Home sweet home. The place where we have hung up our coats and kicked off our boots. Many of the stories and recipes shared here focus on this area. So, here’s a little introduction, in case you haven’t already had the pleasure…
Within the belly of Norway, in the stillness, where rivers flow and mountains dwell, lies our small farm. The farm is first mentioned in writing in 1651 and it bears the name Koto, which is believed to mean a ‘cabin’ or ‘small house’. You see, the thing about small places is they immediately create a sense of intimacy. With little effort, they can be cozy and warm and inviting. And that’s what we desire for our Koto and for all who come our way. A place of comfort. A sense of home. Where putting one’s feet up, rolling around in the lush fields, daydreaming away by the bank of the stream & getting lost in the slow moments make up the days.
We have four outbuildings spaced around the main house. A barn, whose wear and tear tell the stories of hooves & plows, hard work and dedication. A stabbur, where food was once stored as the winter months cast their shadow over the fields. A summer barn still basking in the perfume of its previous tenants. And a smithy, where the blacksmith’s hammer once clanked and the bellows made the fire dance.
As we delved deeper into the stories and people who came before us, we discovered a deep connection between Koto and America. Several generations of families left. Sometimes whole families, sometimes only brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles. They left Koto for the promise of an easier life. A better life. As famine and poverty and disease encompassed the area, many sought hope across the waters. And so they journeyed to a new adventure. And centuries later, in a twist of fate, an American and her family would arrive at the doorstep of Koto in search of a better life – perhaps one that was a little easier than what the city could offer.
Numedal is the westernmost valley of the large valleys making up southern Norway. Extending from the Hardanger plateau to Kongsberg, the valley encompasses the three municipalities of Flesberg, Rollag and Nore og Uvdal. Steep mountainous regions make up the northern part of the valley, while the more forested southern part gently slopes. And winding its way through the valley is one of Norway’s largest rivers, Numedalslågen. Known for its salmon downstream, it is one of Norway’s top salmon fishing rivers. Trout and pike are also common.
The old road, well travelled, is known as Nordsmannsleppa. It reaches over the Hardangervidda, the largest mountain plateau in Europe, right between the western and eastern parts of the country. This road was once an important communication and merchant route for thousands of years. Along the plateau, there are over 250 registered Stone Age settlements and the oldest one, dating back to 6300 BC, can be found at Sumtangen.
Today, Numedal has named itself the Medieval Valley of Norway (Middelalderdalen). They can safely make such a proclamation because within the valley lies the largest remaining collection of houses and buildings older than 1537 AD. In Rollag, Nore og Uvdal municipalities, there are between 50-60 buildings including 4 stave churches. The predominance of so many medieval buildings still intact may be due, in part, to the wealth local people gained from the extraction of iron. They could then afford such high quality materials and craftsmen to build enduring structures.
For being an area of such importance and influence in the past, it is interesting that its prominence was since forgotten until only recently. Being here does bring a sense of contentment and mystery. It’s as is if you have been included in on some big secret that only a few people are a part of. A place deeply rooted in history with clues of prehistoric civilizations scattered about; a luscious and varied landscape to appease any lover of nature; a peacefulness and sense of calm; and wild produce to entice any foodie.
History of Food in Numedal
Up until the 1890s, it was customary that everyone ate from the same plate, but had their own spoon. Life in Norway was hard and laborious, therefore, it was typical to eat 4-5 meals a day, with the lesser amount of meals taken in the winter as it was usual to go to be earlier than in the summer.
Variations in the meals were limited. Breakfast hardly changed day to day. It included potato cakes, flatbread or bread with butter or cheese. The second meal consisted of porridge and sour milk. Dinner, taken during the middle of the day, was cured meats, cooked meat or soup with dumplings. Saturdays were special and they often ate a variation of rice porridge. During the winter, dinner could be trout and sausage. Following dinner, they would drink homemade beer and eat bread and potato cakes. The final meal included potatoes, sour milk, cold porridge, thick milk or prim (a spreadable brown cheese).
People sustained themselves with their own livestock and produce from the farms. In the summer, animals were taken to the mountains with possibly one cow staying behind to provide milk for the home.
Flatbread was customary to be served at each meal. It was very versatile and could be made delicate and nice or thick and filling. The liquid used in the dough was extremely nutritional, and played a very important part in their diet. Even to this day, flatbread is often used to accompany a meal or served with various toppings. An old Norwegian saying goes: a girl is not yet ready to marry unless she can cook flatbread and sew. While such an idea seems quite primitive to us now, the importance of baking among women and girls was embedded in the culture at the time. Therefore, it was natural for the art of baking to be passed down through the women of the family.
The ingredients are bountiful. The taste profiles are vast. Food movements are popping up all across Norway. People are finding new ways of using what has already been there. And they are revitalizing the traditional methods and recipes. Historically, Norwegian food could be described as simple and unimaginative. In a country with a vast amount of produce and livestock (including mushrooms, wild meats, fresh fish, wild berries and herbs), it is interesting how a more exclusive and renowned food culture did not integrate itself into the everyday Norwegian cuisine.
Yet, to understand Norway’s food culture is to also understand the country and its history. Many factors have played a part, including lifestyle (laborious and hard), religion and wealth. But what we can take from the past, are valuable methods and strengths in cooking. From smoking, to preserving, to storing and hunting. Survival enabled enduring processes from which we now are going back to so we can learn from them and remember what a fish cooked off of a stone over a hot fire in the middle of the forest tasted like. And as we are blessed to live in abundance and have a knowledge of and access to food and methods from around the globe, we can integrate both the past and the present into an innovative and inspired meal. That is, by every definition, Norwegian. Because the products are locally sourced, and the tastes describe the evolution of the Nordic plate.
*Sources: Mat fra Numedal by Moi, Ingvar; Tråen, Even; Kjersem, Anse. Visitnorway.com