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Jansson's Temptation

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In the fall of 1846, the Swedish prophet, Eric Jansson, led seven hundred followers to the banks of the Edwards River fifty miles south of Rock Island. Here they formed a communal society called Bishop Hill after Jansson's birthplace in Sweden. They had been persecuted out of Sweden for their belief that Christians could become pure and sinless even in this world. Rich and free America was the perfect place. Jansson would show those Swedish Lutherans that a man could be perfect.

And he came close. 

Under Jansson's leadership, the colony thrived. The hard-working visionary Swedes soon had five thousand acres under cultivation. Bishop Hill boasted an imposing church, a hotel, and some of the first brick apartment buildings in the United States.

Part of Jansson's vision of perfection was austerity. Hard work and nothing in excess. Even food was to be used only to sustain the body, not for pleasure. The colonists ate a plain and simple diet, and only enough to stay alive. Eric Jansson demanded no less of himself than he demanded of his followers.

Or so everyone thought, until one of them entered Jansson's room one day unannounced. To his horror, he discovered the prophet alone, eagerly devouring a rich casserole consisting of layers of potatoes, onions, and anchovies baked together with milk and butter, and a dash of pepper. Fortunately, it was only a venial sin, and not the mortal one it would have been if he had actually violated Swedish tradition by using spices.

Word spread among the colonists, and even to Sweden, where the dish became known as Jansson's Temptation, in honor of the prophet's fall from grace.

Last year, I visited the Swedish Club of Buenos Aires for brunch, and there was Jansson's Temptation. I tried a helping, and made a discovery of my own: Jansson's Temptation, unlike the apple in the Garden of Eden, is probably the only instance in this world where the sin comes with its own penance built in.

Or haven't you ever eaten an anchovy?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.