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Swedish egg coffee and orange cake make a fine afternoon meal if you're a hungry Scandinavian farmer.
Swedish egg coffee and orange cake make a fine afternoon meal if you're a hungry Scandinavian farmer.

Eggy Coffee?

Aug 30, 2012

As the big day for the Heirloom Recipes Competition at the South Dakota State Fair draws near, my mind is more and more consumed with thoughts of vintage family recipes. My Aunt Julie recently shared a couple that my great-great grandmother, Alma Johnson, gave her friend Mabel Hovden back in the 1920s. Alma wasn’t known as much of a recipe follower, but it made sense that the surviving instructions were for cakes. After all, afternoon coffee was an important part of a Scandinavian farm family’s day — and you can’t have afternoon coffee without some sort of sweet accompaniment.

I asked my aunt what style of coffee was made back then. They didn’t have plug-in drip machines or fancy French presses, after all. Julie replied, “I'm betting that egg coffee was in the works. That was the kind I remember Grandma Johnson always making. It was best to get there early in the day, though, as her coffee seemed to get stiffer as the day wore on. No wonder Grandpa Johnson would add spoonful after spoonful of sugar. Speaking of coffee, I could use some myself right now!”

Julie introduced me to egg coffee years ago. One Sunday morning as we went to brew the first pot of the day, her coffee carafe broke. I started to panic. “I can’t sit through church uncaffeinated!”

“Don’t worry about it,” my aunt said cheerfully. “We can make egg coffee.”

What? Eggs in coffee? What kind of crazy talk was this? Jules had never been prone to such outbursts of bizarre behavior before, so I tried to suspend my disbelief. 

As it turns out, that was a good thing. I did not know then that egg coffee was a cherished Scandinavian-American tradition from the days before automatic coffee makers, a concoction beloved of church basement ladies throughout the Midwest. Mixing coffee grounds with beaten egg is supposed to clarify the brew and make it less bitter. The exact method varies, but one thing remains constant — you'd better have a good dessert to serve with it. 

So picture yourself in a Volin, South Dakota farmhouse kitchen in the mid-1920s. Your companions are two aged non-English-speaking ladies, three or four rowdy kids, a sick calf warming up behind the cookstove and a Swedish immigrant housewife with a devilish sense of humor. The egg coffee is extra hearty from hours of simmering on the stove, but the cake is good and the company lively. Enjoy.


Egg Coffee

From Talk About Coffee 

1 egg, beaten
1 crushed eggshell
1 cup ground coffee
1/2 cup cold water
8 cups boiling water

In a small bowl, mix the ground coffee with the beaten egg until the grounds are well coated. Stir in the eggshell, then add water. Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan. Add egg-coffee mixture to the boiling water and stir for about four minutes, or until the foam subsides. Remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let stand for 7-10 minutes, until the grounds and eggshell have settled to the bottom of the pot. Strain the coffee through a wire or cloth strainer into coffee cups or into a serving carafe. Add sugar and milk to taste if desired.


Orange Cake

From Alma Johnson to Mabel Hovden c. 1925

Julie advises, “There are no hints as to oven temperature or baking time. And in this day and age, I'd add poking holes in the cake with a fork before drizzling the orange/sugar mixture on it so it would run in. Probably another thing that everybody just 'knew.' If Grandma Johnson knew you were coming and she had an orange, you might get treated to this one.”                                           

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or lard
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup raisins
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 egg 

Glaze: Peeling of one orange grated.  Squeeze juice from orange and put in 1/2 cup sugar.  Let stand while cake is baking and pour on cake when taken from oven.




06:38 am - Fri, August 31 2012
John Andrews said:
We used to have egg coffee at the Lutheran church in Lake Norden all the time. I'm sure they still serve it. I remember how clear it was. When our Norwegian cousins visited in the 1990s, they called our coffee "black water."
07:23 am - Fri, August 31 2012
Laura Johnson said:
Oh, I KNEW I wasn't making it right! Mine is much stronger than I'm used to - I have a mugful in the morning and it knocks me for a loop.

I'd ask you for the Lake Norden method, but I'm sure it serves at least 40.

My understanding is that much like lutefisk consumption, the practice of making egg coffee is rare or unheard of in Scandinavia now.

I've also read that Norwegians used fish skins or swim bladders for coffee-clarifying purposes before they switched to eggs.
11:33 am - Fri, August 31 2012
Ruth said:
My grandmother used to make egg coffee. She wasn't Norwegian, but she was Lutheran.
05:50 pm - Fri, August 31 2012
Elayne said:
In the 1950s, I remember my grandma always had a big porcelain pot on the stove filled with egg coffee when she had the big family dinners. I never knew how she made it. I'm going to have to try this recipe. thank you!!
02:36 pm - Sat, September 1 2012
Kim said:
After my grandfather's funeral, the immediate family gathered at one of his sister's house. When I declined coffee ( I hadn't discovered the joy as of yet), my great aunt explained in order for me to be a good Norwegian girl I HAD to drink coffee. Besides, hers was made the Norse way with an egg, which she promptly had to teach me how to make. Thanks for reminding me...
06:00 am - Sun, September 2 2012
Staci said:
I've heard my grandma and my step-mom talk about egg coffee but I had no idea what they were talking about. I was imagining scrambled eggs IN the coffee. Now that I have a recipe for it, I may give it a try just for fun. I love strong, black coffee. But maybe my Norwegian grandpa would be proud. Thanks, Laura!
09:37 am - Sun, September 2 2012
Dick said:
One of the "church ladies" back home in Marion made the best egg coffee. My mother engaged her to make the coffee for my high school graduation reception and I remember watching her mix the coffee and egg and put the mixture in a cheese cloth before adding it to a large enamel coffee pot. I seem to recall that egg coffee could only be made successfully in an enamel ware pot.
09:09 pm - Sun, September 2 2012
Richard Nordstrom said:
About the orange cake; it was probably baked in an wood burning cookstove. Experience was what told you how hot the oven and how long to bake it. My grandmother baked in a wood burning cookstove. Those thermometers in the middle of the doors weren't that accurate.
04:33 am - Tue, September 4 2012
Marsha Peterson said:
My favorite memory of egg coffee was watching the Mission Hill Congregational Church ladies make it for their annual soup kitchen. Then you would drink it all day while enjoying the wonderful baked goodies that those ladies provided. Now you would think that would be difficult with 3 little children like Laura and her brothers, but there was always someone who wanted to hold babies or play with toddlers in that warm and friendly Mission Hill, Valley View, Volin community. Sometimes it was even one of the older gentlemen who would take a baby and had it off to some single young man and declare that he should have one!
The real clain to fame was held by Laura's Grandma Rachel. Her coffee (made in an enamel pot, of course) was still boiling long after it was poured into your cup! Thank you Laura for a wonderful article. It made me laugh and remember those wonderful days in a much simpler time. I will certainly try the cake and coffee once I find my pot again!
05:13 am - Tue, September 4 2012
I don't think my family made anything other than egg kaffe . And I still make it regularly. I often think of some of the great Norskies that loved to add cream...real cream...not "whitner" of "stuff" like that...just real genuine whipping cream. And then sugar...often those big course sugar cubes. And often times when the kaffe was hot...some of the old timers would pour it in a saucer...and with a sugar lump in the cheek..could suck it in... I don't think we see people dunking things much any more either. Like home made doughnuts, cookies, and even sandwiches. Ja Laura...there's just nothin' like good old egg kaffe...
10:17 am - Tue, September 4 2012
Laura said:
Thanks for sharing the awesome memories, everybody!

06:43 am - Wed, September 5 2012
Julie Scheel said:
I'm having coffee this morning, but not the eggy kind. Laura, I think, that the poor rendition of egg coffee after the breaking of the pot, did you a great disservice. I apologize for that! But, I think you did run right out afterwards and purchase a new coffee pot for our kitchen.
How fun to read all these comments of connection with people over their egg coffee. You know how to spark something good, Laura!
09:57 am - Wed, September 5 2012
Laura said:
Jules - I don't remember it being bad, just a new concept!

It's true, the comments are great. I love food stories!
08:21 am - Thu, September 6 2012
Barbara Hackbart said:
Amazing. We had a weekend at Branson with Brother Merl and his wife. We were enjoying our happy hour on the patio and got to talking about egg coffee! We are too young to have made it ourselves (only in our 70's) but we had all heard about it. We didn't learn to make it as the boys were in the field and we girls left SD in our 20's.

Amazing what you find in the Magazine.

08:49 am - Thu, October 4 2012
Mary Bethel said:
I was born in Clark, SD and my mom (Mary Dunham) and my aunt (Kathleen Williams Lockhart) use to make egg coffee. Last year when ALL the family were at the lake in Solon Springs, WI my cousin Katy made me egg coffee from my aunts old coffee pot. Oh, was it good. Such wonderful memories. Thanks for the article and recipe!

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