As her taste buds evolved, Mary Natvig has switched up her holiday menu — but still keeps a favorite: Norwegian Christmas Kringler.
“Norwegian was spoken in my dad’s home when he was little and Norwegian food was common, especially at Christmas. My dad continued this in our family, growing up in Milwaukee,” Natvig said. “Our Christmas Eve dinner consisted of Norwegian meatballs, mashed potatoes, lefse, some sort of vegetable, it really didn’t matter what kind, and for dessert, sot suppe, a sweet soup, really sort of a pudding made with dried fruits. And we would also have kringler.”
Kringler was their favorite family holiday food, which they ate as a sweet snack throughout the Christmas season, depending on how much was made.
“We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My dad was a doctor and a great cook. This recipe was his mother’s,” Natvig said. “We would open presents and after church we would have the sot suppe, which is a really rich, thick and heavy fruit soup with whipped cream on it.”
Her dad only had a recipe for the sot suppe for the Lutheran church, which was a large quantity.
“So we would be eating sot suppe for days and days. My sister figured out how to cut it down. When we were all in our twenties and thirties, one of us said, ‘you know I never liked the sot suppe,’” Natvig said.
“We haven’t had sot suppe since, like, 1986. But kringler, we will always have.”
Kringler is sweet, but not like cake or a doughnut. It’s a heavier dough, but not nearly as dense as a shortbread.
To flatten the dough, Natvig puts a little water on it. Each kringler is less than a foot long and about half as wide. The dough will puff up a little and should be somewhat flaky. When it is done, she cuts it in small pieces.
“I’ve seen other recipes that use slivered almonds on top, but we didn’t do that,” Natvig said.
Natvig grew up in Milwaukee. Her father, Paul, grew up in Prairie Farm, which she describes as a very small town, in northern Wisconsin.
Her grandparents were both the youngest in their Norwegian families and the first to be born in the United States.
“They settled in the tiny town with only about 200 people, and it still has about that,” Natvig said.
Her father and grandfather, Gerhart, were both doctors and her grandmother, Clara, was a nurse.
“He did house calls. That’s all he did was house calls, and he was a doctor during the 1918 pandemic,” Natvig said. “They were the only health care providers within 75 miles or so, and no hospital.”
Her father was born in 1920 and heard many of the stories about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
“There were always stories about the 1918 pandemic. My father used to tell me the stories about my grandfather. I think they had a car by then, but in the wintertime they would travel by horse with a sled,” Natvig said.
“My grandfather would go into one of these small farmhouses and smell the disease. My grandfather would tell my dad that when they would go into a home, and everybody would be sick, the children not clothed and wouldn’t have had dinner, because the parents were so sick they couldn’t take care of them. Just the number of people who died was just incredible.”
Her father lived through the polio epidemic.
“Growing up, my Dad was always super germ conscious and we always used to make fun of him. The 20-second hand washing thing, that’s just how I thought everybody washed their hands,” Natvig said.
Natvig lives in Bowling Green. She spends a lot of her free time in Perrysburg, where her boyfriend, Chris Watson, owns the Bard’s Coffee.
She is a professor in the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green State University. In addition to numerous research articles, Natvig directed the Early Music Ensemble at BGSU and will occasionally perform with her violin, which she also teaches Suzuki style.
She teaches music history, especially to general education undergraduate students.
Natvig recently became a student again, starting a master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at BGSU. Her goal is, in retirement, to be able to help music students.