Tradisjon! Tradisjon!

Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Thompson › Elizabeth Thompson is a writer and photographer. She lives in Alaska with her husband and their ...


(Above: Perfectly golden brown krumkake will melt in your mouth after the initial satisfying crunch.)

“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture,”  Mark Kurlansky, Choice Cuts (2002)

All over the world people of Norwegian descent are starting to count their calories after  the annual Syttende Mai (Soot-n-duh My) celebration. Though the 17th of May 1814 was the day the new Constitution of Norway declared its independence from Swedish rule, the nature of the celebration is distinctly non-military. Why march around in uncomfortable shoes when you could be eating butter cookies?

Norwegians have made the annual pilgrimage home to reunite with extended family for a celebration of their culture and their shared love of fish, potatoes and dairy products. I love to see multiple generations collaborating on meals they have cooked together countless times, the rhythm and dance of bodies moving around the kitchen creating traditional feasts. As an in-law I find that helping in the kitchen is like a secret, almost magical pathway into this group of people who have become my family because one of them chose me. It is while chopping and mixing that I hear the family history in memories shared, where I get to be the new ears for an old favorite story. Food and laughter create strong ties.

Here in Petersburg, Alaska’s “Little Norway”, the celebration of Syttende Mai rivals the enthusiastic scale of July the 4th, though with a decidedly Norwegian flare. The Pickled Herring Band flies up from Washington state to enliven a remarkable number of the festival events with schottisches, polkas, and foxtrots; Main Street is closed for the annual Herring Toss; Vikings and Valkyries maraud about town; Traditional Norwegian faering boats race in the harbor; Norwegian dancers and hundreds of people in Norwegian sweaters or Bunad (traditional costumes) parade through town… and yes, there is food, glorious buttery food!

In preparation for the annual Sons of Norway Kaffe Hus this year, I took my visiting Mother and nephew to my dear friend Roxy’s to learn the art of making krumkaker (which translates to: bent cakes), a traditional cookie fried in an electric iron with decorative patterns on the mold. The wafer thin cookies are quickly pulled from the iron and wrapped around a wooden cone shape before they cool and harden (see slide show).

Herring balls, fish cakes, shrimp salad, boiled potatoes with butter, lutefisk, lefse, fattigmand and krumkake — uff da! After days of butter, sugar, and cream we all made our way to Sandy Beach to cleanse our palettes at the annual Rotary Club fish feast. King salmon, black cod and rock fish were expertly cooked over a giant wood-fired BBQ and served with side salads lovingly crafted by Norwegian hands… and, ya sure, you betcha: more desserts.

Do you have a food that conjures memories from your family history?

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thompson (unless otherwise noted)