Even though rice is the most common grain to use today for Norwegian grøt, traditional Norwegian grøt is made from barley. Since the Viking Age, at least, barley has been the most common cereal crop grown in Norway, and still is today. Even though researchers haven’t determined how early barley has been used as a porridge, grøt is considered the first warm meal.
The Vikings farmed barley and took it with them to their overseas 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 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.
Wheat, oats and rye was also used for traditional grøt but the grains were only grown in limited quantities in the south. The most luxurious grøt was made with fresh milk. Sour milk grøt was 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, and 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 mouldy cheese, to the mixture, 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 naturally 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’, but waffles was a definite ‘yes’.
Grøt wasn’t seen as a sweet dish until much later – people preferred to put their syrup in their beers. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s, when sugar and cinnamon were 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!
Barley Grøt Recipe
I make my barley grøt the traditional way. Add some extra mix-ins to take it out of this world!
Makes enough for four big helpings
500 grams of whole grain barley
2 litres of whole milk + extra for thinning.
Serving – raisins, cinnamon, sugar, clementines.
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 through, not boil.
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 never works for me. I have tried it all, and stirring is the only way to ensure my 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. The grøt will nearly triple in size. Add more milk in if needed.
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!) I cooked mine here 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 I 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. Serve warm.
Traditionally grøt is eaten with salty foods such as ham or salami, but I made this barley grøt for dessert. I mixed in raisins first so they could soften from the heat of the grøt to a melt-in-your-mouth state. I added cinnamon and sugar – cinnamon always first so it melts on top of the grøt. I sliced the clementines and gently mixed them in to warm, the juice blending with the creamy milk. The citrus flavour adds freshness and tang to the grøt.
This grøt is also great with a dollop of fruit jam, fresh pomegranate, and even a mix-in of 86% cocoa chocolate, which melts splendidly!
Without extra milk:
With extra milk: