In the foreword to a book on Scandinavian foods, Mr. Dege of the Norwegian Food Center writes:
“It has been said that the only thing we Scandinavians will own up to, in the name of fellowship among our countries, is the Vikings."
True enough, the Vikings are part of the common cultural heritage of Scandinavia, but they are by no means the only part.
Ever since the earliest settlements in these lands, food and customs have intermingled among the countries and, blended with influences from foreign shores, have created a cuisine and a culture that take second rank to none.
In 1247, when Cardinal William of Sabina made the long trip to Norway to crown Haakon Haakonsson, the papal legate told the court that he had been warned against making the journey to the barren lands of the North, where there would be little bread,
The drinks would be limited to water and milk, and the people would behave like animals. Instead, the cardinal informed his delighted hosts, he had found a great assembly of people of excellent manners and an abundance of fine food and drink.
Even at that early date, the cardinal stood before people who knew how to set store by food and drink after the European fashion. On a map of the world, the greater part of Scandinavia looks like a group of frozen, forbidding clumps of earth and mountain, and its history is as rough as its terrain.
This corner of the globe has known a stormy past, but out of it has come a remarkable unity. We have today something singular, a kind of interdependence and mutual trust not common on this planet. Clear boundary lines between the countries are difficult to define. As far as food is concerned, we share a special culinary tradition.
Something remarkable has occurred: an inter-Nordic kitchen has appeared and we share the delights of it among ourselves. We feel at ease at one another's tables.
Through the ages we have had a varied diet, but it has always been down to earth, plain and simple. It has sprung out of nature itself, and bears traces of the rhythm of the seasons.
The underlying principle Is simplicity, and the guiding thread - as Dale Brown points out in his book is the natural taste that soil, climate, mountain and lake have produced. Thus, our dishes are uncomplicated, varied and in harmony with nature.
While it is true that this inter-Nordic kitchen shares in the European tradition, as does the American kitchen, some of the dishes and culinary customs that are presented in this book may at first seem strange to people under other skies.
When the late Norwegian painter Edvard Munch invited artist friends to parties, it is said that he often served vintage Champagne with a dish of beef and onions. (Now available: biographical/documentary DVD Edvard Munch)
It is not unusual in Scandinavia today to drink red wine with boiled cod and roe. It is, of course, an affront in some other lands to dare to combine the freshest of cod boiled in salt water with hearty red wine, or to serve Champagne with beef and onions.
Nonetheless, we make such robust combinations, however little they agree with other traditions. We also like to precede or accompany our food with strong aquavit and beer, and do not concern ourselves overmuch with cocktails.
To us, and now I am speaking with a Norwegian tongue, beer is one of the finest of drinks. It goes with the fare that is our own, and emphasizes its goodness. If we eat herring, or flat bread with salted butter and cheese - good, everyday food - we give little thought to a drink other than beer.
To amplify this point, one does not find in our latitudes what might elsewhere be called the sophisticated kitchen, the classic grande cuisine. Such a cuisine derives partly from another time - the time when with culinary artifices one tried to conceal the taste of the raw materials because - in all likelihood, their freshness had disappeared in the long journey from source to kitchen.
Of primary importance to the modern culinary art is the freshness, cleanliness and genuineness of the raw materials. Today these qualities can, of course, be preserved by technological means. Nowadays, the natural taste is characteristic of our kitchen. The goal is always the unassuming, the uncomplicated.
If the word gastronomy is mentioned in Scandinavia today, there are many who think of an ideal of refinement from the gilded 1880s. They are in a sense right; the word does not really belong to our time, but to an age of tranquillity and gentility. But to me, gastronomy is still alive to the highest degree in Scandinavia.
Gastronomy, by my definition, is culinary art closely connected to a living tradition. We ourselves do not give our living gastronomy much thought, because it is an integral part of our everyday life.
Only when it is called to our attention do we stop a moment and meditate on it a bit. That is why Dale Brown's book is so welcome and so valuable."
Written by Hroar Dege.
Scandinavian Foods are influenced by the rest of the world, but it has retained its characteristics and special touches unique to this northern outpost of Europe.
Fresh fish has always been important in Scandinavian Foods, and there is a long tradition of fishermen going out to sea to bring back the abundance to be found in the rough ocean waters surrounding the Scandianvian peninsula.
There was a time when scratching out a living in this rugged land depended on the fisheries and the ship building skills of the Scandinavians.
In recent years the discovery of oil in the North Sea has done much to alter the economic outlook of Scandinavia. Through it all, Scandinavian Foods have remained largely unaltered.
An important part of Scandinavian Foods is the salmon - both wild salmon returning to spawn in the rivers, and captive salmon raised in ocean enclosures off the coast of Norway.
Scandinavian Foods also include the wild berries of the mountains and forests, the lingonberry, blueberry and the rare cloudberry. The cloudberry, a yellow fruit growing only in the wildest and most remote areas is prized for its unique tart taste. The Finns have even produced a cloudberry Liquor.
Scandinavian Foods would not be the same without the extensive baking skills producing an abundance of delicious pastries, cakes and bread - found in all the Scandinavian countries. The Danes have perhaps cornered the market on baking, but the other countries are not far behind. Scandinavian baked goods are distinguished by the fresh and natural ingredients and the eschewing of artificial embellishments that often mar baked goods elsewhere.
For a unique Scandinavian Foods experience, try the open face sandwiches. Copenhagen is justly famous for the restaurants offering up a vast array of attractively prepared and delicious open face sandwiches.