Norway’s Countryside of Smiles

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The two Norwegian counties of West and East Agder are often simply referred to as the Southland.  Although West and East Agder have much in common, they are in many ways two very different counties.

West Agder is not one of the larger counties in Norway. It borders on Rogaland and East Agder, but in the south there is only the sea. You find continental Norway’s most southerly point here – Lindesnes.

West Agder, Norway
West Agder, Norway

There are many interpretations of the name Agder, but most of them are related to the sea; the country by the “troubled sea”.  Heavy sea was in old Norwegian called “agi”. West Agder was probably one of the very first places in Norway where people settled. The glaciers there were the first to melt, leaving behind a landscape of cliffs, islets and reefs.

From West Agder
From West Agder

Within the shoreline there are valleys with coniferous and deciduous trees, heather and bare rock.  Our Norwegian forefathers came to this area and  lived from what nature could offer them. A rich flora grew up along the southern coast and later towns grew to become cities. In the Hollender period (1500’s and 1600’s), when southern Norway actively traded with Holland, the area experienced a powerful resurgence, and becoming quite wealthy through trade with the rest of Europe.

From Flekkefjord. Photo: Tor Kjolberg
From Flekkefjord. Photo: Tor Kjolberg

Large scale export oriented enterprise with timber, stone, moss, salmon, trout, lobster and more was established. In the second half of the 18th century, Flekkefjord was the country’s main center for herring exports. Many benefited from this, as shipping companies were built up, along with shipyards and barrel factories.

Hollender Quarter in Flekkefjord
Hollender Quarter in Flekkefjord. Photo: Tor Kjolberg

Farsund was another town which grew considerably, largely due to the Lund family’s efforts. The Lunds were descendants of a Danish skipper who was stranded on the shore in the area.

Darsund. Photo: Fjordtours/Tore/Haus
Darsund. Photo: Fjordtours/Tore/Haus

Mandal was also a town well known by traders – and by pirates. By the 1500’s Mandal was prosperous with plenty of work possibilities and a lively trade. Salmon from Mandal was known and popular throughout Europe.

From Mandal. Photo: Wikipedia
From Mandal. Photo: Wikipedia

Kristiansand (Photo on top) was founded by decree of  Kristian IV  in 1641, and was one of eight locations in Norway which had status as market town in the 1660s. Here, as in the other towns, it was the trade – exports and imports – which constituted the actual basis of existence,  timber being especially important.

Costumed guide at West Agder Museum
Costumed guide at West Agder Museum

The area which today is known as West Agder was an important part of the Kingdom of Norway. As a result of the  extended contact with the rest of the world, it is of no surprise that many innovations came to be in the idyllic Southern Norway.

Food traditions have also had a cultural impact here too.  You’ll find dishes inspired from Southern Europe as well as Norwegian traditional specialties, recipes that  housewives could conjure up – using limited means. The people here are fond of fish, and many Norwegian poets from the region have honored the gold of the ocean.

Norwegian fish soup
Norwegian fish soup

Fish Soup from South Norway
(Serving 4 persons)

2 ½ tablespoons butter
2 ½ tablespoons plain flour
4-5 cups fish stock or 4 cups vegetable stock
1 medium carrot, finely chopped in strips
1-2 cup leek, finely chopped in strips
1-2 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes (optional)
1 (14 ounce) can chopped tomatoes (optional)
12 peeled raw shrimp (approx.)
12 mussels (approx.) or 12 small scallops (approx.)
4-6 ounces catfish (or fish of your own choice)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
2 teaspoons lumpfish caviar (optional)

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, add the flour, stir for about 2 minutes without browning the flour.

Add the fish stock at intervals, stirring all the time, let it boil gently for 5-10 minutes.

Melt the rest of the butter and sauté the carrots and leek and potatoes, if using, for approx 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (if using) and simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the shrimps, mussels, fish and the cream.

Simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the fish and shellfish are tender.

Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve garnished with sour cream and the lumpfish caviar.

Norway’s Countryside of Smiles, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top) Grom Kristiansand. Photo VisitNorway