I almost grew up at my grandparent’s household. Their house lied next to ours and I spent many meals in their kitchen, an experience that opened a door into a way of living and food culture that is a distant reality today. I will never forget the rice porridge my grandfather reveled in each Saturday, the adorned boxes in the attic with Christmas cookies or the milk soup served for dessert.
While soup today mostly refers to salty soups, the sweet soup played a pivotal part in the diet to earlier generations in Norway. For instance oatmeal soup used to be served at elementary schools in Oslo from the 1880s to 1928 and again during WW2, this time with the aid of Denmark and Sweden.
There were two branches of sweet soup, milk soups and fruit soups. My favourite was my grandmother’s slow-cooked milk soup with oats and macaroni. Another was the dried fruit soup with prunes and barley my mother made.
Poor man’s grain
For 1,000 years barley was the cornerstone in the Norwegian diet. It was the main ingredient in unleavened bread (flatbrød), beer and porridge. As people grew richer and the oats and rice grain became more affordable, barley porridge was replaced by oatmeal porridge and rice porridge. Today barley is a major cereal grain, but most of the crop becomes animal fodder.
In the Gudbrandsdalen valley however barley has retained its pivotal role. Gudbrandsdalen is an area with many farms, grass roofs, tree churches and the fierce but beautiful Otta river with is green hue running through the valley. Little rain, cold winters and warm summers make perfect conditions for the hardy barley. In a country with a plethora of dialects, this is where the dialect is preserved like no other place in Norway. Thus it makes perfect sense that a stone mill from 1865 still grinds barley from the fields surrounding the mill.
I want to go back to the soup I have not eaten since childhood. A fruit soup thick with barley. It is sweet, hearty and nutritious and a walk down my memory lane.
Dried fruit soup with barley
The soup is easy to make and the flavour is based on dried fruit such as prunes and apricots. I like cranberries and add fresh ginger and lemon to boost the flavour. The soup is quite thick, almost like a stew thanks to the barley. I serve it with dried apples that I have dried in the oven for an hour on 120C.
75 g barley
1,25 litre water + soaking water
a knob of fresh ginger
100 g prunes
80 g cranberries
juice of ½ lemon or 2 clementines
50 g sugar (or 5 tbsp maple syrup)
dried apple slices (optional)
1. They day before soak the barley in water.
2. The next day, rinse the grain, add new water and boil for 25 minutes.
3. Add peeled and sliced ginger and the rest of the ingredients and cook for approximately 25 minutes. You want the dried fruit to flavour and sweeten the water but still hold its shape. Serve with dried apples.