Stabbur | the food storehouse on the old Norwegian farm

Like all buildings on the old Norwegian farm, the stabbur had a clear purpose: it was a building designed for the storage of food.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
The stabbur at Søre Mykstu (Veslemykstu) farm, Rollag, Buskerud. | Photo: Mahlum - wikimedia.org.
The stabbur at Søre Mykstu (Veslemykstu) farm, Rollag, Buskerud, Norway. | Photo: Mahlum - wikimedia.org.

Pronunciation

Stabbur

A mice-free domain

Like all buildings found on the traditional Norwegian farm, the stabbur had a clear purpose: it was a building designed for the storage of food. Sometimes, people also used it to safeguard precious clothing and fragile possessions.

Like most Norwegian farm-buildings it was made of wood, using the old log cabin technique, and comes in many shapes and sizes. For the most part, it is instantly recognisable. Some of the existing buildings are very old, and some are beautifully crafted.

The stabbur typically consisted of one or two floors, and was elevated from the ground, standing on stilts or pillars made of wood or stone. The pillars were shaped in a certain way, often with a wide stone slate on top, preventing mice and other rodents from finding their way in. For the same reason, there would be a gap between the outside stairs and the building itself.

Filled with food for the winter

Every autumn, the storehouse was filled to the brim, with food for a long, dark, and cold winter. The stabbur had no fireplace, so the food stored there had to tolerate low temperatures. The building had only small windows, or no windows at all; this was to make sure that it was as cool as possible during the summer – and not too cold during the winter.

In the stabbur, you found foods like unground grain, flour, flatbread, butter, cheese, dried, smoked, or salted meat and fish, and more.

Through his novels, the author Jacob Breda Bull paints images of nature and daily life in the old farming communities. In his book Eline Vangen – set in Rendalen in Østerdalen – we find the farmer Trond walking through his stabbur one autumn day. The storehouse was filled with all the food that the farm could provide. Trond was happy and proud. They were ready for the long winter ahead.

Lock and key

The storehouse door was often the only one with a lock. The mistress of the farm was the keeper of the key – a sign of her undisputed status.

A young woman in her folk costume in 1888 - Setesdal, Agder, Norway. | Photo: Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.
A young woman in her folk costume in 1888 – Setesdal, Agder, Norway. | Photo: Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.

The old Viking laws

The stabbur is mentioned as early as in the 900s, in the Gulating law. The stabbur was one of three buildings a tenant farmer had to make sure was in top shape whenever ending his tenancy. The other two were the residential farmhouse and the cook and wash house (eldhuset or bryggerhuset).

The lawmakers were also very clear on one specific point: should you come across a man, in your storehouse, someone who had stolen from you, then you could strike him dead on the spot. A brutal entry, emphasising people’s need and right to protect their vital food supply.

The bell tower

In many parts of Norway, the stabbur had a tower with a bell, especially the larger farms. The bell had a practical purpose, but was also a sign of prosperity. The bell called the land-workers home from the fields for food and rest.

The following daily bell-ringing pattern comes from the farm Holstad in Ås, Akershus, Norway. It says a lot about the work-rhythm on the olden farm: The working day began at 06:00, when the farm people tended to the domesticated animals, and milked the cows. The first bell of the day was at 08:00, when the workers were called back in for breakfast. It also tolled at 11:30 for dinner – and then again between 13:00 to 13:30 to rouse the workers from their midday rest. Later it called them home for some food at 16:00, and then lastly to mark the end of the working day at 19:00.

The bell was usually only used during spring, summer, and autumn. For many, the first sound of the bell for the season was a cherished sign of spring.

Maybe one day

The old stabbur can be found on many farms even today – now often empty reminders of the past. The use of the buildings dramatically changed after the Second World War, when electricity and modern appliances found their way into the old world. But who knows, maybe one day the storehouse will reclaim its age-old status, and once again play a vital role, in the life of the Norwegians.

Main sources: “Vår gamle bondekultur 1” by Kristoffer Visted and Hilmar Stigum – J.W.Cappelens Forlag 1971, | “Matklokka” by Andreas Ropeid – Norsk etnologisk gransking, 1985. | “Eline Vangen” by Jacob Breda Bull – Gyldendal Norsk Forlag 1937.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
The Norwegians rarely allow alien species into their fauna. With one notable exception, the muskox - first welcomed in from Greenland in 1924.
Queen Maud of Norway was born in London in 1869, as Princess Maud of Wales. Her grandmother was none other than the formidable Queen Victoria.
In this period, Norway was still primarily a nation of farmers, fishermen and hunters. In AD 1801, 90% of the population lived in rural areas.
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!
With this old photograph in my hand I have set myself a task: how much information can I find in Norwegian online archives based on what the photo tells me?
The old Norwegian farm needed hundreds of litres of water every single day: for food-making, cleaning, and human and animal consumption.
On the historical Norwegian farm, the skoklefallsday is the last day of planting in the spring. Literally, it means the day that the shafts attached to the workhorse's harness come off.
The word ski comes from the Old Norse language, with the meaning cleft wood. The old Norwegians were master hunters, and have been skiing for over 5000 years.
Ljå is a Norwegian noun that means a scythe - an old agricultural cutting-tool used when mowing the grass to make hay, or when harvesting the grain crops.
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.
It was midsummer 1895. An older man was found drifting in the fjord just outside Moss, Norway - shot in the temple with a revolver. Who was he?
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?
The majestic Norwegian mountains can be treacherous - and they steal human lives every year. Study the Norwegian mountain code - and be prepared for your next journey.
When there were no makeshift or permanent dwellings nearby, the Sami hunters and herders sometimes slept under the open sky.
The Fjord horse is one of today’s oldest and purest horse breeds. Its historical habitat is Norway's western coast, with its deep fjords and steep mountainsides.
This is our second video-slideshow with vintage photos of the Norwegian farm horse. Enjoy!
Bondegård is a Norwegian noun that means farm. In informal speech and in many dialects, people only use the single word gård or gard.
The Norwegian landscape is wild and beautiful. And it is a lot more than just fjords and mountains.
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 most significant sections of Norwegian productive soil can be found in the counties of Trøndelag, Hedmark, Oppland and Rogaland.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history