Traditional Norwegian grøt is made from barley. Researchers haven’t determined how early barley has been used as a porridge but grøt is considered the first warm meal. Barley was the most common cereal crop grown, and still is in Norway today. Wheat, oats and rye are also used for grøt but are grown in limited quantities only in the south.
The Vikings farmed barley and even took it with them to their settlements. Archeologists have found remnants of barley in Viking ruins in Greenland. The word ‘grøt’ comes from the Old Norse ‘grautr’, meaning ‘rough ground or coarse’. Whole grain grøt was the original until better grinding tools and techniques allowed for flour grøts. During the Viking Age, grøt was considered ‘unusually healthy’ and nutritious, and became a central part of the diet.
During the Christian era, from the mid 1100s, grøt was considered a sacred meal and ‘no man should pay tithes on it’. Grøt was allowed to be made on Sundays and holy days. Bread, however, was restricted, and it was forbidden to make more than one could eat.
The most luxurious grøt was made from fresh milk. Sour milk grøt was very common as souring milk was the best way to store milk for long periods. However, water grøt was the most common for the regular folk. Rømmegrøt is a variant, made from semolina flour and sour cream. This grøt was normally a festive dish as it was both expensive, with accompaniments such as cured leg of lamb (fenalår), and fattening.
Moonshine or beer was a usual accompaniment. People ate salty meats and salty fish with their grøt. To keep the grøt for longer, a crust was allowed to form after cooling to create a lid. The crust could be peeled back and reused, preserving the grøt for several days.
Grøt was not only used for eating but for medicinal purposes too. A famous grøt from Trondelag added gammelost, Norwegian moldy cheese, to the mixure, giving it a good dose of penicillin. Vikings and Norsemen used the natural crusting of grøt to cover over sores and wounds. The warmth of the grøt eased sore muscles and arthritis.
Grøt was an important part of social customs. It was a feature at socials, christenings, celebrations and weddings. Suitors visiting the house could tell what answer they would get by what was served – water grøt meant a definite ‘no’, and waffles was a definite ‘yes’.
Grøt wasn’t seen as a sweet dish, they prefered to put their syrup in their beers. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when sugar and cinnamon was introduced to Norway that grøt started making its way into the dessert arena. Nowadays the most common grøt is the sweet risgrøt, rice porridge, a modern day variation to an Old Norse favourite. It has been around since the 1800s, when rice began to be imported to Norway, and the iconic Hanna Winsnes gives a recipe in the first ever Norwegian cookbook published in 1845.
It was well known that when you had your fill of grøt, it would not take long before you’d fall asleep. This is true today!
Our Barley Grøt Recipe
We make our barley grøt the regular traditional way but add some extra mix-ins to take it out of this world.
500 grams of whole grain barley
2 litres of whole milk + extra for thinning.
Serving – raisins, cinamon, sugar, clementines, almonds.
Soak the barley over night in cold water on the bench. This pre-softens the grains.
Drain the barley.
In a good, big pot, heat the 2 litres of milk.
Add in the barley and stir. Stir. Stir. Stir. You don’t want the milk to burn on the bottom. A lot of recipes say you can leave the grøt to simmer without stirring but that will never work. We have tried it all, and stirring is the only way to ensure your grøt turns out evenly creamy. You have to give your grøt a lot of lovin’, just like risotto. Constant stirring will make sure the milk won’t burn on the bottom and that the grain will get an even soaking.
How long do you cook? Well, it depends on how soft you want the grain. For a quick cook and al dente grain, the grain needs to simmer in milk for an hour with stirring. For a slow cook and soft melt in your mouth grain, three hours. (Tip: the three hours doesn’t have to happen all at once, and you’d only do it if you want it super traditional!) Add more milk in if needed. We cooked ours for about 40 minutes.
After 10 minutes:
After 30 minutes:
After 40 minutes – al dente:
As the grøt cools it will thicken. This is when we usually add in more milk. Also, I like my grøt thin, so after serving the family their portions, I usually add in a little more milk and stir it in to warm it up before dishing my plate. I find that it creates a thinner cream that blends well with the clementines.
Serve warm. Traditionally grøt is eaten with salty foods but we like a modern twist of freshness.
Mix in raisins. They will go soft from the heat of the grøt and melt in your mouth.
Cinnamon and sugar. Stirring them in means the sugar and cinnamon will melt, flavoring the whole grøt.
Peel and slice the clementines. Gently mix in. The fruit will warm and the juice will mix with the creamy milk. The citrus flavour adds freshness and tang to the grøt.
Chopped raw almonds. Scatter on top. Just a little something extra to add crunch. If you like your grøt soft, leave the almonds out.
Without extra milk:
With extra milk:
This grøt is also great with fruit jams, fresh pomegranate, and even a mix-in of 86% cocoa chocolate, which melts splendidly!
This is our favourite grøt at the moment! Perfect for the winter season.