Our Norwegian Heritage : Norway: Culture
Our Norwegian Heritage :
Woldhagen Family Site
Even the potato, thought of as almost as
Norwegian as brown goats' cheese, originally arrived from abroad. Norwegians
celebrated the potato's 250th anniversary last year.
What food, then, is Norwegian? Asked which dish we think of first as Norwegian,
65 per cent of us reply meatcakes, while 36 per cent think of lamb and cabbage
stew and 23 per cent reply cod. A nationwide survey carried out in January 1994,
in connection with the Government's promotion "Competitive Strategies for
Norwegian Food", showed distinct regional preferences where dishes are
concerned. While meatcakes rank first in all regions, westerners rank potato
dumplings second, and Oslo-dwellers rank "lutefisk" (dried cod steeped in lye)
third, just ahead of dried mutton ribs and fresh cod.
On the home front, the approach of Christmas is signalled by the blended smells
of exotic spices and goodies in the oven, which at Christmas means gingersnaps,
doughnuts, cones and all the other traditional cakes and cookies which are a must
for most people at Christmas: many families still call for the traditional "7 kinds".
Most families also stick to special Christmas dinner traditions. Along the coast, the
main dish at home on Christmas Eve is often fresh cod or halibut or lutefisk, while
in eastern Norway many prefer pork ribs with pork sausage patties and Christmas
sausages. Dried mutton ribs are a west coast specialty. A popular meal earlier in
the day, while the other preparations are in full swing, is rice porridge, and many
families have rice cream with red fruit sauce for their Christmas dinner dessert.
Livestock and grain farming and the fisherman-farmer
Livestock and grain have always been the staples of Norwegian farms, and our
diet is still marked by their products: milk, butter, cheese, meat, and bread and
other cereal products. We also have plentiful supplies of fish from our long
coastline. The combination of fishing and farming was very common along the
coast. The husband went fishing, taking his oldest sons with him, while the wife did
the farm work, helped by any smaller children.
Documents from as long ago as the Middle Ages show the importance of the cod
and herring fisheries to the Norwegian economy; herring was aptly nicknamed
"sea silver". Salted herring was for many years the stand-by of the less
well-to-do. Today herring is no cheaper than other fish.
Salted and pickled herring are used in many of the tasty dishes which make up the
Norwegian cold table, and one often finds herring on hotel breakfast tables,
pickled or in tomato or mustard sauce.
Dishes made from ground fish go back a long way in Norway. Names like
"Kvitsøyball" and "Kristiansundball" testify to the place of origin on the coast,
whereas "mackerel cakes" or "ground saithe cakes" tell us the raw material.
Many of the items which we regard as typically Norwegian, and which today, in
nineties versions, figure as the pièces de résistance on party tables, were first
meet a crying need to store food without the help of freezers. Existence was a
struggle to survive (and keep the livestock alive) on the farm from one growing
season to the next. Animals were slaughtered in the autumn, when they were
heaviest, feed supplies were limited, and nature could help with the refrigeration.
Meat and fish alike were preserved using salt, sugar, drying and smoking in
various combinations. In addition to salted and smoked meat and fish, salmon and
trout were cured under pressure in brine. Milk became butter, cheese and
buttermilk. Fresh food was long considered unhealthy, and the use of plenty of salt
was encouraged. In Norway's short growing season and with the older types of
grain, there was no guarantee that grain crops would ripen every year.
The commonest baked goods in the old days were flatbread and "lefse"
(griddlecakes) Lefse can be crisp or soft: oatcakes, for instance, were baked at
low heat until crisp, so that they could be stored in the raised food loft with the
flatbread. Soft lefse will not keep. They often contain cream, and can be served as
party dainties depending on the ingredients and what they are spread with.
Fresh food only began appearing on dinner tables in the 1700s, with the advent of
the cooking stove - and stoves were not for everyone until the beginning of this
In ages past, grain was the staple food in Norway, and the Norwegians, Like many other Europeans, were reluctant to accept
potatoes when introduced. South America had cultivated the potato for thousands of years before it came to Europe. In the
1700s, food was scarce in Norway, but following hundreds of years of raising grain it was difficult to convince people to the
benefit of the potato, until a minister, P. H. Hertzberg, took up the cause of the potato in his sermons. In fact, he wrote a book
about the cultivation of the potatoes, a best seller and sold out of three printings. Before long the knowledge of the benefit of
potatoes, as they understood them in those days, spread across Norway, and Today, it remains Norway's most important
Aquavit is also spelled 'akvavit' or 'aquavite' depending on where you come from; in
Denmark it is also called snaps. Aquavit is a clear or pale yellow spirit of slightly above 40
percent alcohol. Originally the name came from the Latin phrase aqua vitae meaning
'water of life'. Most commonly it is dry with a caraway flavour. It is made from fermented
grain or potato mash;