About Historic Hostess

It is always a holiday somewhere so there is always a reason to throw a party. Historic Hostess researches the origins of holidays and social customs from all of history, all over the world and updates them for modern revelers.

Norwegian Easter

Before I started Historic Hostess, I had blog called “Some Assembly Required” where I made all of my food from scratch for almost a year. It was great fun, and I learned so much about food origins and “old ways” of cooking. This is where my interest in historical holidays and entertaining really started to develop. In 2011 I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about Scandinavian Easter traditions. I was captivated by the odd Norwegian traditions of eating oranges and reading crime fiction. Neither of these things seemed to have anything to do with Jesus rising from the dead, the Easter Bunny or Norway, but it sounded like fun. This article set me thinking about celebrating familiar holidays with different cultural traditions every year. What a wonderful way to learn about food, history, religion and other cultures all while eating and drinking with family and friends. All my favorite things coming together! This post was in essence my first “Historic Hostess” article and set in motion many weird, exciting and sometimes disastrous meals and celebrations that my friends and family have so graciously tolerated.


Winter is long and dark in Scandinavia. In a southern city like Oslo, there are a dazzling six hours of sunlight a day in deepest winter, but above the 70th parallel, the sun sets at 11:37am on November 22nd and doesn’t reappear until 11:06am on January 21st and then it is just for an hour a day! As the light creeps back into the day in Hammerfest, citrus fruits are just beginning to ripen on the tree in Southern Europe. By Easter the days are getting longer and oranges are at their peak. According to that LA Times article, 20 million oranges are consumed in this country of 5 million people during Easter week. I imagine after two months in complete darkness sitting down with a bucketful of edible sunshine sounds like a pretty good idea.

Crime Fiction is such an entrenched part of the Easter holiday in Norway that there is even a word for it: Påskekrim (Easter Crime). Most businesses are closed for this major public holiday from Holy Thursday through Easter Monday, so even though Norway is a largely secular country, many people head out to their country houses to celebrate, relax, ski, eat oranges and curl up with some creepy detective novels. The story goes that in 1923 a publisher launched an advertising campaign in the Aftenposten newspaper that resembled a real headline “Bergen Train looted in the night”. People thought the ad was real, and it gained so much attention and the book was such a success that the publisher used the same technique the following year and the Påskekrim tradition was born.

While this is a strange tradition to associate with a “coming of Spring” holiday, Scandinavian crime fiction is a hugely popular genre.

We started our Easter morning here enjoying the sunshine with a breakfast of Orange Rolls cooked in Oranges, eggs and bacon.

Later in the day we celebrated with a big Easter Dinner with family and friends.
Lamb is the traditional Easter meat in Norway because Jesus was the “Lamb of God”, a sacrificial offering to absolve the sins of everyone on earth.

In addition to a great spread of appetizers that included Norwegian favorite, Jarlsberg cheese, gravlax, deviled eggs and chocolates, we served Braised Lamb of God with Herb Scented Au Jus, and Orange Pop-Overs and a Fennel, Orange and Roasted Pepper Salad. For dessert, I suggest the original inspiration, Norwegian Orange Cake from that portentous Los Angeles Times article.

If you are as lucky as me, your guests will do most of your dishes, and once they leave you can kick back and watch a couple episodes of The Killing, or finally dig into the Dragon Tatoo series.



This recipe is from Food & Wine and it beautifully served our party of 16 adults and 8 children. It’s really just called “Braised Lamb” if you are looking for it online, but I think “Braised Lamb of God” gives it a bit of Messianic gravitas, or maybe a Messiah complex.

1 large onion, quartered
1 leek, halved lengthwise
1 fennel bulb, quartered
1 large carrot, quartered
1 garlic head, halved horizontally
3 thyme sprigs
3 parsley sprigs
3 rosemary sprigs
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
One 8-pound semi-boneless leg of lamb (aitch bone removed)
2 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth

Preheat the oven to 500°. In a roasting pan that’s large enough to hold the lamb, spread out the vegetables, herbs and peppercorns. Season the lamb generously with salt. Set the lamb on top of the vegetables and roast for about 25 minutes, until the lamb is lightly browned.
Add the stock to the pan and cover the pan with foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 300° and braise the lamb for 2 hours. Uncover the lamb and cook for 1 hour longer, until deeply browned on top and the meat is very tender. Let the lamb rest in the juices for 15 minutes, then transfer it to a carving board. Strain the cooking juices, discarding the solids, and spoon off the fat. Slice the lamb 1/4 inch thick and serve with some of the cooking juices.

Make Ahead

The whole roasted lamb can be refrigerated overnight and served cold or covered and reheated in its cooking juices in a 300° oven.

Leftover Idea: Lamb Sandwich. Layer hot, reheated slices of the roast lamb between thickly sliced focaccia and brush with a little more of the cooking juices. Top the lamb with your favorite pickles, close the sandwich and serve.
Serve With

Roasted vegetables.


I think Pop-Overs are a good addition to a Norwegian Easter because they are such a quintessential part of a Minnesota potluck, and there are a lot of Norwegians in Minnesota… There used to be underwriting messages on NPR for the Bank of Lutherans or something like that, and I remember that there was a woman with a strong Minnesota accent who said, “You can’t have a potluck without pop-overs” and then a voice over that said “Ahhhh Lutherans”. I wish I could find it now, it might be my favorite radio ad ever.

You can't a pot-luck without pop-overs.

You can’t a pot-luck without pop-overs.

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and orange zest. Whisk in the milk and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter. In another bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until only small lumps remain.
Brush the cups of a muffin tin (preferably not nonstick) with the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted butter and heat the muffin tin in the oven for 5 minutes; the butter will turn a nutty brown. Carefully fill the muffin cups halfway with the popover batter. Bake the popovers for about 30 minutes, until they are risen and browned. Turn the popovers out onto a serving platter and serve them right away.

3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 1/4 cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Fennel, Orange and Roasted Pepper Salad

This recipe is from Yummly.
2 red bell pepper (large, halved with tops and seeds removed)
10 berries (Tasmanian pepper, crushed well)
2 tbsps lemon juice
6 tbsps olive oil (mild)
4 ozs arugula
1 fennel bulb (large, thinly sliced)
2 orange segments (large)

1. Set broiler to high. Line a sheet pan with a large amount of aluminum foil, and add peppers. Broil at least six inches away from broiler for 20 minutes, or until peppers yield without resistance to a knife and their skins are completely black. Wrap up in foil and let rest for five minutes, before peeling off skin and slicing peppers into thin strips.

2. In a small bowl, combine Tasmanian pepper and lemon juice. Let pepper infuse for 15 minutes, then whisk in olive oil until emulsified.

3. To serve, either toss arugula, fennel, oranges, and peppers with dressing and salt in a bowl, or create six beds of arugula on salad plates and evenly divide additional ingredients, spooning dressing and salt to taste over each plate

Norwegian Orange Cake

This recipe is from the Los Angeles Times


Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes plus cooling time
Servings: 10 to 16

3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice, divided
1 1/3 cups (5.7 ounces) flour (I made this twice, the first time with all-purpose flour and I thought it was dry, so I tried it again with cake flour and thought it was much better)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 70%), finely chopped
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Candied orange peel for garnish (I didn’t have this because I didn’t have time to shop for it, but I’m sure it makes it look more impressive)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the beater attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Beat in the orange zest and one-third cup juice.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. With the mixer running, slowly add the flour mixture until combined to form the cake batter. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

3. Place the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch bundt pan, smoothing the top of the batter. (The batter will come slightly less than halfway up the sides of the pan.)

4. Bake the cake until puffed and lightly browned on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. (The first time I made this I cooked it for 45 min and it seemed a little overdone, the second time for 37 min and even then maybe it could have come out sooner. This is odd because as you may have noticed, I usually have to cook things way longer than is recommended.) Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a cooling rack, then remove from the mold. The finished cake will be about 3 inches tall in the center.

5. While the cake is cooling, make the icing: In a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice and whisk to form the icing.

6. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake, then garnish with the candied orange.

Orange Rolls Cooked in Oranges

We started our Easter morning here enjoying the sunshine with a breakfast of Orange Rolls cooked in Oranges.

I got this idea from the blog Truly Simple. They made these over a fire while camping, which is a genius idea when you have limited cooking utensils and an open fire.

Of course it is always more impressive to make something from scratch, and those two constantly impressive queens of food blogging, Pioneer Woman and Smitten Kitchen teamed up to create an orange roll recipe that I am sure is amazing… but for us mortals who are also having 20 people over in a couple of hours, the Pillsbury Orange Rolls work out very nicely for this. (I have plans to make the from scratch version some time, but I have a lot of plans.)

To make these at home:
Slice 4 oranges in half and cut out the insides.IMG_2370

(Reserve the insides to eat as a refreshing balance to the sweetness of the rolls.) IMG_2378Place one roll in each orange half
Bake them according to the package directions

When they are done, glaze them
Then eat them… fun, sweet, delicious.

IMG_2375We had these with scrambled eggs and bacon, which I think are good salty companions to this very sweet treat, and off course the reserve orange insides and a mimosa to round out the meal.


Today is Forgiveness Sunday, the last day in the week-long Russian celebration known as Maslenitsa before The Great Lent begins. This is the day to forgive those who have wronged you over the year and to ask forgiveness from anyone you have wronged. A fresh start to kick off a 40-day saga of fasting and self reflection. An opportunity to try to hurt fewer people’s feelings, be more generous, less critical, less selfish… whatever your fatal flaw, today is the day to seek redemption and try again.

Russian Orthodox Lent begins on Clean Monday, instead of Ash Wednesday like Roman Catholic Lent. Both religions fast during Lent, but the Orthodox church’s asceticism really shows up the Western church’s endeavors at self-denial. While Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent, in my experience this is just an excuse to attend beer soaked fish-fries at VFW Halls. On Clean Monday the devout Russian Orthodox do not eat at all, and then only uncooked food on Tuesday and Thursday of the first week of Great Lent. They then follow that up with a strict regimen of restrictions, including no meat at all, throughout the 7 weeks leading up to Orthodox Easter.

Keeping with the great tradition of gluttony before fasting, the week before this intense abnegation is the festival of Maslenitsa, or Butter Week or Pancake Week. Dairy and Eggs are forbidden during the Great Lent. Russians use up any stockpiles of these ingredients by gorging on blini, which are yeasted pancakes made with buckwheat or white flour, butter and milk and served drenched in hot butter, sour cream and any number of additional delicacies. Blini are a sacred food in Russia, and like many Christian traditions, this festival’s origins are pagan. In Slavic Mythology, the round, golden blini symbolize the return of the sun and farewell to Winter.

This Russian version of Mardi Gras or Carnival is a seven day festival that begins on

wikimedia commons, public domain image

wikimedia commons, public domain image

Monday with the construction of a Maslenitsa Doll out of straw and old women’s clothing. This doll is the mascot of the week and paraded around town on a stick, like the Burning Man with fewer hallucinogens. The first blini are also made on Monday and given to the poor. Tuesday is when the festivities and pursuit of romance begin. (The Sunday after Easter is a popular day for getting married, so unattached men and women are supposed to be on the look out for a mate.) In addition to sleigh riding, parades, clowns, drinking and merriment on this day, men are permitted to kiss any passing woman they choose. This might be acceptable behavior at Burning Man, but in sounds pretty creepy in regular society. So be careful ladies! On Wednesday, sons-in-law are invited to their mother-in-law’s home to feast on blini and compliment the mother-in-law on her hospitality. Thursday is when the revelry becomes mandatory, all non-essential work in the town must stop and everyone gets in on the fun. The main attraction on this day is the official Fist Fights. Men drink large quantities of vodka and punch each other to honor Russia’s military history. On Friday, sons-in-law host their mothers-in-law for a blini feast, which more likely means that their wife does all the work, while the men nurse their hangovers, black eyes and bloody noses from Thursday’s revelry. Saturday is the Sisters-In-Law Gathering, where the youngest wife hosts her sisters-in-law to try to gain their favor and show off her hospitality.

This brings us back to today, Forgiveness Sunday. After a week of butter and vodka-infused debauchery, it is quite likely that one might have a good deal that needs forgiving.

Wikimedia Commons, Pubic Domain Image.

Wikimedia Commons, Pubic Domain Image.

At the end of the day the Maslentisa Doll and any leftover pancakes that you are too bloated buttered to eat are thrown into a bonfire and The Great Lent and all it’s austerity begins.

There are not many of us in modern American culture who have jobs that will enforce a mandatory work stoppage to dedicate an entire week to eating blini, sledding and fist fights so I suggest a one-day party that incorporates as many elements together as you like. For instance, you can invite all your in-laws and anyone you need to forgive and/or punch in the face all to the same party on Saturday or Sunday. If you live in a part of the country that still has snow you could host a sledding or ice skating party at a nearby park and invite everyone back to your house afterwards to warm up with fresh blini, hot tea, mulled wine and of course, vodka!