The books take place on a small rural farm in Smaland in Sweden. I don't think it is spelled out exactly what time period it takes place but I would put it around 1830 to 1850. If someone has some clues from the book that pinpoint this more accurately that would also be interesting.

In general I feel the book is fairly historically accurate, although it shows less misery that there was. It is a childrens book after all. But there are a lot of scenes involving food and they seem to eat meat for almost every meal which looks unrealistic to me. What did the typical diet of a person living on a farm in Sweden at that time period look like? Was it really that meat heavy?

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    IIRC sausages are locked away for special occasions and blood dumplings are considered a feast. The question how meat heavy a farmers diet would be is fine IMO.
    – mart
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 8:51
  • Since sending Emil over and them suffering "an earthquake" would mean being 'too mean' to the Americans, the narrated time is probably a lot later, more like end of 19th (rural life) start 20th (following clues): with the 1906 quake being a possible anchor? Another would be 'people being afraid of the comet' (Halley?) Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 9:50
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    In interviews the author claimed that her own childhood and that of her father would be the rough inspiration for the stories: they were born in 1875 and 1907. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 9:51
  • My time period estimate came from the observation that cars, trains, telephones or telegraphs are not mentioned anywhere. Emigrating to America is a common occurence in the book but I'm not sure when the big emigration waves from Sweden were.
    – quarague
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 10:41
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    While the farm is small for our contemporary understanding, it was certainly a wealthy rather than a poor farm from the descriptions. Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


There are several aspects to observe:

The narrated timeframe

We have a fictional account of which the author claimed to have based it on her own childhood and that of her father. It is thus already apparently an amalgamation of real memory and imagination of a golden old time in very backwaterish rural area as remembered and imagined by the author. The author was born in 1907, and her father in 1875.

Two further clues for the narrated timeframe are: sending troublemaker Emil over and them suffering "an earthquake" would mean being 'too much' for the Americans. Making the 1906 San Francisco earthquake a possible anchor? Another would be 'people being afraid of the comet' which would most likely correspond to Halley's comet in 1910.

Since 'emigration to America' is a topic featured in the stories,

Swedish emigration to the United States reached its height in the 1870–1900 era.

The author herself:

Astrid conjures up the image of Vimmerby at the beginning of the last century when she takes Michel and his family from Katthult to the market in Vimmerby. But Michel also has traits from Astrid's father Samuel August and her brother Gunnar.

"I thought it was funny to write about Michel, and do you know why? Well, because Michel was just a child in a world that resembled the world I lived in when I was little. And which was just like the world my dad lived in when he was little. A world that no longer exists. When I started writing about Michel and Ida and father Anton and mother Alma and Lina and Alfred and Croesa-Maja and the whole little Katthult, it was as if I came home. And I felt such a love for Michel, I felt that he was so closely related to my dad, who at some point towards the end of the 19th century was a little blond, barefoot boy in Sevedstorp in Småland, not far from Michel's Lönneberga.

My dad loved to tell stories. All his life he told. About everything, big and small, old and new, whatever came to his mind. He told about how he - just like Michel - made money as a gate boy at home in Sevedstorp, and how he - just like Michel - caught 60 crabs in a single dark night in August, and, just like Michel, he once managed to appease a crazy cow by taking her to some other cows that had more sense. What my daddy was telling me, about gate money and crayfish catches and crazy cows and ticklish horses and auctions and house surveys and poorhouses and markets and farmer's parties and whatever else I know, it all went into the books about Michel. It became like a frame for all his pranks. I was allowed to make up the pranks myself, at least most of them. For although my father was quite inventive as a small boy, he didn't do quite as much mischief as Michel. It's probably true that Michel did more mischief than any other boy in all of Småland and perhaps the whole world.
— "Die Geschichte hinter den Michel aus Lönneberga", Astrid Lindgren Company, astridlindgren.com (my translation from German, where Emil is named Michel), English version lacks author quote

This would make 1880–1920 the most likely historical timeframe to investigate.

Dietary patterns and their narrative significance

Dietary patterns of farmers are not that well documented, since they had direct access to their own livestock to be slaughtered and consumed, whereas urban people had to buy it and making the sheer price of meat a significant factor. Also note that actual national statistics of food consumption are only available after 1950.

Then we have on top of 'villagers eating comparatively more meat' in general the fact that meat was still held in high regard and an indispensable part of feasts. With large variations over the time of the year. When a beast is slaughtered, rather large quantities of meat products easily spoiled but difficult to preserve had to be consumed quite quickly. Blood being the first to be made into meals, choice cuts being the next, pieces to be dried, pickled, smoked or salted and a variety of sausages coming later. Things like ham and bacon needed time for curing, and the supply from one nose to tail slaughtering should last for a while.

Which means that even in a factual account there would be times of quite high meat consumption in rural areas for some parts of the year, while animal products may feature on an indeed more regular and altogether higher ratio than for poor factory workers in cities. Not to forget that large quantities of meat would be one necessary thing to describe when mentioning noteworthy meals on the one hand, and especially when describing 'good old times', an idyllic past that might as well be termed 'fat years'. Eating a lot of meat is used as a sign of well being and of being comparatively well off, even when otherwise 'poor'. That meat is present on almost every table doesn't say how much that actually is. A small sausage or a piece of bacon for flavour is not the same as three times daily a pound of flesh.

It is actually a plot point that Emil seems like he is almost always craving sausages. Hardly a sign of satiety from over-indulgence. He sneaks from his place of punishment the tool shed via a plank into the storage sausage shed on their farm for an extra portion and likewise into a little store in Grönshult for a nice hot dog. On Christmas there is even a scene of him freeing the poor people from the poor house, for a feasty scene, again centering seemingly around sausages. Emil's mother is also contemplating donating some meat products since 'even the poor should have them when it's Christmas'. On the other hand, him getting stuck in soup bowl to really get the last bit out of it is also a sign of 'constant appetite' and also of 'nothing is wasted', and 'no cornucopia either'.(src1, src2, src3 follwing picture are screenshots from the movie)

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Actual Swedish meat consumption patterns

The actual meat consumption patterns for Sweden around the imagined time inquired would then look like this, with considerable variation at the beginning:

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Daily consumption of meat in kg per capita. Data from the years 1871–1928 are based on hospital dietary regulations. Each dot represents a measured value. Information from the time period 1930/1940 is derived from reports on life circumstances by official statistics (Kungl. Socialstyrelsen, 1938, 1943) and Juréen (cited in Morell, 1989). Data from 1950–2000 are based on the national data on food consumption (Statens Jordbruksverket, 2000).
— Tina-Simone Schmid Neset: "Reconstructing SwedishFood Consumption from Hospital Diets After 1870", Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 43:3, p149-179, 2010 DOI

From this we see the meat consumption actually going down right after the imagined time frame. The pure availability of fruits was rare, especially for Northern Sweden, and vegetables and fruit would have been also very highly seasonal. The amount of milk and dairy consumed was and is quite high in Sweden.

From studies estimating the annual consumption per person varying from 16kg up to 56kg we also see estimates between:

Meat consumption rose, according to his results, from 29 kg around 1880 to about 40kg around 1900. This result concurs with Fahlbeck (1893) who calculated an annual per capita consumption of 28kg for the late 1880s based on the Agricultural Society’s records and foreign trade. Essemyr (1988) studied the consumption of sawmill workers in northern Sweden in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, using household budgets among other sources. For the different groups of workers the share of animal sources in the total intake of energy shifted from 13% to 29% and in the total intake of protein from 29% to 47% in 1870. Total consumption of meat products shifted from an annual consumption of 25kg to 42kg per consumption unit (before reduction, Essemyr, 1988, appendix p. 213). In her study on the Stocka Sawmill for the period 1870–1890, Fjellström (1990) stated that a large difference in consumption of meat products was evident. During this period the amount of pork that was bought annually by different families shifted from 9kg to 16kg per consumption unit. Fjellström (1990) asserts that for most families, household pigs supplied at least the same amount annually.

For the place of Småland and workers there it was apparently a less fat experience:

The annual consumption of meat in particular could differ substantially. In some hospitals, male personnel consumed more than 100kg/year in the 1890s, while the paupers at the poorhouse consumed 26kg/year in 1870 and the average patient less than 50kg. While the institutional diet did not differ much from the average that Juréen (cited in Morell, 1989) and Fahlbeck (1893) presented, workers around the country in 1889 still consumed only 23 and 29 kg/ capita per year in the counties of Småland and Östergötland respectively (Hirdman, 1983, p.286).


Within the stories, the frequent talk of meat products is neither corresponding to factual 'very eat heavy diet', nor representative for either small farmsteads in Sweden around 1900 nor is the book a detailed day-by-day account. It tells noteworthy stories and meat is a noteworthy component of for example lavish festive meals with guests. That would make the stories a sampling error for surveying dietary patterns. It is further more signifying the value assigned to meat than the actual volume of meat consumed in a fictional idyllic narration and an author's childhood memories.

Within the historic timeframe however, Swedish dietary patterns are somewhat difficult to ascertain. The available studies reach conclusions that vary wildly, with a general tendency towards higher meat consumption on farms with animals compared to poor workers or city dwellers, and a second trend towards ever growing meat consumption on average and in general, with perhaps a little slowed growth for the first half of the 20th century. Taken together, an impression of 'they generally really ate a lot of meat' is not warranted to conclude from the stories, but not an overly unlikely impossibility for the historic timeframe and one special farm either.

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    Very nice analysis (+1). I'd like to add (which is between the lines of this answer) that Emil's family are wealthy farmers: they have a permanent staff of IIRC 2 (Lina and Alfred) and IIRC Krösa-Maja is more or less a pensioner. Also, in the Christmas story, they send food to the poor people. Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:11
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    Although I don't know that for Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century, I'd also think the horses are an indication of wealth. (I may be off here in my estimate since it is based on people telling from their childhood in Western Germany around 1950 that draft horse = decidedly sign of wealthy farmer as opposed to farmer with only draft oxen... but there WWII effects on horses may have played a role) Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:14
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX All your observations are correct for WGermany, and to a very large degree for Sweden. However, it's only the word "wealthy" I can't fully agree on (a matter of tastes?). Having a Knecht/Dräng meant 'comparatively well off'/'rich' in the eyes of those without? But only lots of those or even sub-farmers on your own land would approach wealthy? I'd categorise them into 'independent middle class farmers' (not very rich but less sorrow than imagined for farmer/peasant) as opposed to both dirt poor farmers and really rich agricultural landowners/'big' farmers? Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:48
  • @LangLangC - yes, I suspect it may be a matter of word choice (or translation - since I think you speak German as well: I'm thinking wohlhabend, vermögend - having sub-farmers/leaseholders would to me be decidedly rich as opposed to only wealthy? i.e., owner of a large estate/Großgrundbesitzer). Did Småland have large estates like north/east of the Elbe? Still, if they had large estates, I'd expect an independent farm (with horse - and IIRC a discussion that horse Lukas is too expensive rather than out of budget) to end up in the 9th or 10th decile of households. But I may be quite wrong here Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 15:33
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX Småland is less fertile, forest and lake rich, pig raising (and dairy making) just taking off in Sv agriculture. The very name Småland indicates quite small counties. Most papers I have deal with Sweden as a whole or other particular regions (the sources about Småland weren't accessible to me or in Swedish ;). It will remain to a degree a matter of relative distance and perception. swedishcluboforlando.blogspot.com/2013/04/… Want more on that? IMO, we're a bit short on good Qs right now ;) Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 17:02

LangLangC has already covered the dietary part in depth, so I will primarily try to give more information on the timeline, and a different reading of the book.


There are the 1906 earthquake and 1910 appearance of Halley's comet already mentioned. These are the ones that are easiest to pinpoint to a particular year, but there are also things that does not fit with this.

In one chapter, we see the provost visiting the family for "home examination" (Swedish : husförhör). These were mandatory examinations of the parishers knowledge of reading and basic theology, based on Luther's small cathechism. In 1888, these were made voluntary, and they had totally disappeared by the turn of the century.

Alfred at one point goes of for refresher training. This indicates that he was not part of the old allotment system, but rather a conscripted solider. This does, however, not really say anything, despite some claims I have seen. The change from one system to the other was gradual.

A more modern feature is that the farm has a flagpole. The tradition appears to have caught wind in the early 20th century. (I do not recall if the Swedish flag is described, but if it is, it would point to a date either before or after the dissolution of the union with Norway in 1905).

In summary, the books are not set in a particular year, or even a particular decade. They are a fictionalised depiction of a gone world, with details that come from different periods.


One thing that is clear from the above is that nothing points to a setting during periods with large-scale serious shortages of food; the last great famines of Sweden was in 1867–1869.

As for "meat every meal", it is technically true, but the phrasing is misleading. One apparently ordinary day we see two different meals prepared: first "blodpalt", potato- and blood-based batter, shaped into buns, possibly with bits of pork in the middle. When Emil drops the batter on his father, they instead try to make potato pancakes. The loss of the batter is treated as a practical matter, not a huge setback. So, animal food in the form of blood was planned to be on the table, but not necessarily meat. The other meal I can recall being served on an ordinary day is the meat soup served when Emil put his head in the tureen: again, a sort of ambiguous dish, suitable for making much out of a little meat, but also possibly very rich.

My reading is that while they are eating meat, there is no abundance, except on feast-days.

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