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.
The stabbur at Søre Mykstu (Veslemykstu) farm, Rollag, Buskerud. | Photo: Mahlum - wikimedia.org.
By LA Dahlmann

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.