City Woman Keeps Swedish Family Traditions

Denise Priestman grew up celebrating Christmas with her father, the late Donald Ahlstrom, and his Swedish traditions. Submitted photo

“We spent every Christmas Eve at my father’s parents, Ray and Freda Ahlstrom. It was my father, his two brothers and their families,” said Denise Priestman. “We had all of the recipes, except Kaldolmar.”

She holds fond memories of those winter nights at the house on upper South Main Street where 30 family members, including her great-grandmother who also lived at the house, gathered every year until she was in high school. The dining room table was extended and card tables were lined up in a row. The meal was always the same traditional Swedish foods: ham, korv, Swedish meatballs, brown beans, rice pudding, rotmos, sill, Bond Ost cheese, spritz cookies and glogg.

“We always dressed up. The men wore suits and ties and the little boys wore bow ties. The girls wore velvet dresses that were handed down from year to year. When my aunt died, my cousin found about twelve in her cedar chest,” she said.

Her grandfather took reel-to-reel movies of nearly every minute except when he set the camera down while he was eating.

“He’d line us up by age in front of the tree with the year in large numbers in the tree. Before dinner we’d watch every movie up to the year before, have dinner and open presents and he would film the whole time,” she said.

The elderly man went to each house on Christmas morning to film the family opening their gifts. He would rotate the houses each year, so the same family wasn’t first or last every year. The children couldn’t go downstairs until he was there and set up. His wife supplied new pajamas every year for the grand event. Priestman and her sister had the movies put on DVDs. Tears form in her eyes when she looks at them and remembers the way it once was.

On Christmas Day, the family went to her great-grandparents, Vilhelm and Anna Anderson’s, home on the corner of Charles Street and McKinley Avenue.

“I remember smelling lutfisk when I would walk in there and my great-grandfather would be jovial because he had gotten into the glogg,” she said.

She spent summers in Barcelona, where her grandfather Max Lathrop lived.

“He was always my champion. I had two amazing grandfathers. I was a lucky girl,” said the Jamestown woman. “I had a wonderful, loving family and had some great grandparents until I was in high school.”

She relocated to another state for many years.

“I’ve never regretted coming home. Never,” she said. “My dad, Donald Ahlstrom, and I were very close. I took him to Ecklof’s Bakery for coffee three times each week and for rides all over the county.”

Ahlstrom passed away earlier this year. He served as mayor of Jamestown in the early 90s and as a Chautauqua County legislator from 1994-95. He had worked for the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities and for Ahlstrom-Schaeffer Electric Corporation, a company his father co-owned.

She has a few collections. One of which is her late mother’s Santa Claus collection, to which she has added a few more to. She has a Christmas village that was given to her each Christmas, piece by piece, by her mother. She also collects Boyd’s Bears and Swedish Dala horses, including one made by her father.

“He did a lot of woodworking after he retired,” she said.

She displays her Great-grandmother Ahlstrom’s beautiful, hand painted, Nippon chocolate set which she keeps in a petit, antique curio cabinet with a built-in clock in the door. The set is considered complete even though it has just five cups and saucers that go with a tea pot, sugar and creamer. It was a gift from the woman’s husband, who had a habit of riding the gambling trains in the 1940s, leaving her with two young sons for a couple of months at a time. The same man founded Yellow Cab Company in Jamestown and owned the Hotel Edward on West Eighth Street.

“Since I came back, having gone to Jamestown High School and having grown up at First Lutheran, I go to the A Cappella Vespers every Christmas,” she said.

Over the course of 31 years of her job with ATT, she held several positions, retiring from executive complaints. Later, she attended phlebotomy school at BOCES and used the education while working for five years at WCA Hospital. She is currently working as a cashier at Wegman’s. She is a member of First Lutheran Church, where she is a communion assistant. She meets regularly with her school alumni. She also helps her 92-year old Godmother, Frances Lofgren, who resides at Hultquist Place.

Priestman makes Swedish food for the holidays, including limpa rye bread, cardamom bread, Swedish meatballs, rice pudding and rotmos. Her father would send Bond-Ost cheese and korv by overnight mail during the many years she lived out of the area. In years past, she baked many dozens of cookies and made several varieties of fudge.

“Here are the recipes I use the most. They are originally from my Great-Grandma Anna Anderson and passed down to me by my Grandma Elsie Pitts or my Aunt Jeanne Ahlstrom,” she said.

“Rotmos is a Swedish version of mashed potatoes. We always had them for mashed potatoes,” she added. “The Swedish people eat a lot of root vegetables. I think it is because of the cold climate.”


1 rutabaga

1 parsnip

3 carrots

6-8 potatoes

1/2 c cream


Salt and pepper

Peel and cut up rutabaga, parsnip, carrots and potatoes. Cook until tender. Drain and mash vegetables. Add cream, butter and salt and pepper to taste.

Brown Beans

2 c brown beans

1 T butter

1/4 c brown sugar

2 T vinegar

salt to taste

flour to thicken

Wash beans. Cover in large pan with cold water. Soak overnight. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 3-4 hours. Add all other ingredients.

Rice Pudding

1/2 c uncooked rice

1 scant c sugar

1 T corn starch

1 c milk

1 c evaporated milk

1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond

3 eggs, beaten

Cook rice. Mix sugar with cornstarch. Mix all ingredients in medium casserole. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then reduce to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 30 minutes.

Kaldolmar (Stuffed Cabbage)

1/2 lb each ground beef and ground pork

1 head cabbage, cored and leaves separated

1/2 c rice

1/2 c milk

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 small onion, minced

1 1/2 tsp salt

3/4 tsp pepper

2 T butter

1 T dark corn syrup

Brown sugar

Lightly brown meat. Drop a few leaves of cabbage in boiling salted water. Cook about 5 minutes and remove and drain. Continue until desired amount of cabbage leaves are prepared. Cook and drain rice. Stir in milk. Combine meat, egg, onion and seasonings and add to rice. Put 2 tablespoons of meat mixture on middle of each cabbage leaf and fold. Fasten with a toothpick. Brown in butter and corn syrup. Place rolled cabbage leaves in baking pan. Mix a little water in browning liquid and pour over rolls. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Baste while cooking with browning liquid or water if needed.

Swedish Meatballs

2 T onion, finely chopped


1/2 c bread crumbs

2/3 c cream

3/4 lb ground beef

1/4 lb ground pork

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

SautÈ onion in butter. Soak bread crumbs in cream. Add remaining ingredients and combine well. Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Fry in hot butter until browned on all sides.

Almond Cake

Use a special loaf cake pan you can purchase from a Swedish specialty store such as Hemsjold.

1/4 cup sugar

Sliced almonds

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp almond extract

2/3 cup whole milk

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 stick butter

Butter and flour cake pan. Sprinkle pan with sliced almonds. Combine egg, extract and milk and beat well. Add flour and baking powder. Melt butter and combine with other ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Cool and remove from pan. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.


1 c softened butter

1 c sugar

2 egg yolks, slightly beaten

2 T heavy whipping cream

1 T almond extract

3 c flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, cream and extract. Stir in flour, taking care not to let dough get too stiff. Shape cookies with cookie press. I use an old-fashioned cookie press available on Ebay.

Chill dough for about an hour so it does not stick to cookie press. I also chill my cookie sheets because it releases the cookie easier. Bake 350 degrees for about 8 minutes or until slightly brown. Sprinkle with sugar or colored sugar while cookies are still warm.