With whimsy and delight

A summer in the imaginative world of Roald Dahl

Christy Olsen Field and her boys reading Matilda by Roald Dahl

Photo courtesy of Christy Olsen Field
Reading aloud is one of Christy Olsen Field’s favorite parts of parenthood, and this past summer, she and her sons enjoyed exploring the world of Roald Dahl together.

Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American

On Sept.13, Roald Dahl fans around the world celebrate Roald Dahl Story Day. I look forward to celebrating this year, because I spent the summer reading Roald Dahl books to my sons, who are 7 and (nearly) 4 years old. 

Reading aloud is one of my favorite parts of parenthood. My older son is a strong independent reader (his preferred genre is chapter books about superheroes), but every night we make time to read aloud. My younger son listens as he draws in his notebook. 

This summer, we anxiously followed Charlie and Grandpa Joe through Mr. Wonka’s factory, cheered on James as he escaped in the giant peach from his miserable home, and laughed at the clever birds and monkeys as they outwitted Mr. and Mrs. Twit.

It’s been a delight to experience these books again with my kids, and it’s easy to say yes to pleas of “Just one more chapter, Mom!” I’m impressed with how Dahl’s stories remain relevant, as evidenced by the waitlists at my local library!

I was curious to learn more about Roald Dahl and his Norwegian roots and how his life influenced his stories.

a young Roald Dahl with his three sisters

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Roald Dahl at age 10 with his sisters Alfhild, Else, and Astri, in a portrait taken in Cardiff, Wales.

Roald Dahl was born Sept. 13, 1916, in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian immigrant parents: Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdelene Dahl. His father, Harald, had emigrated from Sarpsborg, Norway, to Wales in the 1880s and became a wealthy shipbroker. Sofie emigrated to Wales in 1911 to marry Harald, who was a widower with two children. 

Roald was named after famed Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. Norwegian was the language that they spoke at home with Roald and his sisters. After his father died in 1920, his mother decided to keep the family in Wales instead of moving back to Norway, but she took the family to Norway for summer holidays, and shared traditional Norwegian stories, myths, and legends with Roald and his sisters. Though the son considered himself to be fully British, Norway held a special place in his heart.

Before becoming a writer, Dahl led a fascinating life. He worked for the Shell Petroleum Company in Kenya and Tanzania, and later served as an RAF fighter pilot and spy in World War II. He later became a prolific writer of 39 works, from his well-known children’s books, adult short stories, screenplays, and more. He died at age 72 in 1990.

Dahl enjoyed cooking and treats (especially chocolate!), and he and his wife, Felicity, put together Roald Dahl’s Cookbook (1991) in the final year of his life to share dishes enjoyed around their family table at Gipsey House in Great Missenden in England. It includes some Norwegian recipes, including blomkål med reker (cauliflower and shrimp), Norwegian Fish Pudding, and kransekake.

Roald Dahl

Photo: Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons
Roald Dahl in 1954.

After his death, Felicity published Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes (1994) and Roald Dahl’s Even More Revolting Recipes (2001) inspired by his children’s books.

I’ve chosen Bird Pie from the amusing novel The Twits, which was my family’s unexpected favorite Roald Dahl book we have read (so far). Instead of the horrifying Bird Pie from the book, this version is a flavorful turkey pot pie with sausage and ham, topped with a bronzed puff pastry lid. It’s a cozy dish to tuck into as the seasons change and a fun tribute to Roald Dahl’s magical world. God appetit!

To learn more about Dahl’s Norwegian heritage, I recommend this article: roalddahl.com/blog/2014/december/roald-dahl-and-norway.

For more ideas on celebrating Roald Dahl Day, visit www.roalddahl.com.

Are you a Roald Dahl fan? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at food@na-weekly.com.

Bird Pie

Inspired by The Twits (1980)
Recipe adapted from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes

¼ cup pearl barley

1 cup water

2 tbsps. unsalted butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 pound uncooked turkey breast, cut into thin strips

12 oz. pork sausage meat

2 tbsps. finely chopped fresh sage (optional)

5 oz. sour cream

5 oz. plain yogurt

1 tsp. cornstarch, mixed with 1 tsp cold water

½ cup chicken stock

2 eggs, one beaten, one hard-boiled and chopped

Salt and pepper

2 oz. ham, chopped

9 oz. ready-made puff pastry or instant biscuit dough

1 egg yolk

8 parsley sprigs with the leaves pinched off or colored pipe cleaners

Special equipment

9-inch pie pan

Rolling pin

Pie bird (optional)

Here’s how you make it:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. In a small saucepan, combine water and pearl barley with a generous pinch of salt and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain if there is extra water. 

3. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and sauté onion with a generous pinch of salt until soft. Add the turkey strips and sauté until the meat is golden.

4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the sausage meat. Mix well.

5. Add the sage (if using), sour cream, yogurt, cornstarch mixture, chicken stock, and beaten egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

6. Place the pie bird (if using) in the middle of the pie dish. Surround with the turkey mixture. Sprinkle on the chopped ham, followed by the chopped egg.

7. Roll out the pastry to a circle 1/8 inch thick. Make sure it is at least 1 inch wider than the pie dish all the way around.

8. Cut the extra 1 inch from the pastry in one long circular strip (it should be slightly larger than the rim of the pie dish). Brush the pie dish rim with egg yolk, press the pastry strip down onto the rim, and brush the strip with egg yolk.

9. Lift the remaining pastry carefully (you can drape it over the rolling pin) and lay it over the turkey mixture. If using the pie bird, cut a slit in the center of the dough and ease the pie bird’s beak through the pastry, taking care not to stretch it. Otherwise, cut two small slits in the crust with a knife to vent. Press the pastry down firmly along the rim and cut away any excess. Use a fork to crimp the edge.

10. Glaze the pastry with egg yolk and scatter the pearl barely on top. Form a “worm” out of a strip of pastry, glaze it with egg yolk, and place it inside the bird’s beak.

11. Refrigerate the pie for 10 minutes.

12. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is well risen and golden brown. Let cool slightly to allow the filling to thicken.

13. Stick the stripped parsley stalks, or folded pipe cleaners, in pairs into the pastry crust to look like birds’ legs. If you like, singe the ends to look like toes.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field was the Taste of Norway Editor from 2019 to 2022. She worked on the editorial staff of The Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons.