Sumptuous food and drink at Eidsvoll

Drafting a constitution is hungry (and thirsty) work, but the 112 men of Eidsvoll wanted for little

Photo: Wikimedia Commons Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814, painted by Oscar Arnold Wergeland in 1885.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814, painted by Oscar Arnold Wergeland in 1885.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

On Sunday, April 10, 1814, the Riksforsamling (“The National Assembly”) convened at Eidsvoll Manor, the residence of Norwegian businessman and politician Carsten Anker (1747-1824), Managing Director of the Eidsvoll Iron Works. Popularly called Eidsvollmenn (“Eidsvoll Men”), the 112 assemblymen were charged with the task of writing a constitution.

Joined by the Viceregent, Crown Prince Christian Frederik (1786-1848), who had called the Assembly, they finished their task and came to agreement on May 17. The Constitution was signed the day after. On Friday, May 20, two days less than six weeks after they started, they departed.

The work of the Eidsvollmenn has been studied thoroughly, and biographies of many of them have been written. But until 2014, the bicentennial year, not much had been written on their lives in those six weeks at Eidsvoll Manor. How, for instance, had they dined? That recently intrigued Liv Berit Tessem (1956- ), an Aftenposten journalist and author of books on the royal house.

Photo: National Archives of Norway Pages of account book kept in 1814 by Eidsvoll Manor Steward Arnesen listing final food and drink expenditures for the Eidsvollmenn.

Photo: National Archives of Norway
Pages of account book kept in 1814 by Eidsvoll Manor Steward Arnesen listing final food and drink expenditures for the Eidsvollmenn.

She probed the holdings of Riksarkivet (“The National Archives”) to find detailed accounts of what the Eidsvollmenn ate and drank. She concluded that the six weeks had been a catering binge at a total cost to the State of 73,000 Riksdalar, equivalent to NOK 10 million ($1.25 million) in today’s money.

Though festive in 1814, the menus were limited compared to the norms of today. Fish was seldom served, save for some perch and lake herring. Only 154 lbs. of potatoes were consumed, and otherwise there were few vegetables on the menus.

Meat was another matter. It was from animals that had come to Eidsvoll on the hoof and had been slaughtered as needed. In all, 150 calves, 40 heifers, 14 cows, three bulls, four rams, two lambs, 14 kids, and seven unspecified animals were consumed.

Lesser amounts of game were served: 56 rabbits, four geese, 77 grouse, five capercaille (large grouse), one capercaille hen, and three black grouse. Rye was a staple; some 2.6 tons were used to make bread and crisp bread, eaten with meals and at breakfast. Some 950 lbs. sugar, 275 lbs. coffee, and 660 lbs. butter completed the list of comestibles.

Drink was in a class by itself. Some 2,660 bottles of wine, equivalent to more than half a bottle per day per man, and 658 gallons of liquor, equivalent to nearly a pint a day per man, were drunk. The high liquor consumption most likely was due to the custom of having a shot in the morning after a breakfast of rye porridge.

There are a few unspecified items in the food and drink accounts, most for delicacies served at the Crown Prince’s table by his French chef, Mr. Beauvin. Each evening, 12 Eidsvollmenn were invited in alphabetical order to dine with the Crown Prince, an unusually egalitarian practice at the time.

Today, Eidsvoll Manor, now known as Eidsvoll House, has been restored to its grandeur of 1814 and now has a cafe that offers samples of dishes served to the Eidsvollmenn.

Further reading: Cateringkalaset på Eidsvoll (Catering binge at Eidsvoll) by Liv Berit Tessem, Aftenposten, March 27, 2014 (in Norwegian).

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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