The counties of Hedmark and Oppland are found in the heart of Norway, a vast area where Mother Nature offers large variations.
In Hedmark and the districts around Hamar, we find lowlands with large expanses of excellent agricultural conditions. Valleys are narrow and have lots of forests. Lake Mjøsa is Norway’s largest, and is located midway between the counties of Hedmark and Oppland. Here we find the great mountain wildernesses – Jotunheimen and Rondane. These mountains are high and pointed and quite dramatic with their forested hills.
A common feature of Hedmark and Oppland is climate and weather conditions, with hot summers and cold winters. If the soil has meant a lot to the people here, the woods have been just as important – at least financially.
These two eastern counties have no shoreline nor are they adjacent to the sea. Yet they are by no means closed off from the rest of the country. Routes criss-cross the region, and contribute to good communications.
Hedmark is a stout piece of Norway. Describing this county is not easy; it’s sort of rich and poor at the same time. If we look at its size and scope, Hedmark comes in a good third place after Finnmark and Nordland. Its name has been given by the Norse Heidmork.
Here we find some of the most fertile land areas and in its lowlands we may experience the mighty mansions. Some of these can be traced back in history to the time when chieftain mountain pastures chiefdoms existed there.
Peasants who struggled for their daily bread stood in sharp contrast to the noble forest owners’ lifestyle that existed on the large farms in Hedmark. Outside of the grey, small homemade wooden houses where the peasants lived, grew rhubarb, inside those timber walls we found rough wooden benches and stools. It was like another world compared to the big farms with their rose beds under rows of windows and up the sides of walls.
Inside you could find both rococo chairs and wide panels with acanthus decor. All large farms had cotters’ farms and it was important to know their lot in life. The son inherited the father and daughter the mother and so it had always been. In this way we can also signify Hedmark as a county of contrasts.
However, obviously there has been an equalization here as in other parts of the country. General modernization, economics and engineering have contributed to this development. Also the food culture has followed this trend. Old recipes from Hedmark’s large farms and the more general food market are still in use. It cannot be stressed strongly enough how important it is to preserve this part of the area’s common national treasures.
Many poets, writers and artists have been concerned about Hedmark and its many charming contrasts, many of whom also have their roots in Hedmark. The poet and troubadour Alf Prøysen has described the everyday people of Hedmark in lyrics and music. Peasants have been given a face through countless popular songs.
Asta Holt has immortalized the Finnish immigrants and their hardships in Finnskogen. The charm of peoples in Alvdal and Tynset has been humorously described in text and drawings by Kjell Aukrust. Several cultural personalities have given life to everyday living. Einar Skjæråsen is a name to mention in this context.
Several Norwegian national dishes also have their origin in the counties of Hedmark and Oppland especially in Hedmark. Many farms have existed since the Viking Age. The court house was to be found in Aker, and the Vang rectory was a famous dining venue. Some would argue that It was the best in the country, especially when Hanna Winsnes (1789 – 1872) was the pastor’s wife there. Much good food was served then, especially for Christmas. Twelve varieties of cakes belonged to the menu, and moreover vørterbrød was customary.
The Christmas Eve the menu could look like this:
Whole grain milk soup, lutefisk, ribs, sausage – accompanied by good, home-brewed beer! Before church on Christmas Day it was served mølje with meat and pork – no one could travel before they had eaten this. Molja consisted of flatbread broken into pieces on the plate with the broth over so the bread was soft. This was taken before meat fat skimmed off the pot.
Later in the day this was served meat and soup bowls. In all, a lot of food was served during the Christmas weekend. A farmer with respect for himself was a bit generous with his servants and tenant farmers during the festival.
Recipes from Hedmark are many and varied, and are still in use in many places – albeit in slightly more modern versions.
We will cover Oppland in an article in the near future.
The Inland Counties in Eastern Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top) DS Skibladner on Mjøsa