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  • Writer's pictureEmily

The surprisingly creative juices of Jämtland, Sweden

In his episode of the Netflix series, Chef's Table, Magnus Nilsson appears in the barren, stark countryside of his hometown in the Jämptland region of Sweden to explain how he, a smalltown Swedish boy who escaped to Paris, ended up back home to open what is now one of the most unique and praised restaurants in the world. Jämtland just also happens to be the region where my ancestors, the Andersons (led by the boringly and redundantly named Anders) originated. Seeing the footage of this place (for even more, check out Nilsson's episodes in Mind of a Chef), I am not at all surprised the Andersons decided to hightail it out of there for their new home in equallly bleak Heber City, Utah, over a hundred years ago.

When my father was still alive, I fruitlessly attempted to goad him into visiting places BESIDES Heber City (and other places in Utah where our absurdly large extended family is scattered). When we discovered the name of our Anderson ancestors' Swedish hometown (Föllinge--well, really, hamlet--there are 485 people there now!), I told him to go visit. We researched further, and even found a little lodge that took guests in the area. "You can go skiing right out the back door!" I exclaimed. "Hmmm, now this is a place I'd actually consider going. It's a good idea," he said, with his characteristic lack of commitment or attempt to make a plan. Any plan! Possibly my greatest regret now that he is gone is that I had not tried harder to get him there. As much as he would have loved and truly appreciated visiting historic artwork and museums across more conventional European destinations, immersing himself in this far northern wintry place would have resonated with far more than the artist in him--it would have given him a sense of wholeness and belonging; it is a landscape that tied the home he had chosen most recently with the horizons of his childhood.

On my first visit to Stockholm (now over 6 years ago), I discovered the Nordiska Museet, or Nordic Museum, and there, uncovered a piece of my own Scandinavian heritage. When my cousins and I were growing up, there was a plain-looking non-descript wooden trunk that sat in a corner of my grandma's basement. When she passed away and the family was dividing up her furniture, I ended up claiming this piece--it wasn't because I was particularly attached to it, but I knew it had been made by my great-grandfather (or great-great?) and I didn't want to see a piece of our legacy abandoned. We always thought the drab green paint had been selected out of frugality or necessity. But at the Nordiska Museet, I found multiple other pieces of furniture, mostly from Jämtland, painted in the same annoying shade of green! My own little piece of Scandinavian frugal logger furniture could have fit right into their exhibit. I felt like I had found a missing puzzle piece.

That trunk, which still sits in my living room, also connects me to an unbroken line of makers. They--from my logger great-grandfather to my carpenter grandfather to my sculptor father--all worked with wood. They were craftsmen and practical, but also dreamers and creatives. They were disciplined, hard-working people who had little patience for anyone reluctant to "get their hands dirty" (ok, they totally held those people in contempt and enjoyed forcing them to get dirty), but they were also well-read, intellectual, and very very sensitive (oh, all the feelings!)

I have always liked to work with my hands as well, even as my more formal pursuits have been intellectual. I began obsessively knitting in the months after my father died because I needed to do something with my hands instead of my head. But I realize now that in some ways, I have no choice but to make. It is in my bones. When I see the footage of Magnus Nilsson there in cold and bleak Jämtland explaining why he creates the amazing dishes he does, I feel a chill down my spine because I understand, literally, the pull and push of this place.

(This is apparently an 18th century parish house. It could be a building on my great-grandfather's farm in Heber...seriously.)

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