Food for the soul: Grøt Fest warms more than bellies
Only a very creative bunch could take the simple ingredients of rice, milk, and butter to concoct a dish so celebrated that festivals would be organized in its honor. This dish is the humble grøt (porridge), and this is the season of Grøt Fests.
Traditionally, barley was the main component of grøt. But over the years barley was replaced by rice, for most, as the grain of choice. Of course, grøt has evolved over the years and has no strict components. For example, you have rømmegrøt made with flour, sour cream, butter, and salt. In this case, not only has the base element changed, but sour cream has also been added. Well, everyone knows that creative people can never leave well enough alone. So, why would grøt be exempt from this truth?
On a cold day grøt is the best thing since cracker jacks. I know nothing that warms you faster and calms the soul in the dark days. One of my favorite grøt memories is based on my visit to the Winter Olympics in Hammar, circa 1984. It was freezing. It was icy. A mirage appeared before my weary eyes—a little wooden cabin. It beaconed, offering me shelter and enticing rømmegrøt. The grøt quickly quenched the chill. The moment after I finished and slowly floated out the door, I slipped on ice and fell on my butt. Was I angry? No. Was I discouraged? No. Was I embarrassed and sore? Yes. But nothing could damper the feeling of the comforting rømmegrøt stuck to the sides of my belly, as I lay on my back.
Of course, grøt traditions were carried to this side of the Atlantic with the Norwegian immigrants. Norwegian churches in Brooklyn began hosting Grøt Fests during the Advent season. One of the churches in Brooklyn that still holds a Grøt Fest is the First Free Evangelical Church. Irene Jacobsen is one of the women who assist in coordinating this annual event. I had a chance to interview her about this tradition.
Victoria Hofmo: Irene, when did this event begin?
Irene Jacobsen: First Free has celebrated a Grøt Fest since at least after WWII, when Norwegians started immigrating to America [in large numbers]. Other Norwegian churches in Bay Ridge—59th Street (Lutheran Brethren), 46th Street (Trinity Lutheran) —also celebrated with a Grøt Fest.
VH: How long have you been involved?
IJ: I became involved with our church’s Grøt Fest by stepping in and helping Marit Olsen cook when my Mom, Thorhild Jacobsen, became ill and could no longer do it. Marit Olsen and I have been a team since 2008.
VH: Is there one recipe you use?
IJ: There was a time when the women of the church would make the grøt at home and bring it to church and they would all be combined, but the grøt is now made in church.
VH: How is the response from the community?
IJ: Our yearly Grøt Fest is always well attended, with former church goers and members coming from Long Island, New Jersey … and even Norway. It incorporates a service which is for the most part in English these days, except for bible reading and a song. Attendance can run from 80 to 120, depending on weather conditions. It is a very festive event and as we have it so early in the month, a nice start to the Christmas season. The grøt has always been delicious and the lucky person who finds a nut in his or her grøt receives a gift, so it’s always good to take a large helping of grøt. Following the grøt, we serve home-baked Norwegian cookies, kringle, fruit, and coffee. As the candles flicker, Thorhild Espeland reads a traditional Christmas story, followed by some singing and then the preaching of God’s Word. It’s an event not to be missed!
Irene has an invitation for all: “This year’s Grøt Fest will be held on Saturday, December 6, at 6:00 p.m. at First Evangelical Free church, 6601 6th Avenue in Brooklyn. There is plenty of parking at the rear of the church, so please join us for this lovely fest!”
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.