Ask a foreigner about what is the most puzzling thing about Norwegians, and the answer would probably be our obsession with skiing and nature.
Despite living in one of the least densely populated countries in the world, Norwegians seek more nature, particularly at Easter when we flock to the mountains to spend time in our second home, our cabins. The French blogger, A frog in the fjord, who lives in Norway and writes madly well about Norwegian culture, describes our love of nature this way:
“Ask a Norwegian where he/she feels most happy. They will never (in my experience) say “in front of my huge tv” or “with my new IPad”: happiness is always somehow linked to nature. Snow, a hytte (a cabin), fresh fish from the fjord, not too many people around and a good meal with loved ones is all it takes.”
The simple life in a cabin
Norwegians spend on average 49 days a year at their cabins, mostly in the weekends. The cabin, usually a rustic wooden hut in the mountains a two or three-hour drive from home, is the place to unwind, a place to recharge batteries and live the simple life. Traditionally they were wooden huts without electricity and running water, though many cabins today are more like modern homes in the semi-wild. One should think the love for cabins is mostly an urban phenomenon, but it is just as vital in the countryside where people live next to the wilderness, where you can spot moose in the garden.
A longing for nature
Nature and outdoor life have always played an important part of our culture. According to Marit Melhuus, Professor in Anthropology at the University of Oslo, the expression “Go for a walk, never glum” (ut på tur, aldri sur) epitomizes the Norwegian attitudes to being outdoors. The longing for nature is also exemplified by the Norwegian magazine Harvest. Founded by gifted urban journalists, it is solely about man’s relationship to nature and the outdoors.
If you do not have your own cabin, your dream can still find wings. The Norwegian Trekking Association offers 460 cabins across the country for rent. Some of these are unmanned and is based on the principle of trust. This is described the following way by A frog in the fjord:
“Unlike in the rest of the world, Norwegians will leave you the keys to a remote little wooden hut and expect you to be honest, write down your name to receive the bill for the nights you stayed there and clean behind you for the next people coming. This is, I believe, the most marvellous strange thing Norwegians do and that I would like to create a movement called “honesty” that I will export to the entire world.”
– Just a little longer, and you will get an orange
When King Haakon came to Norway after a public referendum in 1905 ending the union with Sweden, he had to learn to become a Norwegian. He started by learning to go cross-country skiing. King Haakon was Danish and his wife was British. Their son Olav, later to become our most cherished king, even jumped 33 meters in the iconic Holmenkollen Ski Jump. Olav proved he was one of us, one of the traits still defining the Norwegian monarchy.
It is at Easter our affinity for skiing reaches its zenith. I learned to go cross-country skiing when I was two years old. I was a kid who loved to go skiing. My parents never had to drag me along. Still many parents do, looking upon the ski trips as a pilgrimage and escape from the iPads and technological world. A way to learn their kids the true values in life. Maren Synnevåg remembers her childhood’s ski treks, the endless hills she had to conquer and how her daddy always said: “Just a little longer, and you will get an orange.”
The castle of the woods
I come from Rolløya in the North of Norway. My home is an island of serene lakes filled with mountain trout, of forests dotted with wooden cabins. Four kilometres from home lies our little red, wooden cabin. I loved it so much I called it The castle of the woods. The castle had no electricity, nor running water. There were mice in the hallway and the closest neighbor was a colony of wood ants. The TV was a small black and white TV powered by solar energy.
Even though all days spent at the hut were nice, there was something special about Easter. The first thing I did upon entering the cabin, was rushing to the wooden cupboard in the living room. In front of me was my beloved Easter egg, its yellow aluminum foil worn and torn by time. In the evening we played board games and watched crime series on the TV. Crime literature and crime series on TV is also a Norwegian Easter concoction.
There is another Norwegian saying: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. During daytime we went cross-country skiing, no matter how bad the weather might be. The ski trek would start at the Little Hook lake, where our cabin was situated, before passing Big Hook lake and reaching the target, the huge Ship lake. There we would enjoy hot cocoa and peeling our oranges sitting with our bums in the snow, thinking how lucky we were to be here with a glimpse of sun.
Food made for the outdoors
Our love for the outdoors and the simple life is also reflected in one our food, matpakken, packaged lunch made at home consisting of slices of whole grain bread, usually with yellow or brown cheese. Matpakken is far from a gastronomical star, but above all handy.
My mother would always bake for Easter. Practical “dry” cakes that could fit in an ice cream box and be carried in a rucksack. I want to make such a cake. A cake that tastes of Norwegian Easter, of chocolate and oranges. A delicious and nutritious cake made for outdoor activities, with bananas, palm sugar, dark chocolate, almonds, oats and walnuts giving you energy for long ski treks. It is wrapped in an orange glaze that seals it, like an envelope. I will send the cake up North, as an Easter greeting to my mother.
Easter cake with oranges
This makes one little loaf tin or a little bundt pan.
75 g / 2,6 oz butter
2 overripe bananas
75 g / 2,6 oz palm sugar
75 g / 2,6 oz almond flour (finely ground almonds)
50 g / 1,7 oz oats
25 g / 0,9 oz flour (or gluten-free flour)
1 tsp baking powder
25 g / 0,9 oz walnuts
2 organic oranges
50 g / 1,7 oz chocolate (70 %)
1. Preheat oven to 160C/320F. Place parchment paper in a loaf tin or a little bundt pan.
2. Melt the butter and allow to cool a bit.
3. Mash the bananas with a fork in a bowl. Add the melted butter and egg and combine until blended.
4. Add the sugar, flour, oats and baking powder stir to combine.
5. Break the walnuts with you hand and add. Add zest of 1 orange.
6. Finally add roughly chopped chocolate. Pour in the tin and bake it on the lowest rack for about 40–45 minutes. The batter should be quite moist and it is better to bake it too long than too short. It is finished when the crust has a nice brown colour.
7. Orange glaze: Mix 3 tbsp orange juice in a bowl with the grating of ¼ of the orange. Add about 5–6 tbsp confectionary sugar until a thin glaze. Add the glaze when the cake is cold.
Dried orange slices: Slice the oranges and dry them in the oven at 100C/210F for about 3 hours. Dust with confectionary sugar on both sides the last minutes of drying.