Welcome to South East Norway


Despite county boundaries and differences between the three counties of Telemark, Vestfold and Buskerud, both in terms of scope, livelihood and tradition, there are still more similarities than differences.

The differences are most often seen in the cultural scene in that many great artists come from this part of the country.

Food is both an art and a culture with Norwegian national dishes highly valued in the three counties.

Telemark Excursions by Olivenreiser
Telemark Excursions by Olivenreiser

020216-myllargutenTelemark county extends from Skagerrak to Hardangervidda bordering on Buskerud, Vestfold, East-Agder, Rogaland and Hordaland.  Tourists have cast their eyes on this area, able to choose between a “Riviera existence” in the archipelago, or a proper mountain holiday in the many mountain areas Telemark has to offer. In the hilly skiing terrain, many famous Norwegian skiers have laid the foundation for their later achievements. Telemark has a rich variety in folk music and is known as Myllargutten’s home county.  Myllarguttnen’s real name was Tarjej Augundsson and he is regarded as Norway’s most famous player of the Hardanger fiddle.

The Whaling Monument in Sandefjord
The Whaling Monument in Sandefjord

Vestfold, is Norway’s smallest county in size. Here the phrase “small but good” is appropriate. Vestfold is on the west side of the Oslofjord, bordering Buskerud and Telemark.  Vestfold is a coastal county, but has also large agricultural areas within its borders and was once the most important whaling county in Norway.  Seamen previously associated with the fishing industry gradually turned towards industrial work.

The climate in south east Norway is stable and attracts many tourists.

Ringvold fruit garden
Ringvold fruit garden

Buskerud is also one of the trio of counties in Southeastern Norway, in which we now explore.  Buskerud County ranges from the Oslofjord all the way up to Hardangervidda, bordering on seven counties. Lofty mountains and broad communities are characteristic for Buskerud and we must remember that it is one of the most important counties for forestry in Norway, only beaten by the county of Hordaland when it comes to number of fruit trees. This is an industry that has had great significance for Norway. The number of fruit gardens here leaves its mark on the culinary traditions.

Norwegian national dishes have a strong foothold here, and the diet is as powerful as it is tasteful in this area of prosperity.

Welcome to South East Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Autumn in Telemark (Photo: Visit Telemark)
Recipes from the trail: Two hunters’ takes on gourmet game

Hanging birds. Photo: Andy Mannett /Wikipedia Commons)
Hanging birds. Photo: Andy Mannett /Wikipedia Commons)

Ptarmigan Dinner

by Erik Wanberg

2-3 clean ptarmigans
birch or applewood chips, for smoking
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup Port wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. ground sage
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup dried chanterelle mushrooms (or other light mushroom)
1/2 cup dried cherries
(or dried cranberries, or a tablespoon or two of lingonberry jam)
1/2 cup boiled and peeled chestnuts

Take the ptarmigans and quarter them so the breasts are split in two pieces and the thigh/drumsticks are one piece.

Lightly cold smoke them with birch or applewood chips, about 1/2 hour, just for flavor. If you don’t have a smoker, this step can be omitted, but I really like the mild smoke flavor.

Remove from smoke and lightly brown on both sides on medium-high heat in a large fry or sauté pan with some melted butter. Remove from the pan and place on a plate.

Deglaze the pan with the Port. Add the remaining butter.

Add the flour to the chicken broth and stir or whisk to remove any lumps, then add to the pan. Add the optional ingredients and sage and bring to a simmer.

As it thickens, add the cream. Lower the heat and place the ptarmigan pieces flat in the pan. Simmer gently for approximately 45 minutes.

Serve with mashed rutabagas and a steamed green vegetable such as broccoli or sautéed green beans.

Notes: While the traditional Norwegian style is a simple brown sauce gravy, rich in butter and cream, it usually has some wild mushrooms in the sauce and a handful of lingonberries. I like adding the Port to bring out the flavor and the dried cherries and chestnuts. While rich, it is perfect around the holidays.

As ptarmigan are not flying around the midwest, or even available in the corner supermarket, this recipe works well with other game birds such as grouse or pheasant, and I have even cooked cottontail rabbits this way.

After dinner, open that Port wine bottle again and serve with a plate of Jarlsberg chunks…Hunting doesn’t always mean roughing it!

To hang or not to hang: that is the question

When hunting with my Norwegian relatives it is customary—no, just expected—to hang the meat for a few days to make it darker and more flavorful. Some might say this makes it more gamey in taste, and they would be correct.

It is a practice in Norway, and especially in Voss, to hang the meat for a few days in the open air to cure it. I am almost embarrassed to say that they don’t even clean the bird first, just hang it fully intact. In the U.S., we often field clean the birds straight away. In contrast, in Voss, upon returning from a two-day hunting trip the ungutted birds are simply hung by their necks in the garage with the temperature in the 35-40 degree range. After a few days, the flesh is very dark, almost black, and the flavor is much stronger.

On one trip to Voss after a day of hunting, I offered to cook some freshly killed ptarmigan for dinner. My uncle wrinkled his nose and reluctantly agreed to let me forge ahead with dinner.
At dinner in the mountain cabin (hytte), I asked how he liked it. He said, “Well Erik, that is… ummmm, well, very interesting.”

Lesson learned. However, I don’t recommend doing it here unless you really know what you are doing.

Quails browning in pan. Photo: Stewart Butterfield (Wikipedia Commons)
Quails browning in pan. Photo: Stewart Butterfield (Wikipedia Commons)

Mashed Rutabagas
by Erik Wanberg

3 large rutabagas
1-2 large red potatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1/2 stick of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the rutabagas and potatoes and cut into one inch chunks. Boil in a large pot.

When soft to a fork (about 30-40 minutes), strain the water off and add the butter, start mashing, and then add the other ingredients and continue mashing until nearly smooth.

I sometimes add a splash or two of akevitt, as the caraway flavor really complements the rutabaga flavor, even more so if serving akevitt at dinner.

Notes: While I will often serve wine with a ptarmigan dinner, (a nice light-bodied pinot noir goes great with upland game like this), this is not always the case in Norway. The traditional beverage pairing in Norway, and especially in Voss, is a large glass of hjemmebrygg (homebrew) and a shot glass of akevitt. While a good wine is a great pairing with this dinner, nothing compares to the pairing of a smoky Voss homebrew (usually 10-12% alcohol) with juniper flavors, combined with smoked and hung (read gamey) ptarmigan. The akevitt then cleanses the palate with the caraway flavor, and you’re ready for another bite.

Wild stew at its best
by Ottar Nord

4.4 pounds tiur meat or a blend of poultry
2.6 ounces salt pork
4 tsps. flour
1/2 tsp. pepper
salt to taste
16 ounces boiled stock
one onion, chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed juniper berries
one cup lingonberry or cranberry jam

Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, and cube the salt pork.

Blend together the flour, salt, and pepper.

Brown the salt pork in a pot and remove, leaving the pork drippings in the pot.

Dredge the meat in the flour mixture and brown in the fat.

Pour the stock over the meat. Add the chopped onion, pork cubes, crushed juniper berries, and jam, and let the mixture steep until the meat is dark.

These recipes originally appeared in the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call them at (800) 305-0271.