Porridge is the oldest type of food we have in Norway. Barley was considered the main ingredient in porridge back in the day, as it was the grain most often used during the Viking Age. Healthy and nutritious, it was a very central part of our diet, barley is probably also the oldest cultural plant in the world.
The word graut or grøt (porridge in Norwegian), comes from the Norse word “grautr” which means coarse-grained or coarse ground. This is because in the old days, porridge was based on very coarse flour, and the consistency was much coarser than the porridge we know today. The consistency improved after the year 300, when manual mills were introuced. A woman who didn’t know how to make porridge, was not considered good wife material and had no hope of getting married.
Here’s a beautiful “grautspann” (porridge vessel) from the old days:
Image source: digitalmuseum.no
Around 1340, the rice porridge came about, but at first, this was a dish reserved only for the wealthy. This was because rice was scarce, and most people would still eat mostly oatmeal, barley and rye porridge. Looks like these kids enjoyed their porridge, regardless of which grain it was based on!
Today we see four main different porridge types:
1) Oatmeal porridge (used mainly for breakfast), rice porridge (cooked with milk and water), which is the classic Christmas meal in Norway, sour cream porridge (sour cream, flour and milk) which has a long tradition and served during festivities such as 17th of May and jonsok, and finally “vassgraut” or water porridge – as the name implies, cooked with water only. This was regarded as poor man’s food, and often fed to the servants.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, Christmas in Norway is not the same without rice porridge. Dressed with a dollop of good butter and cinnamon , it is what we feed Santa Claus to make sure he has strength to deliver all the presents for the children around the world on Christmas Eve.
The sour cream porridge is the richest, most delicious porridge I know- a bit tangy but sweet, it is enjoyed with the same topping as rice porridge, but also a side of salty meats (charcuterie). We eat this porridge for dinner by the way, not breakfast! Many Norwegians today enjoy oatmeal as their breakfast, but this was not that common when I grew up.
Many non+Norwegians who have not grown up with porridge, might look at this food as unsophisticated, unattractive looking or perhaps not the most exciting dish in the world. But what I find so enticing is the long history this food has, how engrained it is in our culture and how important it has been in our cuisine. With the current Scandinavian trend of taking ancient ingredients, dishes and traditions and updating them to bring about a more current look and flavor, I am now excited to see that this is happening with porridge as well.
The Nordic food revolution has come full circle, and the first “porridge bar” opened in Copenhagen in 2011, called GRØD. Iin addition to porridge based on a plethora of different grains, they also experiment with dessert varieties, risotto and Asian rice porridge. Here is a photo of a porridge taken from their FB page, inspired by the Stone Ages -which includes cauliflower cooked with vegetable broth and cream, topped with fresh chervil, green cauliflower fresh apples and black pepper.
How about pear porridge with a licorice cream foam? Or amaranth porridge, three grain porridge with beet juice or Asian rice porridge with sauteed hoisin-marinated duck breast,spring onion, peanuts, coriander and sesame oil?
They are located at Jægerbordsgade 50 tv in Copenhagen for those of you who would like to look them up and taste their fabulous porridge dishes!
There is also World Championships arranged in porridge making, as this food really has become a huge success among the younger population in Scandinavia. There is a specific technique and talent required to make the perfect porridge. The contestants are judged on taste, consistency, creativity, base ingredients and look of the dish. Porridge has thus become not just a dish for the morning hours, and certainly not only for “poor” people, but for those seeking inspiration in ancient dishes, experimenting with a wide variety of grains and flavor profiles. Could porridge become the new soup?? If Scandinavians have their way, it very well might be, and perhaps you will see a porridge bar popping up on your neighborhood corner soon!
Image Source: http://www.nytnorge.no
There are endless varieties of porridge that you can experiment with made from different grains, flour, seeds and so on. Vary the liquid between water, milk, buttermilk, rice/almond/coconut milk, etc. and the ingredients and toppings are endless. Sweet, savory, crunchy, and soft; a mix of everything is often very successful.
Here is a recipe as a quick example for a barley porridge you can try out; add spices, toppings and condiments as you wish. Make sure you use good quality barley- the recipe might look simple but the ingredients are to be top quality so you can taste the clean flavors of each food.
Healthy, quick and tasty- this is Scandinavian fast food!
BYGGRYNSGRØT (Barley Porridge)
1 cup barley
1 quart milk, rice milk or water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
Applesauce, jam or macerated berries of your choice (Fresh berries stirred with sugar and a bit of lemon juice)
Soak the barley in cold water overnight. In a sauce pot, bring the milk/water to a boil with the salt, add the barley. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir every so often. Add the butter and sugar in the end, and serve with macerated berries, chopped nuts and/or honey.
Image source: http://www.fjordland.no
Fjordland has some of the best barley meal from the area of Sjåk in Norway. The barley is grown in an area with little rainfall, and watered with water from glaciers and the mountains, giving it extra nutrition and a sweet, full taste. Fjordland also sells ready to cook barley meal porridge.