How We Survived

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Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking

Kitchen of Light

By Andreas Viestad

Published 2003

I am often asked how people can live in a place as cold as Norway. While I always feel slightly insulted by the question, it is indeed a very good one. How can people live in a country where the summer is no more than a short burst of ecstasy, a country of hills and mountains with less than 3 percent arable land, on the same latitude as Alaska?
The only answer I can think of is cod and potatoes—the gastronomical equivalent of luck and resilience.

The waters off the coast of western and northern Norway, where icy Arctic currents meet the warmer Gulf Stream, make an ideal breeding ground for cod. For centuries cod was one of the few commodities we had to offer the rest of the world. Cod, mackerel, herring, and animal hides were traded for wine, spices, books, and other luxuries that could make life in the high north more agreeable. This commerce linked Norway to the rest of Europe, culturally and economically, and gradually the modest trading posts along the coast grew into affluent cities like Bergen, Kristiansund, and Ålesund. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, more than 60 percent of all the fish consumed in Europe was cod, a good portion coming from Norway.

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