Sunday, June 02, 2013

Summer Banquet Blog Hop: A Norwegian Midsummer Feast

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
These days, the local fire brigade keeps close watch on bonfires, so most families make do with a municipal bonfire, or their own campfire over which they roast sausages and pølse, and even marshmallows. Other families will have a good old fashioned BBQ with your traditional BBQ fare, and maybe finish up the day with some vafler for desert.

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, 2000
So, 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.

If you'd like to learn more about Norwegian foodways, here are some other food- (and holiday-) related posts:

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 HopSkål!

  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5. Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. Laura Purcell
  24. P. O. Dixon
  25. E.M. Powell
  26. Sharon Lathan
  27. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  28. Allison Bruning
  29. Violet Bedford
  30. Sue Millard
  31. Kim Rendfeld

This giveaway is now closed.


  1. I don't know if I'll ever make it, but I thought it sounded quite tasty. Needs some ligonberries!

    1. Mmmm yes lingonberries. They make everything tasty! :D

  2. I thought it sounded good too. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. I would never make it as I dislike drinking milk
    meikleblog at gmail dot com

    1. Ahh bummer! There's some fab recipes in the cookbook that don't have a bit of dairy.

  4. tweeted -

    meikleblog at gmail dot com

  5. I'm getting no work done today - the Summer Feast Banquet Blog Hop is too interesting! No need to enter me for the comp - I've read Oleanna (brilliant book) just wanted to support the Blog Hop - I urge readers to visit the other blogs listed abovem, some really interesting articles!

    1. Oh my gosh, Helen, thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

      So many good blog posts. I need to set aside some time to read through them all tonight!

  6. I'm definitely going to try that recipe! Wonderful post, Julie. I've read Oleanna too, as you know, and I agree with Helen that it's a brilliant book. But if I should be lucky enough to win another copy, I know just the friend I'd give it to.

    1. You are too kind :)

      The cookbook is really great. I just made the salmon with horseradish sour cream and cucumber salad recipe, and it was to die for.

  7. Fun post! Thanks for a chance to win Oleanna. It has been on my wish list for a while.

    1. It was super fun putting the post together!

  8. I'm on the fence about Sour Cream porridge, but I'll try anything once LOL. Thanks for sharing about the tradition and for the giveaway.

    sophiarose1816 at gmail dot com

    1. LOL, yep, some Norwegian foods are really more like a dare... :D

  9. Anonymous1:20 PM

    As a Swede I can but sigh at the römmegröt - only the Norwegians would feast on something as everyday as that ;) (plus it's not the yummiest of meals, however much of a tradition it might be). Nice post!

    1. LOL! How did I know a Swede would come in here and trash talk rømmegrøt! :D

      So looking forward to reading all the posts. So much good stuff!

  10. i watched the series The Vikings & i am very curious about the Scandanavian culture...........

    thank you for the giveaway!!!

    1. Wonderful, welcome! Scandinavia has a very rich culture and history, I'm glad your interest has been piqued!

  11. I tweeted 7:38 PM - 3 Jun 13!Oleanna is a great book! I highly recommend it! A lot of thought went into trying to envisage the aunts' life. I loved the PBS cooking show by Andreas Viestad and would love the opportunity to win this book! Thanks for the giveaway!

    1. I'm so pleased you liked the book! And Andreas' show is amazing, and the cookbook is excellent.

  12. Thanks so much for the info on the Midsummer Feast ... and the giveaway!
    Susan Heim
    smhparent [at] hotmail [dot] com

    1. Fabulous, thank you so much for coming by!

  13. I follow on Twitter and tweeted this giveaway at

  14. Love the Midsummer Feast. I wrote about spekmat and other Norwegian foods in my WW II novel. I'll try the porridge. I have friends that make for special occasions.

    1. So excited to read your book!

  15. I became familiar with some of these foods when we had a Swedish exchange student in our neighborhood.

  16. I tweeted too!5:05 PM - 5 Jun 13

  17. Thanks for the information! I know so little about it for a daughter of Norway.

  18. Anonymous12:17 PM

    Dear Julie: I am so sorry that I wasn't able to particpate in the 2012 giveaway of Oleanna. And WOW = today I got your answer to my comment and here it is the 7th of June - I am right on the line in getting my name in on time for this year's giveaway of the Oleanna paperback, which I am dearly looking forward to reading.

    I love your photos. Perhaps I can pin them on Pinterest on my Norwegian Boards. They are so beautiful.

    Thanks again for your writing prowess.

    1. Hi Dot! I'm so glad you were able to make it over to the blog! Please feel free to post away on your Pinterest!

  19. Ingrid Servold12:48 PM

    God dag igjen Julie!! As soon as she is home from school I am going to show my daughter, Ava, your post about the Sankt Hans tradition. Thank you for the chance to enter to win your book Oleanna today, we would love it - and the other one to expand our Norwegian cooking beyond heart shaped cardamom waffles, and try a batch of rommegraut to go with them. Skaal, Ingrid

    1. Hei Ingrid! So glad you made it here! Heart-shaped caradmom waffles are the best though, aren't they?!