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NORDIC COUNTRIES

knife and placed between two bits of crisp flat bread, sim- ilar to the way one eats hamburgers today. A special type of ball was made from the blood of domestic animals, but more often this mixture of flour, blood, and some spices was made into sausages or baked into a soft flat bread.

Another way of combining fat and cereals was the

mölje (jumble): crisp flat bread was broken into small pieces and put into a bowl with the liquid from boiling meat liver. Fishermen ate a mölje with crisp flat bread and cod liver. All these examples show an efficient use of all the parts of animal or fish products that were not sold or saved for important occasions.

In Finland there were and are examples of a special combination of flour with fish or meat, pies, and pasties. In the east they are called piiras or piirakka (Russian pirog) and kukko, which is a big pie with dough all around. Pirog is normally smaller than kukko, and if it is big, the filling is exposed with no crust on top. The filling in kukko may be meat, potatoes, cabbage, and turnips, but it was orig- inally fish. In the west, along the coast, a similar pie had the name “herring cake.”

Meat and Status

As in most societies, meat held more prestige than other food in Nordic countries, but there were also differences in the evaluation of different kinds of meat. The impor- tance of pork in older times could be seen in the Swedish and Danish terms used for it, fläsk/flaesk, which are sim- ilar to the German Fleisch, which is a generic word for “meat.” Today beef is more expensive than pork, but in the Middle Ages pork was much more expensive than beef and mutton if one calculated its average price by weight.

As a general rule, it is possible to say that swine dom- inated the meats of the south for a very long time, while cattle were more important in the north for several rea- sons, not least of which was that they provided hides and milk products. The tough meat from old and worn out cows and oxen was not used in steaks and roasts; rather, it was boiled in a pot with cabbage, groats, roots, and available herbs and spices. This meat was normally salted and put into water before it was boiled, so the salt could be extracted and the meat would soften. Mutton was also boiled this way. One common word for these dishes was kål (cabbage), which was used whether they contained cabbage or not. The Old Norse word, however, was sodd, which simply means “boiled.” The use of this word is probably a sign of how old this dish is.

Mutton had played a very important role in Nordic countries, but the number of sheep—and goats, the even less prestigious domestic animals—has gradually dimin- ished in Nordic countries during the last few centuries. Mutton was often eaten uncooked, since it had been dried, salted, and occasionally smoked. In general the meat was very seldom eaten fresh, except among the elite—a fact often commented upon by foreign visitors. This was, especially in the northern regions, a result of

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

the climatic conditions. The summer season during which animals could graze was very short. During a win- ter with deep snow, feeding animals required a lot of fod- der. Animals that were raised only for meat production were slaughtered after the summer, when they were at their fattest. In order to preserve the meat, the farmers had to dry, salt, or smoke it. Pork was often kept in brine.

This preserved meat could be kept for years: it was considered a symbol of wealth to have stocks of meat at the stabbur, a special storehouse built on pillars. From Denmark we know of the tradition of gammelmadsfad (plate of old food) or saltmadsfad (plate of salt food), which involved a big platter with all sorts of smoked and salted meat that could stand on the table for weeks. In Norway reports from wedding feasts in the eighteenth century tell about plates with old food that were put on the table but not eaten—they were only used as a decoration year af- ter year.

Fish Consumption and Preservation

In the United States, especially in the Midwest, the Scan- dinavian population identifies with a peculiar dish: lute- fisk. This dish has a jelly-like consistency and often a yellowish color. The dish is generally unpopular among people who have never tried it. The same holds true in Sweden, where lutefisk is considered a national dish.

The best raw material for lutefisk is the dried cod from the northern coast of Norway, where the air is rather cool. The tørrfisk, or stokfish, holds almost no hu- midity, lasts for years, and has been exported to Europe since before the year 1000. The fish had to be beaten or softened in water before they were cooked. In the late Middle Ages a special method emerged for the prepara- tion of this dish: a potash lye or soda was put in the wa- ter to help soften the fish, and the result was lutefisk (lye fish). The oldest sources for this method are found in Sweden and Germany, but there are also recipes in early Spanish and French cookbooks, so the dish may have ex- isted elsewhere.

Drying is probably the oldest method for fish preser- vation in Scandinavia, where all sorts of fish were cleaned and hung up to air dry. Even herring was dried, but it did not last as long as other fish because of its high fat content. In the north of Sweden and Finland, pike and other freshwater fish were dried. Salmon that could be dried, salted, and/or smoked held the most prestige.

Cod and other white fish were also salted in brine. This was the most common way to preserve herring, and salted herring has been an important part of Scandina- vian diet for centuries. It was either eaten cold or grilled, normally with bread or porridge, and later with potatoes.

High-quality salt was expensive, but necessary for a good product. Among ordinary people who had little money for salt, a special method of preservation devel- oped for herring and some freshwater fish. The Swedish term gravlaks (buried salmon) dates back to the Middle

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