Amalia Eriksson: the trailblazing Swedish businesswoman who created a beloved minty candy called polkagris.3 min read
It was 1859, when a new confection emerged on the market in the small town of Gränna, Sweden. It was a hard, minty candy with whimsical red and white stripes. Called polkagris, it soon became one popular and beloved sweet.
The treat was the work of Amalia Eriksson, born in 1824 and grew up in Gränna, who ended up marrying a tailor. The poor woman was only 34 years old when became a widow shortly after giving birth to her daughter Ida. Her husband died in dysentery only four days after the woman gave birth to twins. Only Ida survived, and Amalia now had to provide for herself and her daughter. Luckily, she was a driven woman, and started making and selling sweets for funerals, weddings and baptisms.
However, Amalia couldn’t afford proper medicine when Ida got sick, so she decided to whip up her own combining peppermint oil, vinegar, and sugar with the hopes the concoction could cure the Ida’s ailments.
Though not actually medicinal, her creation tasted so good her daughter willingly scarfed it down.
This gave the now 35-year-old widow an idea: why not to use her delicious invention to support herself and her family?
Sadly, her idea struck during the 1800s, at a time when women were still excluded from the business sector, but could be allowed to be self-employed for social reasons.
And so Amalia in 1895 was able to successfully petition the town council to allow her to open her own bakery and sweet shop.
There she began selling her minty creation, which she named “polkagris”, a Swedish word that directly translated it means something like “polka pig”. “Polka” comes from the at-the-time popular dance, and “gris” means “sweet treat”, but it is also possible she made the word up. Nobody knows for sure where Amalia got the recipe, but some say it might come from Munich in Germany. In any case, the business owner carefully guarded her recipe, which remained a secret until after her death. Her daughter, Ida, maintained the craft and developed what her mother had started.
Though the signature striped red and white confection may resemble a classic candy cane, the dash of vinegar gives it a softer, chewier texture than the classic holiday treat and, according to town lore, candy canes modeled their stripes after polkagris’ design.
Either way, Polkagris is still a popular treat in Gränna and visitors to the quaint mountainside town can pop into the numerous shops that sell the popular striped candy.
It even comes in a variety of flavors, including unusual varieties like violet and salt licorice.
But today the Polkagris is still made almost exactly the same way. A classic Polkagris is made by sugar, water, vinegar and natural peppermint oil. The amount of each ingredient depends on, among other things, the weather and humidity.
Gränna itself celebrates its history as the birthplace of the Swedish treat, and there’s a statue of Amalia Erikkson in one of its parks.
The town has even begun hosting an annual polkagris-making world championship to attract tourists, who must compete to make a perfect candy that weighs exactly 50 grams.
Today, about 600 000 – 800 000 people visit Gränna every year.
Images from web – Google Research