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Traditional Norwegian Foods Your Ancestors May Have Eaten

Traditional Norwegian foods include deliciously-prepared
fish, dense breads, and hearty, cold-weather dishes (reindeer stew, anyone?).
Here’s what your ancestors from Norway may have eaten.

In generations past, Norwegians ate what the land and waters gave them—which was more than you might think, given that part of Norway is inside the Arctic Circle. But short summers still produced harvests of berries, tree fruits, grains, and root vegetables. Forests were abundant with game. Sheep roamed the mountainsides, tended by vigilant shepherds. Norway’s long coastline—extended further by fjords, islands, and peninsulas—and icy inland rivers teemed with food.

The landscape of Norway

Norwegian cooks infused their dishes with fresh dill, horseradish root, wild
mushrooms, oregano, and other savories that grew in their northern clime. They
dried and smoked meats and fish for leaner months and then softened and served
them with flavorful sauces. Here are some of the hearty and delicious foods
your Norwegian ancestors may have eaten.

Traditional Norwegian Foods

traditional Norwegian diet includes many staples from a variety of sources.
Each is important and contributes to the unique taste of Norwegian food.


Norwegian salmon and dill

Perhaps the most important component of the traditional Norwegian diet is fish. Hearty salmon fillets from Norway’s cold mountain rivers were often seasoned simply with dill. Other traditional seafood dishes include shrimp, cod, lobster, mackerel, herring, and monkfish. Smoked salmon and savory-sauced fish are such a longstanding part of the Norwegian diet that they may appear on the menu at any time of day, including breakfast.

Norwegian Grains

norwegian lefse

Bread and grain dishes have long been typical fare in this Scandinavian country. Porridges, such as oatmeal, have been a filling staple since prehistoric times. Rye is a common grain in Norwegian breads, but oats, wheat, other grains, and even potato flour are also used. A typical grovbrød, or coarse bread, may incorporate several types of flour in one recipe.

Many breads are heavy and dense, with a hard crust. Some are thinner, such as flatbreads or lefse, a crepe made with potatoes. You will find breads served on the side or as part of open-faced sandwiches topped with smoked fish, shrimp, ham, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, or cucumbers.

Fruits and Vegetables

cloudberries, a norwegian food

of Norway’s northern clime, its most abundant produce is from plants that fare
well in cool weather. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, rutabaga (kålrabi),
and onions, are an important part of the traditional diet. Boiled potatoes are
a common and simple accompaniment for meat and game dishes. Strawberries,
blueberries, lingonberries, gooseberries, and cloudberries grow well in various
parts of Norway and appear in traditional jams, cakes, and compotes. So do tree
fruits such as apples, pears, plums, and sweet cherries.

Meat and game

farikal, a norwegian meal

Beef meatballs, or kjøttkaker, are a flavorful food that is often served with gravy and root vegetables. On holidays, customary dishes include lamb, such as fenalår for Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17, pinnekjøtt on Christmas, and the slow-cooked fårikål, which has its own holiday, on the last Thursday in September. Lean reindeer meat, with its mild flavor, is now rarer, but it still appears in stews or is served with rich cream sauces. Pork, goose, and duck meat also find a place on traditional Nordic menus.


krumkake, a norwegian dessert

Sweets have a time-honored place in Norwegian food culture. Some of the world’s most enchanting cakes come from Norway, such as kvæfjordkake, with its layers of moist sponge, vanilla cream, and almonds. Apple cakes and crumbles, cookies, and creamy puddings offer tempting alternatives. At holidays, Norwegian cooks roll delicate wafflelike circles of krumkake into crispy cones to be served plain or perhaps filled with rich whipped cream.

What Norwegian food traditions or family recipes do you treasure? Share your heritage recipes (and the memories behind them) on FamilySearch Memories.

Source: Family Search

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