Traditional Norwegian Grøt

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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.

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Drain the barley.

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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.

Just in:

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After 10 minutes:

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After 30 minutes:

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After 40 minutes – al dente:

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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.

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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.

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Chopped raw almonds.  Scatter on top.  Just a little something extra to add crunch.  If you like your grøt soft, leave the almonds out.

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Without extra milk:
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With extra milk:
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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.

http://www.dokpro.uio.no/litteratur/winsnes/frames.htm

http://sciencenordic.com/vikings-grew-barley-greenland

http://www.middelalder.no/oslo-i-middelalderen/dagligliv/59-grot

Whale Invasion

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In the last week there has been a whale invasion, humpbacks, orcas and dolphins, at Kvaløya in Tromsø.  The whales have been chasing big schools of herring into Kaldfjord.  Many people, especially fishermen have had a prime view of the whales.  National Geographic have offered payment to people to take pictures of the whale’s tails.  Apparently the patterns and the marks on their tails are unique identifiers, like fingerprints, and they can be used to track the whales as they travel around the world.

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On Nov 8, two herring fishermen spotted a pod of whales close by and so they stopped their engines.  They got a mighty surprise as the whales chased the school of fish under their boat – (they cameraman is laughing because he is nervous!):

On the same day a camera drone was getting an aerial view of the herring hunt in the fjord:

The whales were most welcome in the fjord because they were doing a great service for the fish farms.  The herring were taking up a lot of the oxygen in the water and therefore the fish in the farms had been suffering.  The whales eating the herring has solved the problem.

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Welcome Lights

Welcome lights are just that, candles placed out front of a door to welcome people in.  They are used during the dark season when it is cold, especially in places that have no sun, to let people know they are welcome to enter.  Even though welcome candles are pretty, they have an important function in Norway.  Because lights are left on all the time indoors during the dark season, it is difficult to know if shops are open as many have different closing times.  Commercial businesses use welcome candles to let people know they are open for business.  Private homes use them to tell people where a party is, to welcome visitors or to celebrate on special occasions such as Christmas and New Years.  The candles are placed in the snow so there is no risk of fire.

Today there are many types of welcome candles, here are the main ones:

 

Stoop candles

These welcome candles are the most common, especially used by commercial businesses.  They are placed on the stairs or on the corners of the stoop just outside.

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Lanterns

Welcome candles are also put into lanterns.  The lanterns sit on stairs, on corners or the stoop out front.  They are most common for private homes to use because they are more elegant than the stoop candles.  However, certain stores use these too to advertise that they are open for business.  Lanterns can be used inside and out for private homes and commercial businesses.   I have seen stores inside shopping centers use them, and then they serve as just welcome candles (as we know the whole shopping center is open for business).   Regular candles and tea lights can be used for the light and it is trendy to have two or several lanterns together.  Interestingly, I have never seen these lanterns hang, only sitting on floors or on tables.

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The picture above is a good example of how shops use them to encourage people to visit their store.  The store is inside the shopping center but they have placed a portable sign out on the walking street saying ‘open’.  It is a little hard to read in the dark (I took the picture above at 2pm in the afternoon) so the lantern is used as a second signifier that the store is open for business (meaning that someone that day took the time to light it letting people know they are now welcome to visit the store).

 

Spikes

Only for outside, these are candle holders that dig into the ground, well, snow, to hold up the candle.  Sometimes we get so much snow that a welcome candle sitting on a stoop will get buried in minutes.  Spike lights can be seen easily and can be placed where there is thick snow.  They make it easier for clean up too – they won’t freeze to the ground, like stoop candles, and you can find them.  With stoop candles you have to remember where you have put them otherwise a snow fall could cover them up and you’ll not be able to find the used containers again until the snow melts in spring.

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Welcome lights are used by all types of businesses – doctor’s surgeries, charities, car dealerships, banks, and the one above using welcome candles on spikes is a car battery store.  (Yes, Norwegian men appreciate being welcomed too!)

 

Baskets

Basket welcome lights are generally for inside as they are usually made out of wood, but I have seen a few outside on tables or on stones.  Because of the wicker, baskets have a glass cylinder for the candle to keep the wood from burning.

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Candle cages

It seems that candle cages are an outside alternative to basket cages, however, they wouldn’t go well in a windy area as they have no shielding.  I would think these welcome lights would be used to decorate outside tables and settings.  I have seen them used in gardens during summer and autumn, when people are having dinner outside.  You could possibly get robust candle cages for permanent outside use but the ones below would be brought indoors after their use is finished – the Norwegian winter would be too harsh for them to stay outside for too many days.

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Candelabras

Most candelabras use tea lights, as the one below.  They can be in the form of a traditional hanging structure, however, it is usual to see the candelabra style in other designs.  Cast iron is a typical material for any welcome light, which can be used both in and outdoors.  These types of welcome lights can be quite big and therefore sit on the floor at the entrance, and of course, smaller structures can sit on foyer tables.

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Torches

Welcome torch light produce bigger flames.  They are generally spiked into the ground or snow, not for holding, and are used for bigger events or businesses such as hotels, sports clubs and other outdoor group activities.  They are used when it is important to provide a little more light to show the way, or for safety.  Though, with such a big open flame they are put out of reach, like up a snow mound.

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The city shopping center has invested in some industrial size flame torches for outside their entrances.  Because the flames are so big and are at kiddie level, they have been covered with wire.  This is not necessary for most welcome lights.

 

Snow lanterns

These are home-made snowball igloos with a candle inside.  They are a fun activity for the kids and look beautiful in the winter snow.  They can be found in people’s yards.  The trick is to light the candle first and then build the snowball lantern around it.

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Hanging Hearts

The heart is one of three symbols of the Norwegian Christmas (the snowflake and star are the other two).  A hanging heart with a space for a tea light is an every day item.  When I first came to Norway I thought they were very special, but they are everywhere, at every Christmas and common throughout the whole dark season, inside and out.  The silver ones do look lovely with the tea lights hanging from porches.  They are also popular indoor ornaments and can be very delicate and elegant as the ones below.

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Indoor welcomes

Not all welcome lights are outside.  Most Norwegian houses have an entrance or foyer area, perfect for welcome lights.  Lanterns and candelabras are popular to use but I have seen many plate or tray welcome lights or decorations.

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Trays are dressed with several tea light holders and baubles, tinsel, nuts and flowers.  Natural decorations are favoured among Norwegians and so wood, bark, cones and moss are a regular feature of a Norwegian Christmas.

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Snøfnugg

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I’ve learnt that for me to learn Norwegian I need to know how to spell it.  I learn through visualization, which means I learn language very slowly.  But I have finally realized that that is ok.  As long as I’m continually learning the language is what matters most.

Snøfnugg has been a hard one.  It has only been the other week, since I got my 9 year-old dance kids to spell it out for me, that it has stuck.  We are performing to Frost (better known as ‘Frozen’ in English) for our juleforestilling (Christmas performance) and the kids are snøfnugg, or snowflakes.  This word is a little hard to get your tongue around, especially when you have to say it fast to cue little dancers, but seeing the word has made a great difference in pronouncing it.

The double consonant ‘g’ means the <u> is said with a short sound.  But this rule doesn’t apply to everything – the ‘fn’ doesn’t make the <ø> sound short because it is actually two words put together ‘snø’ and ‘fnugg’.  ‘Snø’ (snow) originally has no consonants at the end of the word and therefore the <ø> sound stays long.  ‘Fnugg’ is used only in two contexts – to describe a snow flake or a measurement of how much you have understood something – nothing – as in ‘I can’t understand one fnugg of this’.

The trick to Norwegian is knowing when a word is original or made up of two smaller words.  How can you tell?  Context usually, but I mostly have to be told.  I guess I’m going to have to learn every Norwegian word before I get it right!

But I must say, ‘snøfnugg’ is a very pretty word!

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