish and then in Swedish in Turku where the tradition has been going unbroken for literally hundreds of years. Inside, the whole house is heated by the brick oven with it’s ham that makes everyone’s mouth water just thinking of later when it sits on the table proudly as the centerpiece in the small warm little house full of cheer and sweet smells while the darkness swirls out side like a storm, it’s vastness colossal. A darkness like none I have ever experienced before, so all consuming that the whole world ceases to exist and all that is, is the joy inside with family.
Later, we will dance in a ring with Santa and we will have sauna and some will be braver than me and they will go out into that arctic darkness to roll around in the snow. They will leave naked, out the sauna through the bathroom door to the outside and walk around through the living room and dining room and mud room back into the bathroom and into the sauna totally naked and in about twenty minutes they will do it again before a final warm up, a shower in the sauna from buckets of water. Then they will leave and maybe it will be my turn in the sauna that is a standard in every Finnish home. Later, we will sit down to dinner. We will load our plates with ham and all the other goodies and stuff our faces chatting in a mixture of Finnish, bad finnish and english. Later, isa ,(dad,) will give Santa a big bottle of Kossu, as thanks for coming to visit us to dance around the living room and then hand out the presents under the tree decorated earlier in the day. Later still, after the sauna, the Santa, the presents, and the ham as the climax of the Christmas dinner, we all go to bed hiding under the blankets as the heat from the now, empty no longer running brick oven slowly cools. The lights are turned off and the darkness outside invades the house with the cold on Christmas eve night in Kuvansi Finland, about four and a half hours north of Helsinki. Only the memory of the deliciousness and the brightness and joy stay with us into our dreams and the sense of fullness, the glorious scents of a delicious meal still hang in the air we peak our noses only out from under the covers. Christmas eve has likely been over by now for a good hour and it has become Christmas day in the cold darkness of the north.
Heat the oven to about 200-220, put the ham into the oven it takes roughly an hour for every 2 pounds of meat. It is done when the inner temperature is about 168 degrees. If you prefer well done let inner temperature reach 175 degrees. Then remove ham from the oven and cover it in mustard. Then sprinkle it all over with bread crumbs and return the ham to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven again, for the final time, set it on a platter of adequate size and serve.
Ham in Scandinavia is as traditional as Turkey at thanksgiving is for us. It is the main course of just about every Scandinavian dinner on the night of Christmas eve.