Buskerud is an elongated and lush county in eastern Norway containing many cultural aspects which may be experienced through the food traditions in towns as well as rural areas.
Customs and traditions are more alive than in many other places in Norway. From ancient times several meals were served daily with flatbread playing an important role. Coarse flatbread soaked in milk with sugar was daily fare whereas fine flatbread was party fare.
Thin pancakes of rolled dough and potato cake were often baked with the same process as flat bread. In Hallingdal a special bread made with fat or tallow, potatoes, good sour milk and barley was popular. The dough was sheeted thin, sprinkled with sugar and cooked on a griddle then baked in an oven built of stone, used around 1500. The baked bread was never eaten fresh from the oven, but needed several days to rise. For economy it was only baked once a month.
Porridge and gruel was the most common companion to flatbread. This was likely water porridge, cooked with barley and sour milk and then served with curds or whey. Rice pudding, cream porridge and sour cream porridge were used as party food and still are to this day. Cream Porridge was served at childbirths, weddings and funerals.
Buskerud has always been known for its vigorous agriculture, with dairy farming, cheese making, churning and related activities. Each autumn an animal slaughter took place. Blood was saved in addition to offal, beef and pork, rolls and sausages. Everything had its specific place in the salt barrel – ham meat for cooking or frying. On top was the Christmas rib, well impregnated with salt and pepper.
Rolls, tongue and other sandwich spreads also had their own bucket. Black pudding and blood sausage was made from the slaughtered animal blood. Sour blood sausage and roasted pork previously regarded as a feast is rarely used today. In Nore, a dish called “Pørs”, consisting of blood with salt and spices, was cooked in a water bath and then mixed with cream porridge. The dish was then served with boiled potatoes.
Storage of fresh food occurred by first freezing the food and then storing it in a grain bin. It’s amazing how good the food remained throughout the winter. Fresh food might also be canned in plumbed boxes. Casual food was often herring not skimmed nor cleaned, but taken directly from the pickle and flushed a little and then served with flatbread.
Soup was almost always a part of the meal be it milk soup, gruel or other, it filled the stomachs.
These were mostly countryside food traditions in Buskerud at the turn of the century. In that Buskerud county consists of cities, towns, mining and large scale industries it is not surprising that we find such a variety of contributions to Norwegian national dishes here. More often than not, however, old dishes recur, often in combination with more modern and contemporary varieties. Half-fermented fish, with its extreme strong flavor and smell is preferably served during the Christmas holidays and is still considered by many to be a delicacy when served with beer and aquavit
It is not recommended that rakfisk be eaten by people with a reduced immune defense, or by pregnant women. Note that all recipes for rakfisk state that the fish must never be in contact with soil. This is very important because of the risk of bacteria growing in the fish, especially Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism.
The first record of the term rakfisk dates back to 1348, but the history of this food is probably even older. No sources are available as to the exact introduction year of the rakfisk dish or the fermentation process that produces the raw material for it.
The rakfisk dish is related to the Swedish dish surströmming and probably shares its origin in the ancient Scandinavian culture after the hunting-gathering way of life evolved into a more sophisticated society in which people were able to store food over a considerable period.
Rakfisk is made from fresh trout or char, preferably over 750g:
Remove the gills and guts and rinse well so that all the blood is removed. Scrub the blood stripe with a fish brush. Rinse the fish and put it in vinegar solution for about half an hour. Let the fish rest and the vinegar run off for a while. Then place the fish in a bucket, close side-by-side with the abdomen facing up. Fill the abdomen with sea salt (60g per kilogram of fish). Sprinkle tiny amounts of sugar on the fish to speed up the “raking”, but not more than a pinch for each layer of fish.
Then place the fish under pressure with a lid that fits down into the bucket and a weight on top. The rakfisk bucket is put in a cold place (a stable temperature at about 4 degrees Celsius is the best, but it should be below 8 degrees Celsius at least). After a couple of days you should check if the fish is brined. If not enough fluid has formed to completely cover the fish, add salt brine containing 40g salt per liter of water. The fish may then be placed at a higher temperature for some days to make it brine better, but one should be very careful with this.
Leave the rakfisk for two to three months. Rakfisk is well conserved in the brine. When the fish is appropriately “rak,” you can put it into a fresh 4% salt brine, which will slow down the “raking” process. Another method for slowing it down is to put the tub in the freezer (or outside if cold enough) for some time. As long as the fish is lying in the brine it will not freeze.
Food Traditions in the Norwegian County of Buskerud, written by Tor Kjolberg (The rakfisk part with the help of Wikipedia).
Feature image (on top): Visit Norway