Monday, August 1, 2011

It's August, and Everything Is Rotten in the State of Sweden or Swedish Old Wives Tales

I don't know if this is just my Swedish family or it is a thing. I did a preliminary google on it, but came up short. This is often due to my craptastic Swedish spelling.

But today is the first day of August - or what my Swede often refers to as 'Rotten Month.' 'Don't leave that out, it's Rotten Month,' he will proclaim as soon as I finish serving dinner. And the hot food he usually refuses to put in the fridge for risk of ruining everything else in the fridge is thrown in immediately.

I get the logic behind Rotten Month if it is an old wives' tale. August is frequently one of the warmest months and thus more food goes bad. But see, The Swede, who tends to be quite scientific and sensible, repeats this rotten mantra even when temperatures dip well into the teens in Celsius, or the 60s in Fahrenheit (as often occurs in Sweden). I point out that it was actually warmer in July and we were, while not careless, were not August careful with our food and no stomach bugs were caught.

The temperature, says the Swede, is irrelevant. It is August - it is Rotten Month - we must be prepared. So today is the first day of Rotten Month. The Swede missed dinner, but I dutifully refrigerated it for him. I don't mind doing so on days like today when it is indeed hot and humid.

So is this just my silly Swede? Is this a thing? Is there a good story behind it?


  1. Blame the romans:

    You're right that it's the heat and humidity that ruins the food, the rest is superstition.

  2. I was for a long time during the last to weeks confused about this topic. Coming from South Africa (where it is warm most of the year) there are no specific practices for food storage for different months. Thus, in Sweden at a first glance this made sense. In the summer there should be more spoilage since it is much warmer that in the winter. But after a few moments my brain kicked in and this makes only sense if you leave food OUTSIDE. Not out of the fridge but outside, meaning not in the house. I found that the temperatures throughout the year fluctuates by about 8°C in the house. I.e. in the middle of the winter you can have 25°C inside the house and in summer you can have much the same. When I was reprimanded about my lunch not being in fridge the I was in the office...I would guess the temperature being 20°C.

    I am glad to see this may be a deep rooted cultural thing and not some magic August food spoiling demon :)

  3. Yes it's a nationwide occurrence! I recently read about it in my local town's newspaper. They warned about "Rötmånaden".

  4. Yes, it's nationwide and everbody knows about "rötmånaden". And of course it has less meaning now with refrigerators, but it still matters, at least fot people like me that are usually in no hurry to put stuff in the fridge after dinner...

  5. @Mazui - interesting link - I kept looking for rotenmanad. I did not know it was such an old tradition.

    @blogofice - interesting thought. I remember when the cafeteria workers went on strike a bunch of years back here in Sweden and parents were petrified of how sick their children would be if they couldn't store their lunches in the fridge. My Swede was horrified when I told him I brown bagged (brought my own) lunch for 13 years of public school - with no fridge - even during humid New Jersey June - with things like yogurt and day old pizza - and lived to tell the tale.

    @Thanks Jessica & anon - glad to know

    @ anon #2 - didn't think of the dog days, but you are right.

  6. Hi Surviving Sweden
    Interesting post - thanks. I have heard similar things from Swedes in the past few days so was curious enough to google around, and I found your blog.
    My take is that there is a modern day version of Rotten Month and that is that many restaurants and suppliers close for a few weeks often in July or August, resulting in food needing to be stored for longer. A colleague and I had sushi a couple of days ago from a reputable place in Gothenburg, and both felt uncomfortable for several hours afterward. The longer storage times combined with higher temperatures is a risky combination =)

  7. Yes, superstition mixed with facts, just as you already discovered. "Bondepraktikan" can also be blamed. Usually when discussing "rötmånaden", that's what people refer to.

    Some really insane stuff in that book from what I've heard, BUT I have not read it.