I'm so excited to be participating in this blog hop! Foodways and food history absolutely fascinates me.
A great way to get quickly to the heart of a foodway is to look at holidays and celebrations; this is where the traditions are cherished and while sometimes improved upon, not changed without a lot of fuss.
At this time of year, I think most about the Midsummer feast.
Midsummer is important throughout Scandinavia; in Norway, it is known as Sankthansaften (St. John's Eve) or Jonsok (John's wake, from the Norse Jonsvaka), as it is always celebrated on the night before St. John's feast day (June 24). In the days before Christianity came to Norway (approximately 1,000 AD), Midsummer was a pagan celebration, marked by large bonfires throughout the countryside and along the coast.
The bonfire tradition, which is particularly prevalent along the coast, goes back to pagan days, and was believed to produce fertile soil, while protecting from witches and evil spirits. Some believed the witches to be especially active on midsummer nights, gathering their witchcraft ingredients and preparing for witchery at evil gatherings.
The magic of the fire was seen as a remedy against the evil magic of the witches. However, not only was the fire seen as magic; so were plants and herbs – a belief that gave birth to a tradition that may still be found today: If a girl could find seven different sorts of flowers and hide them under her pillow on midsummer night, her dreams would reveal the image of her future husband. (Norwegian consulate in America)The Midsummer bonfire, and later the St. Hansbål (St. John's Bonfire), have been celebrated with relish for more than a thousand years; the artist Nikolai Astrup captured many of these Midsummer scenes in the late 19th and early 20th century. Astrup grew up near, and later returned to, the area of Jølstravatnet (Lake Jølster, where Oleanna is set), and his bonfire scenes are some of his most vibrant and beloved works.
|St. Hansbål ved Jølstravatnet, Nikolai Astrup|
But how did they celebrate Jonsok in Oleanna's day, and indeed for centuries before? Norwegians would eat foods associated with celebration—specially brewed celebration beer, akevitt, whatever is fresh from the lakes and streams and ocean. But above all, you can't have a celebration without rømmegrøt.
What in the world is rømmegrøt?
It is a savory sour cream porridge often served with cured meats like spekemat (cured dried leg of lamb) and flatbrød (crisp bread), but it can also be served as a breakfast or dessert dish. Versatile!
Ingeborg Nygaard, the chef at the Norwegian Embassy, said, “Why we eat sour cream porridge on this day? Well, it is a tradition. Eating sour cream porridge on special holidays is a strong tradition in Norway, and St. Hans is a special holiday. Sour cream porridge is a tradition that goes far, far back in time. It is such a simple and timeless recipe."
OK but really. Porridge? Doesn't sound terribly festive, does it? Well, according to Kathleen Stokker, an expert on Norwegian holidays and foodways,
Porridge has a long history as a festive food in Norway...Regardless of its origins as a Christmas treat, porridge is the oldest warm dish known in Norway, and it constituted for centuries the main staple of the Norwegian peasant diet...To stir the porridge the husmor [house wife] used a tvare (branched stirring stick) made from the trunk of a spruce tree, which her husband had selected, then shaped and smoothed into usefulness. Traditional Norwegian porridge had to be thick, some said "so thick you could dance on it," but at least thick enough to cling to the tvare or even make it stand up straight... (71-72)
In Norway rømmegrøt still appears on festive occasions, though more likely on St. Hans (Midsummer's Eve, June 23) and Olsok (St. Olav's Day, July 29)... (267)
Kathleen Stokker, Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land; Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000So, this midsummer's eve, bust out your BBQ, indulge your inner pyro, drink some akevitt (...after the pyro bit), stay up late, and make up a big pot of rømmegrøt. You'll be partaking in an ancient Norwegian tradition!
Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)
Recipe courtesy of the Norwegian Embassy
This recipe serves 4
1 pint thick sour cream
12 tablespoons flour
1 pint milk
1. Boil the sour cream, covered, for 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir carefully to bring the butter to the surface. Skim it off, reserve it and keep it warm.
2. Stir in the rest of the flour and add the milk. Simmer the porridge for 5-6 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
If one prefers a slightly tangy sour flavor, half of the milk added may be sour milk or kefir.
Sour cream porridge is eaten sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and with the reserved warm melted butter. Red juice, such as raspberry or currant, is usually served with the porridge.
- Beer traditions in Norway
- Syttende mai (Norwegian Constitution Day)
- The history of akevitt and the art of the toast
- The "Seven Kinds" of traditional Christmas cookies
As part of this blog hop, I'm giving away two paperback books (open to participants worldwide):
Enter between now and 11:59 p.m. PDT on June 7; winner will be announced by June 10.
How do you enter? Simple. Leave a comment here on this post before the deadline. Tweet about this post (and let me know @juliekrose), and get an extra entry!
Below are the links of the other participating blogs in this Summer Banquet Hop. Skål!
- Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
- Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
- Anna Belfrage
- Debra Brown
- Lauren Gilbert
- Gillian Bagwell
- Julie K. Rose
- Donna Russo Morin
- Regina Jeffers
- Shauna Roberts
- Tinney S. Heath
- Grace Elliot
- Diane Scott Lewis
- Ginger Myrick
- Helen Hollick
- Heather Domin
- Margaret Skea
- Yves Fey
- JL Oakley
- Shannon Winslow
- Evangeline Holland
- Cora Lee
- Laura Purcell
- P. O. Dixon
- E.M. Powell
- Sharon Lathan
- Sally Smith O’Rourke
- Allison Bruning
- Violet Bedford
- Sue Millard
- Kim Rendfeld
This giveaway is now closed.