I have another traveller’s food tale from the past for you today. The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c in 1840 included a review of Norway and the Norwegians, by R.G. Latham, Esq. I recently gave you a short extract from the article, on the topic of ‘fish flour,’ but the author (a university academic) had quite a lot more to say on the subject of Norwegian food:
Of the Norwegian mode of life, a notion may be formed from the author’s description of their dietary. He says,-
“The Norwegians are not pre-eminently a cooking nation: their culinary operations are rather elaborate, as far as they go, than multifarious. They are also somewhat chronic in duration. A fancy that there is a good deal of superfluous work connected with them. For instance, they soak their game before it is dressed. But more of this hereafter. They reckon not their mode of cooking eggs by the hundred, and they delight not in a multiplicity of sauces. They stew not down whole sheep to make sauce for a single peacock. They have no essences with which you can eat your own father; or which, if dropped on the fingers, would tempt you to gnaw them to the bone. They have no vineyards, and their cellars scarcely make good the want of them. Their beer, like pneumonic crepitations, is small. It is of a fine clear amber colour; but so are the waters of the Tiber and the Tagus. What is called brandy is in reality whisky. It is made from either potatoes or corn. …. I think well of the Norwegian cogniac. I drank a good deal of it neat, as a preservative against the cholera. Their rum punch deserves all praise. It is best drunk cold. In summer-time you can have it iced, punch à la glace. In brandy-punch I have seen currant-juice mixed up.
“There is more claret than port, and more port than madeira. Drink red wine with your fish. Fish must swim three times – once in water, once in oil, and in wine. So says someone in Athenæus. The Norwegians adhere to this rule strictly, but I believe unconsciously. They make soup of salmon – very good eating. Ditto of eels – very good eating. Ditto of pig-meat, or pork – not such very good eating. …. “
As for the writer’s own taste in feeding, we will not vouch it. He tells us, -
“If a red herring is to be eaten, as it ought to be, wa[i]ve the ceremony of roasting it. Dried salmon is better for not having been near a fire. In English kitchens, a great deal of good heat is wasted. I once found a dried mutton-ham in a small posting house after a long day’s journey. The fashion is to eat such things au naturel. I did so, and enjoyed my meal. By far the best part of a Norwegian larder is the fish, the game, and the cheese. Small red trout from the mountain streams, stripling codfish, a salmon, and stock-fish are the chief delicacies, whilst the chief sauces are of olive-oil. The flesh of the cock-of-the-wood is dark above and white beneath. This, with the ptarmigan and black grouse, is their chief game ….
… Of course, nothing like haut-goût is tolerated. My friend Mr. Archer of Laurvig, had a theory of his own upon this subject. He argued that the taste for high food, such as venison and grouse, arose rather from necessity than from choice. That the Londoners got their grouse from a distance, during hot weather, and therefore tainted; that they made a virtue of necessity, and professed to like tainted grouse from choice; that they extended their notions to other kinds of game on one side, and to the rest of their fellow-creatures on the other…
… Rein-deer venison is scarcely so good as that of the fallow-deer. It is dry even to parching and chipping. Rein-deer tongues, such as we eat in England, come from donkeys. I ate at Laurvig a lobster plain boiled and hot. Like Lord Chesterfield and his hunting, it is a thing a man should do but one. First catch your fish, then dry the flesh, then pound it to a fine flour, and with this fish-flour make a pudding. There ae worse things in the world that a fish-pudding. It is a set-off to the soupe au cochon. With roasted mutton eat – not currant-jelly, but the preserved mountain-ash berries. If you wish to taste a cheese to which Cheshire, Stilton, and Gruyere must yield the palm, go to Norway and ask for gammel-ost. If a second-rate one will suffice, ask for mios-ost. ….. Gammel-ost is made by mixing skim-milk boiled, with cream or new milk, unboiled, and pressing it in a press of a certain antiquity; one that has pressed the cheeses not only of many seasons, but of many generations. The older this is, the higher the flavour of the cheese.”
Giving you an authentic (whatever that means) Norwegian recipe is out of the question for the simply obvious reason that I do not read Norwegian. I am inspired by the concept of salmon soup however, so perhaps the following recipe, from Wholesome fare; or, The doctor and the cook, by E.S. and E.J. Delamere (London, 1868) will be acceptable.
Take a pound and a half of the middle or tail of a very fresh salmon. Salmon just a little stale, which, with management, is perfectly presentable as a dish of fish, will not make a tureen of soup.
Cut the piece of salmon across into two equal portions; clean and scale them most carefully, and then throw them into a pot of boiling water with no salt in it; boil till enough—about twenty minutes. Remove the skin, and take the flesh off the bones while hot. Divide one of the pieces into handsome flakes or spoon-bits, and set them aside. Pound the other portion fine in a mortar, with a little butter, an anchovy scaled and boned, or its equivalent in the shape of essence of anchovy, the coral or spawn of a lobster if to he had, a table-spoonful of flour or arrowroot, and a couple of hard egg-yolks.
When these ingredients are well pounded and braided, transfer them to a stew-pan with a little clear stock, consommé, or veal or chicken broth. Stir and add gradually more and more stock, till the soup is of the required thickness. Season with pepper and salt; if intended for a party of good livers, it may be heightened with a bouquet of herbs and an imperceptible quantity of cayenne, sugar, and lemon-juice. Pass through a large-holed cullender; put in the flakes of salmon that had been set aside, boil up, and serve. This being a substantial "mouthful soup," forcemeat balls or egg balls are quite admissible. Bread is also to be eaten with it, either in browned dice, or broken by each person from the roll beside him.
The description of the development of a liking for "high" food reminds me of a scene in Shogun, where a servant offers to kill himself for taking down and destroying a pheasant that was being "hung" nearly to the point of rot (at least enough to convince the Japanese that it was completely inedible).
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