Food is the main ingredient of a Norwegian Christmas. There are only certain foods eaten at Christmas time so I find that many Norwegians have a hard-core schedule of dinner plans to make sure all the favourites are addressed in one way or another.
Our family has a tradition of four Christmas dinners. We start on little Christmas Eve, 23rd of December, and finish on Boxing Day. It does sound like we eat a lot but we buy small portions of each meal to stop over consumption, otherwise by the fourth day we would be rolling around the house. The four main dishes we have for our Christmas dinners are usually pinnekjøtt, ribbe, lutefisk and salmon. However, this year, instead of the salmon we are going “Australian” with a cold spread of meat cuts, ham, cheeses and fruit for dinner.
So here are some of the typical Norwegian things waiting to be eaten at Christmas in our fridge:
Berries are a Norwegian thing and thanks to importing we are able to have fresh berries at Christmas. Before this most berries were preserved for the Christmas season as jams. Nowadays many people freeze their fresh berries from the autumn for Christmas. We have a whole freezer-tray full of Norwegian blueberries (bilberries). Berries are important because they provide essential nutrients and vitamin C during the winter.
Christmas yoghurt is a fairly new thing. We’re trying the hazel nut, fig, chocolate and caramel flavours this year. Apple and cinnamon is also a popular Christmas yoghurt flavour.
Mustard herring is a bread spread or a side ‘salad’ to be eaten with a platter of other foods. The more traditional version is the pickled herring, but Moose prefers the mustard one.
Smoked trout is an everyday food often served with the standard Norwegian cold cut platter. It is an alternative to salmon and has a milder flavour. We usually have this for Christmas day breakfast on top of scrambled eggs and croissants.
Pølse, the Norwegian frankfurter, is certainly a tradition at Christmas. In Norway you have everyday pølser, and then there’s Christmas pølser which are much bigger and have different seasonings. Pølser are usually served with the Christmas rib roast. There are generally two types, a white pølse that has more pork meat, and a brown pølse that has more beef and usually smoked. Moose prefers the Vassakorv, which is not necessarily a Christmas sausage but has a stronger flavour and firmer texture (aka, not as ‘cheap-flavoured’ as Christmas pølse).
Christmas rib is a side of pork with good crackling skin. The fattier the better. I’d say it is THE traditional Christmas dinner in Norway. Prior to your family Christmas dinner, you would have had already several party dinners with roast rib – work party, Christmas parties, community or sports club dinners. It is usually served with Christmas pølse, gravy, and sauerkraut and boiled potatoes as sides. Apples are becoming popular too.
Pinnekjøtt is salted and dried lamb ribs. It is quite expensive. It is usually served with swede, potatoes and mustard.
Lutefisk is dried cod soaked in caustic soda rehydrated by boiling. It smells… it just smells. This is not everyone’s favourite, but I find the North doesn’t mind this as much as the south, especially communities that have a history of fishing. It is usually served with butter soaked bacon and mushy peas. The sauce is highly dependent on geography – in the north they grate brown goats cheese on top, in the west they have a white sauce, and the south and east, a mustard sauce.
This year we are introducing rack of lamb to our Christmas dinner line-up. I got a little nostalgic when I saw it was from New Zealand.
Swede is quite an important winter vegetable in Norway and is a feature at Christmas time. It is a root vegetable that stores very well. Swede provides important vitamin C during the dark season. It is usually eaten mashed, sometimes with carrot.
Cream and butter! It wouldn’t be a Norwegian Christmas without them. Two years back all the Swedes on their Low Carb diet created a Christmas-butter crisis. Since, I’ve got into the habit of hoarding butter over Christmas to make sure we have enough to last!
And what is this?? Well, today it is a smultringer mix (doughnut dough). Every day we seem to have some sort of dough setting the the fridge – pepperkaker, kakemen, smultringer, etc. Putting the dough in the fridge over night helps the mix to thicken and makes them turn out more fluffy when cooked.
Of course, there are a lot more other foods and dinner traditions from Norway – it all depends on geography and tradition. Each county, each city, each town and even the group of houses on the other side of the river, all have their own traditions. What’s your special Norwegian Christmas food tradition?