Grøt | a nation built on porridge | Norway

Some claim that porridge is the oldest hot dish in the Norwegian diet. Was it to our ancestors what bread is to the modern family of today?
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Children eating porridge. At Christmas time, judging by the boy's hat. Hand-coloured photo - taken around 1890. | Photo: Oslo Museum - digitaltmuseum.no OMu.F24025ø - cc by-sa.
Photo: Children eating porridge. At Christmas time, judging by the boy's hat. Hand-coloured photo - taken around 1890. | Photo: Oslo Museum cc by-sa.

Pronunciation

Grøt

More than grain and water

In the old Norwegian farm kitchen, the oven-baked bread was almost non-existent. Porridge, flatbread, and lefse – a relative of the tortilla – dominated throughout the Middle Ages and up to our modern day. Many think of porridge as a tasteless substance, often associated with poverty. In its simplest form, it consists of crushed grain and water.

Richer versions of the dish have been served throughout Norwegian history – both in everyday life and as a treat at life’s many feasts and celebrations: at Christmas – and in connection with baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The variations are as many as there are districts and inventive cooks in this long-stretched and diverse country. People also served porridge when celebrating the end of the growing season – and when the community came together to help their neighbours – for example when building a barn.

Adding some flavour

To add some flavour and nutritional value, the farmer’s wife experimented with the traditional ingredients available to her: coarse and fine grain, sweet milk, sour milk or cream, butter, salt, syrup and so on. Today, the Norwegians typically eat porridge with a layer of sugar and cinnamon on top – and a chunk of butter in the middle, melting and blending in. According to old beliefs: a lump of butter shaped like a cross, protects against evil powers.

Grain has been available since the introduction of agriculture; in Scandinavia some 6,000 years ago. In earlier times, the Norwegians cultivated barley and oat. These are hardy plants and well-suited for the colder Norwegian climate.

Served several times a day

The mistress of the house usually served porridge several times a day. She prepared a generous portion in the morning – and served it hot for breakfast – and cold later in the day. With the cold porridge, she often added some warmed-up milk. She also fried slices of cold porridge in fat and served it with other food – like we do potatoes today. People travelling also often brought cold porridge with them in their rucksacks – or in a wooden box. The same applied to field labourers working far from home.

A wooden container - for the storage or transport of food: milk, porridge, butter, cheese and more. From Johannesbruket, Løkja, Norfjordeid, Eid, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. | Photo: Nordfjord Folkemuseum - digitaltmuseum.no NFM.0000-02635 - cc by-sa.

A wooden container – for the storage or transport of food: milk, porridge, butter, cheese and more. From Johannesbruket, Løkja, Norfjordeid, Eid, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. | Photo: Nordfjord Folkemuseum – digitaltmuseum.no NFM.0000-02635 – cc by-sa.

Eating from the same bowl

In the old Norwegian farming community, it was common for all to eat from the same bowl or dish. The cook placed the dish on the table, and everybody tucked in from all angles, using their very own wooden spoon. When they had finished eating, they licked their spoon clean and stuck the handle in between two logs in the wall of their log house home.

No lumps

Getting the porridge just right is a skill – and preparing it in a large pot over an open fire can be demanding work. The cook prided herself on not having any lumps in the finished product. In connection with weddings and other large gatherings, people called in particularly skilled cooks to make sure that the food was of the highest quality. Women from smaller farms or cottages often took on extra work on occasions such as these. A good cook was a well-respected lady.

A wedding at Kvilvang Nordre farm, Tufsingdalen, Os, Hedmark, Norway. The fiddler is leading the procession - as the porridge is brought in to hungry guests. Taken prior to 1928. | Photo: Peder J. Bredalslien - digitaltmuseum.no MINØ.024018 - public domain.

A wedding at Kvilvang Nordre farm, Tufsingdalen, Os, Hedmark, Norway. The fiddler is leading the procession – as the porridge is brought in to hungry guests. Taken prior to 1928. | Photo: Peder J. Bredalslien – digitaltmuseum.no MINØ.024018 – public domain.

The almond for Christmas

A Norwegian Christmas tradition is to add one single almond in the pot before serving. The person who finds the almond usually wins a prize – and is the recipient of much attention. Over the years, many a child – with a great sense of disappointment – has watched a sibling find the coveted almond. Many say that Norway is a nation built on porridge. Let us all honour our ancestors by respecting their food traditions – and hail their ability to make the best out of what resources they had available.

Main source: «Norsk mat» – Johanne Jansen and Elisabeth Moe – Norges Bondekvinnelag – J.W.Cappelens forlag 1965.

Advertisement

End of advertisement

Our most recent posts

Advertisement

End of advertisement

My Norwegian heritage

The Norwegian farm horse was a reliable and powerful companion. But by the late 1960s, they were almost all gone. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
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.
To make sure he could tide the animals over the long and cold winter, the historical Norwegian farmer utilised all available resources.
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.
The rose painted chests of Norway - a treasure that will live for centuries to come.
Bondegård is a Norwegian noun that means farm. In informal speech and in many dialects, people only use the single word gård or gard.
In Norway, the first traces of iron date back to 400-300 BC. The country has significant iron resources, and making tools and weapons from this new metal was a significant step forward.
Lystring is a Norwegian verb that means catching fish or other water creatures in the dark, using a fire torch to attract the fish and a multi-pronged spear.
In the year AD 1537, King Christian 3 of Denmark-Norway embraced the Lutheran Reformation, and the Norwegians went from being Catholics to Protestants. The king confiscated the Catholic Church’s considerable wealth, a welcomed addition to the royal coffers. Norway more or less ceased to exist as a sovereign state and became a province under Denmark.
In 1942, Hans Hyldbakk wrote the history of the local cotter's holdings in Surnadal, Nordmøre, Norway. The book was updated in 1966.
Budrått is a Norwegian noun that means the output of milk products on a farm - such as cheese and butter. The word is often associated with what was produced during the summer on the seasonal mountain or forest pasture farm - the seter.
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 old Norwegian farming society was a self-sufficient and balanced world. Coins and notes were all but an alien concept.
Whether it be on a rainy day - or a beautiful summer’s day like this one - the coastal paths take us through some pleasing stretches of Norwegian scenery.
What beautiful needlework. A bonnet from the collections of Slottsfjellsmuseet - in the city of Tønsberg.
When humankind first appeared in the Norwegian landscape – sometime after the last ice age – the search for food was their primary motivation.
A primstav is an old wooden calendar-stick, marking the days of the year and important events. It splits the year into two equal halves: summer and winter.
In the coastal districts of the old Norway, a strandsitter was a beach dweller - who rented a small piece of land - but owned the house he built on it. His livelihood was usually connected to the sea.
The horse settled in the Scandinavian landscape after the last ice age. Let us meet this majestic animal - and follow in its footsteps.
Mead and beer are both alcoholic drinks known from Norwegian history. The Norwegians call them «mjød» and «øl». But do you know the difference between the two?
Bergen is Norway's second-largest city and one of the country's oldest urban locations. The first post-viking king, Olav Kyrre, gave it market-town-status around AD 1070.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history