Vinarterta: An Icelandic treat for Christmas and other celebrations

November 2021

There are some traditions that are meant to last.

Corinne cannot remember a Christmas without vinarterta. It all started when she lived in Langruth, Manitoba, a predominantly Icelandic community about forty-five minutes north of Portage La Prairie. “My mom got the recipe from our neighbour who was also my babysitter and made it every Christmas without fail. It became a tradition in our family – even though there’s not an ounce of Icelandic in us. My dad is Scottish and Irish, while my mom is a mix of German, Russian, and Polish. I’m as much of a Heinz ’57 as there can be!”

But that never stopped Corinne from enjoying the treat. “I love the cardamom flavour,” she adds. “There’s something irresistible about taking that first bite at the Christmas dinner table, and remembering how delicious it is. It’s worth all the work put into making it.”

When Corinne moved off to university her mom often made the cake in November so there would be more time to visit when Corinne returned mid-December. Sometimes, however, they would make the cake together, using the two to three-hour prep and baking time to catch up on the past few months and hone their dough rolling skills.

“My birthday is in January, so without fail Mom would send a large slab of vinarterta back with me when I returned after the Christmas holidays. It was a great way to enjoy my birthday, even though my family was back home.” It’s a wonder how food conjures up memories.

“My mom sent the cake home with me from 1992 up until the year she passed away in 2017. When Christmas came, I couldn’t imagine it without with my mom – and doing all the things we did together like talking and enjoying a piece of vinarterta and tea.”

The Christmas after her mother passed, Corinne received a call from Dave, the son of her mom’s friend, Edna, asking Corinne to drop by his place as his mom had something for her. She went there almost immediately and to her surprise, in a carefully packed parcel from Canada Post, was a vinarterta, just for her.

“I cried,” Corinne says. “It was so special. I missed my mom and I missed her vinarterta. It was as if the tradition wasn’t meant to stop. I’ve gotten a cake every year from Edna and we keep in touch. It’s a good way to keep my mom’s memory alive.”

And that is a good thing.

After wiping away a stray tear, Corinne adds with a chuckle, “My mom made the vinarterta especially for me, even though it was a pain in the butt. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.”


  • 2 lbs pitted prunes
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cardamom or lemon juice

Barely cover prunes with water in pot and simmer until soft and mushy. Mash. Add sugar and spices, mix and let cool. Divide into 4 sections.

Cookie slabs:

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. cream or milk
  • 1 Tbsp. almond extract
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. cardamon

Cream shortening and margarine or butter with sugar and add eggs. Stir in cream or milk, extract, and then add flour, baking powder and cardamon. Stir and then knead. Place in bowl and divide into 5 equal pieces.

Roll one piece on the bottom-side of a lightly floured baking sheet and place large dinner plate on top to cut along the edges and make a perfect large circle. Press knife along edge to smoothen. Bake in oven at 320°C for 7 minutes. Repeat for each section until you have 5 large cookies cooling on racks.

Putting it all together:
Place 2 pieces of tinfoil, each about 2-1/2 feet long, on table, one above the other. Place one “cookie” in middle and spread 1/4 of the prune mixture on top. Add another cookie, spread another 1/4 of prune mixture and repeat until you lay the last cookie on top. Wrap with tinfoil and place in plastic bag and freeze. Prior to Christmas dinner, cut into 4 sections, re-freeze 3 of the 4 sections and put icing of your choice on ¼ piece. Slice and serve on a fancy dish. Prepare to refill often as your guests will be wanting more!

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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