Wanderlust in the form of a cookbook
Norwegian National Recipes entices with a journey into the culinary history of Norway
Christine Foster Meloni
In the foreword of Norwegian National Recipes, illustrious Norwegian chef Arne Brimi writes:
“A shared meal provides an excellent means to convey values and traditions. In my opinion culture is best approached and communicated through the medium of food. Indeed, few moments in our everyday account for so many positive qualities as the time we spend together around a table, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.”
This book is a magnificent coffee table-sized volume filled with lavish photographs of food and landscapes. It could strike one as a book simply to enjoy visually, and it can certainly be enjoyed at this level, but it is so much more. It is a practical book that offers a wealth of recipes. What I found particularly appealing was the very informative text. In each chapter the authors focus on one region of Norway. They begin with several pages about the culture and history of the region and then provide numerous typical recipes.
Northern Norway (Finnmark, Troms, Nordland)
The authors begin their culinary journey with Northern Norway, which makes up one-third of the country and is characterized by a diversity of people, cultures, and traditions as well as diverse landscapes. The weather conditions are harsh. Throughout history, the people have been primarily involved in fishing and farming, often with the husband the fisherman and the wife taking care of the farm.
Looking through the recipes from the county of Finnmark, two ingredients stand out: reindeer meat and cloudberries.
Recipes with reindeer are reindeer stew, stuffed reindeer hearts, reindeer steak, and reindeer patties. Recipes with cloudberries are nut cake with cloudberry fromage, cloudberry soup, and cloudberries in golden-brown sour cream.
Several lefse recipes are offered including Nordlands lefse, shiny lefse, lefse with melted brown cheese, and thick lefse baked in the oven.
Trøndelag (Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelag)
This region was the center of Norway during the Viking period. Trønders today have a reputation for being reliable people with a dry sense of humor.
Two featured appetizers are salmon fried in thyme and reindeer herder’s delicacy. Main dishes include monkfish fillet with onions and capers and moose stew from Grong. Another cloudberry dessert is cloudberry cream in krumkaker.
Lars Lian from Trondheim is a world-famous pastry chef. Several of his recipes are included in this chapter. His own favorites are his prince cake and crème brûlée.
Vestland (Møre og Romsdal, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane)
The people of Vestland are famous for their hardiness and ability to survive in harsh weather conditions. Many different landscapes and environments are found in this region and for this reason it is called “Norway in a nutshell.” The coast of this region is most famous for its magnificent fjords.
Some noteworthy recipes from this region are nettle soup, fish lefse from Nordfjord, fish pudding with shrimps and dill, cod heads, the fjord version of sweet cheese, blood pancakes, apple omelet, rosewater cookies, and wedding lefse.
Southwest Norway (Rogaland, Vest-Agder, Aust-Agder)
This is the southernmost part of Norway, and it has always been affected by outside influences. The culinary traditions have also felt these influences.
The best known chef in the area is Charles Tjessheim. He presents his favorite recipes including lamb carré served with risotto and Tosca oil, fish dumplings in fish soup, and Szechwan pepper-fried pollock and herb-breaded scallops.
I found several dessert recipes in this chapter particularly interesting: gooseberries in spicy sugar syrup with moist cupcakes, cake with potatoes, pea cake, dessert à la Queen Maud, and veiled dairy maids from Bryne.
Southeast Norway (Telemark, Buskerud, Vestfold)
Telemark is a very popular tourist destination because of its beautiful coast and its wonderful mountains. Buskerud has beautiful mountains and extensive countryside as well as vast forests. Its cuisine has been greatly influenced by its fruit and agricultural products. Vestfold is Norway’s smallest district. Located on the coast, it is the foremost whaling district in Norway.
One of my great-grandmothers, Rangdi Syversdatter, came from Gol in Buskerud, and I found two recipes that referred specifically to Gol: flatbread from Gol and lefse from Gol.
Dessert recipes of interest to me were almond ring cake (kransekake), Sande’s plum cake (actually prunes, not plums), banana dessert à la Tønsberg, and apple dessert with caramel sauce.
Central Norway (Hedmark and Oppland)
Hedmark and Oppland are “inland districts” and their people are often referred to as “stabukker” or “stubborn goats.” Many interesting stories have been told about them. For example, Dale-Gudbrand, a wealthy land owner in the 11th century, put up an enormous fight against King Olav who wanted to convert him to Christianity. Also the very famous Battle at Kringen between the farmers and the Scottish invaders in 1612 was fought in this area.
Perhaps I now know why I have a stubborn streak. My great-grandparents Jacob Syversson and Rønnaug Hansdatter came from Lom in Oppland.
Arne Brimi, co-author of this book, became the head chef at the lovely Fossheim Hotel in Lom and introduced a strong local focus in his culinary offerings. He presents some of his favorite recipes in this chapter including meatballs, brown gravy and creamed cabbage, first milk pudding and lingonberry or black currant pears (there is a gorgeous photo of this dessert), and lingonberry white wine.
My husband and I spent a week at the Fossheim while Brimi was there and will never forget the extraordinary meals. I am a vegetarian (which it is not always easy to be in Norway) and Brimi came up with truly amazing ideas for me. His use of fresh berries was particularly special.
Here are some recipes from Hedmark: marinated moose roast, Aunt Anne Grethe’s moose hash, Uncle Bjørn’s very best half-fermented fish, March snow, and rhubarb dessert.
And some from Oppland: caraway sprout soup, hiker’s butter-fried small trout, veal meatballs, rhubarb porridge, dessert soup with lingonberries, and Lillehammer cake. Three Christmas traditions from Oppland are given: Skjåk beer, Advent-Christmas bread, and poor man (Fattigmann).
Pivotal Regions (Akershus, Østfold, and Oslo)
Akershus was the location of one of the most important events in Norway’s history. The first Norwegian parliament met at Eidsvoll in 1814 to draft the Norwegian constitution. Østfold lies “with its back to Sweden and Europe” and has always turned “its face toward the world—open for impressions and impulses from without.”
Main dishes from these regions include salt pork and sausage with yellow pea soup, cod soup, marbled fish pudding, stuffed pike, baked cod tongues, poached mackerel with gooseberry sauce, and cauliflower soup.
Typical desserts are punch jelly, diplomat pudding, thick dessert pancake, pink pudding from Årnes, the rector’s wife’s apricot fromage, veiled dairy maids the Østfold way, Wenche’s cloudberry fromage, rum pudding from old Christiania, and Sunday cake from Oslo. There is also a lefse recipe: coffee lefse from Akershus.
One will definitely find lots of food for thought in this splendid book. And it is a feast for the eyes!
Norwegian National Recipes: An Inspiring Journey in the Culinary History of Norway, written by Arde Brimi and Ardis Kaspersen and published by Norsk Fakta Forlag, is available from amazon.com.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, DC. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.