An indisputable sign of spring in Gränna, the little gem next to Lake Vättern, is when the window shutters are opened and the first cooking of peppermint rock, or polkagris, begins. A delicious aroma wafts through the alleys and over the cobblestone streets.Many of the bakeries are open for business and in operation year-round, but it is still something special when all of the bakeries in town are set in motion for the season.
The sugar and the other ingredients are cooked until they reach a temperature of about 150 degrees C, and the clear mixture is then poured out on a sheet and processed. In order for the mixture to become white, it’s important to work air into it. It is fascinating to watch how the skilled peppermint rock confectioners throw and wind the dough around hooks in the walls. When the dough is ready, it’s time to begin rolling it out into canes.
Inventiveness reigns supreme when it comes to flavours and colours of the peppermint rock. Salty liquorice, wild strawberry, lemon, apple, black canes, red and yellow – one wonders what Amalia would have thought of this.
It all began in 1859 when a single mother, Amalia Erikson, received permission to start a bakery in Gränna to support herself and her daughter by making “fine pastries and the so-called polkagris”.
The name of the peppermint sweets is said to have come from the polka dance that was very popular in the 1840s. At first, the peppermint rock sweets were small pieces, but after a while Amalia launched peppermint canes, which became Gränna’s foremost distinction – and one of Sweden’s most popular souvenirs!
For a long time, Amalia Erikson was the only one making the sweets, but in order to meet the rising demand, more peppermint rock makers eventually appeared in the little town. Today there are a dozen bakeries in Gränna where you can see how the sweets are prepared. Here they are cooked, drawn, kneaded and twisted in the spirit of Amalia. At some of the bakeries, you are actually allowed to try to make your own peppermint rock. It’s not as easy as it looks!
For the classic red-and-white peppermint rock, sugar, water and vinegar are blended together and heated up. Here is the recipe:
Sweet and good!
1 kg sugar
4 ½ dl water
50 g glucose
1 tsp vinegar essence
10 drops of peppermint oil
red caramel colour
Combine sugar, water, glucose and vinegar essence in a saucepan with a thick bottom. Cook while stirring for about 20-30 minutes. The mixture should become leathery and glassy. Pour ¾ of the mixture on a greased marble sheet drizzled with peppermint oil. In the remainder of the mixture, add some drops of red caramel colour. Quickly work the mixture. Pour out the red mixture into 2-3 lengths and twist them with the white ones. Then cut off the right length of pieces with an oiled pair of scissors. It’s up to you to decide if you want to have canes, pieces or lollipops!
A town full of bakers
In Gränna, there are a variety of bakeries that all have their own special twists of the popular sweet. What they all have in common is that handcraft and the passion to bake the perfect peppermint rock.
Here you can listen to a mini-podcast with one of the town’s bakers, who is the current world champion!