Food history | the beginning | Norway

When humankind first appeared in the Norwegian landscape – sometime after the last ice age – the search for food was their primary motivation.
Fishing and hunting. Rock carvings from Alta, Finnmark, Norway - several thousand years old. | Photo: Oleg Kozlov - adobe stock - copyright.
Fishing and hunting. Rock carvings from Alta, Finnmark, Norway - several thousand years old. | © Oleg Kozlov - adobe stock - copyright.

The early people were hunters and gatherers, and they moved with the seasons and the availability of what Mother Nature had on offer. Except for the knowledge of how to survive, they brought little with them other than simple tools and weapons – and the clothes they were wearing. Everything else they needed to thrive, had to come from the land surrounding them.

Finding enough food every day, demanded a cunning plan, lots of experience, and lots of luck.

Not always the food that they wanted

For millennia, people ate the food that was available to them. This was not always the food that they wanted – or food that had the required level of nutrients. But, if they wanted to survive, eating was not a matter of choice.

The climate

The Norwegian climate is harsh; with long, cold winters – and short, intense summers. During the winter, the ground is often frozen and covered by a thick layer of snow.

Fishing and hunting provided food all year round. However, most plants, nuts, and berries were only available during a few summer and autumn months.

Securing the daily need for food under such conditions was arduous work – even when there was lots of available prey.

Agriculture and the domestication of animals

Living from day to day is a vulnerable existence. It was only natural that people started to explore ways to secure their food supply in a more predictable way.

The introduction of agriculture – in this part of the world some 4,000-5,000 years ago – was a great leap forward. From this point onwards, grain was a significant ingredient in the diet. When handled properly, it is an almost non-perishable commodity, storable for several years if necessary.

An annual cycle

Throughout the millennia, the Norwegians developed an annual cycle of food gathering. During summer and autumn, people harvested both the cultivated and non-cultivated land. They put the food into their storage houses – the stabburs – and frost-free cellars.

From the milk provided by the domesticated animals, people made cheese and butter. And the ocean, rivers, and lakes were equally important food sources; providing fish and other seafood.

When the winter came, there had to be enough food to tide people over, until next spring and early summer.

Rich and poor

When a more structured society developed, it was also a matter of being rich and poor. As the population increased and people started monopolising the use of the land, life became increasingly difficult for those who owned nothing.

However, Norway’s general and historical freedom to roam gave people some fundamental rights – regardless of land ownership. Such universal rights did not go as far as to include access to other people’s cultivated land and its crops – but it did include the resources of the outfields: the mountains and the forests. In many places, non-landowners had the right to let their domesticated animals graze there, collect firewood, hunt, fish, go berry-picking and so on.

Harvesting the vast ocean outside Norway’s intricate and long coastline was always free for all.

Famine

Today – thanks to the discovery of oil – Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But it was not always like this. All through history, the Norwegians also experienced periods of famine and difficulty – with deaths and illnesses as a result. If the crops failed several years in a row – any surplus from previous years would soon be gone.

Click here to read more about Norwegian food and food history

Our most recent posts
Norway time
The Kingdom of Norway
Skodje sogelag and Louis Giske wrote the history of the two Sortehaug farms and its inhabitants back in 1986.
When the ice melted after the last ice age, herds of reindeer followed in its wake. And with the animals came their main predator: the humans.
Norway’s full independence came in AD 1905, and was the culmination of a process that had lasted for several decades.
The Heddal stave church - stavkirke - is Norway's largest remaining building of its kind. It is a woodwork masterpiece, with a history that stretches back more than 800 years.
In this post you will find a list of Norway’s 15 main historical eras - from the ice age to our modern day.
In the spring, the Norwegian mountain-snow melts and turns into creeks, rivers and magnificent waterfalls.
On 9 April 1940, German forces attacked Norway in the early hours of the morning. The Norwegian armed forces attempted to stave off the attack, but they were in no way prepared for this monumental task.
In this video-collection of historical photos, we visit the west coast of Norway and the region of Sogn og Fjordane. We recommend that you watch with the sound on. Enjoy!
Skjemat is a Norwegian noun that means food eaten with a spoon - often before or after the main course at dinner. It could be porridge, soup, dessert, and more.
Myrmelk is a Norwegian noun that means milk conserved in a container buried in a mountain peat bog, left there for herders or others to drink at a later stage.
Norway is a land of water, with almost 1 million lakes and ponds of all sizes. Join us in exploring the 5 largest of her lakes, and some more Norway facts.
From the early 1800s and well into the 1900s, Norway was a significant exporter of natural ice. But how did they prevent the ice from melting?
Langfjordbotn - in Norway’s northernmost region Finnmark - was the birthplace of Oluf Røde, born in 1889.
A kipe is a tall, woven basket, often made of twigs from the birch tree. It was carried on the back, and typically used when carrying loads in a landscape full of steep fields and paths.
The land that we call Norway was once covered by a massive sheet of ice. In places, the glaciers were as much as 3,000 metres thick.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
17 May 1814 is regarded as the birth of the modern-day Norwegian state. But it took almost another hundred years before the Norwegians could declare complete independence.
After the Black Death, it took the Norwegian communities centuries to recover. And soon, the country would also lose its independence.
Neither the great Atlantic Ocean nor time or social conventions could separate a love that was meant to be.
The first half of the 1900s was a time of enormous change in Norwegian society. It was then that a young boy experienced a peculiar family custom.

Follow us on social media