My magnificent Citizens! Today, I am fortunate to be able to share a recipe with deep personal meaning for Me, as I just created it to honor My dear friend Björn on the occasion of his 40th birthday! I flew in July to the far-Northern island of Andøya (“duck” in Norwegian) where he lives to surprise him as he celebrated in his own…unique way. Specifically, by jumping off a cliff to paraglide (for the first time!) 4 minutes down to a beach where his closest Norwegian friends awaited…and unknown to him, I was amongst their number!
He had no idea I had flown thousands of miles to see him, and cried tears of joy upon seeing me! Björn was born in the proud city of Bergen, Norway and he has NEVER hesitated to explain, in extreme detail, why it is so much better than Oslo (the rivalry is similar to that of Chicago and NYC) to any prepared to listen. Raspeballer are a beloved and humble staple dish in Bergen and throughout Norway, where it is classic comfort food to all generations and a gastronomic reminder of when Norway was a poor country before oil was discovered.
Bergenites have a wicked sense of humor, as noted in the sign that greets you when you leave the airport:
Bergen is also perhaps the rainiest city in the world! On average, Bergen ‘enjoys’ 239 rainy days out of the 365 days of the year. For comparison, let’s look at Seattle, an American city renowned for its own wet weather. Despite that reputation, rainfall was recorded in Seattle around 150-160 days per year. The bad news is there’s really no “dry season” in Bergen. It can–and does–rain all year round. That never puts off a Bergenite – they just smile and say it’s part of the city’s charm – and few things dispel a damp chill like raspeballer!
Raspeballer (also known as ball, klubb, kumle, komle, kompe) are a traditional Norwegian potato dumpling, traditionally served as a complete meal with mashed rutabaga, lingonberries and meats, lavishly garnished with butter and bacon cracklings. Heavy food, yes – but in Norway’s cold climate, an absolute necessity for caloric burning to maintain body temperature in what can be Arctic-levels of frigid along with the hard work many Norwegians undertake in farming and fishing.
The main ingredient in the raspeballer dumplings are peeled potatoes, which are grated or ground up and mixed with flour, usually Barley or wheat, to make the balls stick together. Depending on the proportion of potato pulp and different types of flour, the product will have a different taste and texture.
The dish is more common in the southern region (Sørlandet) where “kompe” is the most common name, the western region (Vestlandet) where the term is “raspeball” (Björn is from here), or “komle” and “potetball”. In the middle region (Trøndelag), it is nearly always called “klubb”. In Vestlandet, this dish is traditionally consumed on Thursdays, when it often makes an appearance as the “dish of the day” at cafes and restaurants specializing in local cuisine, commonly known as “Komle-torsdag”.
There are a great variety of regional variations to the dish and the condiments vary locally. They may include salted and boiled pork or lamb meat, bacon, sausages, melted butter, boiled carrots, mashed or cooked rutabaga, sour cream, kefir or soured milk, cured meat, brown cheese sauce and even boiled potatoes. A variety of raspeballer is the fiskeball (also called blandaball/blandetball), where minced fish, fresh or salted, is added to the potato dough.
As noted on visitbergen.com:
Raspeballer has a long tradition in Norwegian and Bergen home cooking. Today, it is often eaten on Thursdays. Gaute Birkeli, general manager of the Bergen family restaurant Bryggeloftet & Stuene, explains why:
– They say it probably began because Thursday was the big shopping day. Stores were then often open later, until 6 or 7 o’clock, while they usually closed at 4. To attract hungry shoppers into the restaurants, they lured them in with cheap, tasty and satisfying food. And that’s exactly what raspeballer are.
Birkeli’s restaurant at Bryggen i Bergen has kept up the tradition:
– We have a long history of raspeballer on the menu, and of course serve it on Thursdays. It is simply and a wonderfully good everyday dish.
Waiter, do you have raspeballer with “dott”?
Birkeli describes both the ingredients and toppings as quite heavy. If you are going to serve a Raspebolle dish that suits your taste, he recommends serving it with salted beef, vossa sausage and kohlrabi mash. He also has no doubt about what the secret to a good raspeballe:
– Everything is about the ingredients. You must have the right potatoes to get the perfect consistency, and they must be cooked in proper broth. We use a local slaughterhouse in Bergen for both salted meat and vossa sausages. There is something about the balance between the potato, the saltiness and the sweet mash that makes this so delicious.
And the “dott” that many people talk about? Birkeli explains that there is a litte bacon inside the raspeballer.
– In Bergen there is no tradition for having bacon inside, but some of the charm about this dish is that everyone has their own way of eating it. Especially our slightly older guests insist on everything from adding brown cheese and syrup to their raspeballer, and many people drink sour milk with it. And of course we accommodate!
You should plan to be in Bergen on a Thursday if you want to secure a meal with Raspeballer. Then the most traditional restaurants, such as Bryggeloftet & Stuene or Pingvinen will have this Norwegian classic on the menu, but you can also find it in most grocery stores that have hot food counters on this day.
The website sciencenorway.no has more fascinating details on the history of potatoes in Norway:
The potato originated in the Andes in Latin America. They had been growing potatoes for 10,000 years when the first Europeans arrived. These early explorers brought the potato to Europe.
First to Portugal, from where it spread. This was in 1567.
“But it took a while before the potato arrived in Norway, around 1750,” says Kirsti Lothe Jacobsen. She is the Senior Academic Librarian at the Law Library of the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway. In 2008, when the United Nations declared the International Year of the Potato, she curated an exhibition about the potato’s history in Norway.
The potato priests
Mainly priests and the military, who travelled around Europe and picked up that the potato was both delicious and nutritious, brought the potato to Norway. “The priests grew potatoes in their parsonage, which was the norm in Western Norway in the early days of the potato in Norway. This is how the expression potato priests arose, because they spread the message of the potato from the pulpit,” Lothe Jacobsen says.
This was often their most important message, as there was plenty of scurvy and vitamin C deficiency in Norway at the time. Potato is a great cure for this. In addition, the potato is easily cultivated in Norwegian climate and soil. “The potato priests knew how important the potato was for the survival of their congregation,” says Lothe Jacobsen. However, most people at the time did not see it this way.
In the beginning, there was fierce resistance against the potato. Rumour had it that potato eaters were at risk of leprosy. “The priests gradually convinced people about the merits of the potato,” Lothe Jacobsen says. But it was only during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century that the potato got fully integrated in the Norwegian diet. The British navy blocked the seas around Norway, which led to reduced grain imports from Denmark – and a subsequent famine. The people learned that they could grow potatoes instead.
“The Norwegians love affair with the potato was born,” says Lothe Jacobsen. Not the least when it turned out potato was excellent for producing alcohol. In 1816, the Norwegian parliament, The Storting, passed a law prohibiting the production of liquors – except for grain-based variants. This lead to a flourishing of potato cultivation. Then, during World War II, the potato once again saved many people, “During the war, most people used their gardens for potato cultivation. Those who didn’t have a garden cultivated potatoes indoors, using pots and pans,” Lothe Jacobsen says.
A huge growth in Norway’s population created a need to increase the food production in the country and by 1809, potatoes contributed to 6% of the total food energy. By 1835 it grew to 26% (according to regjeringen.no – the history of the Potato).
During the war with England in 1807-1814, the potato played a particularly important part in the Norwegian cuisine, saving many from dying from hunger, since other food items like corn were scarce due to restricted imports. Potatoes also are an adaptable plant and can grow in very cold climates, all year long. It is thus no surprise whatsoever that potatoes today are amongst the most enjoyed crops in Norway – and I can personally attest that the cold climate there makes for EXCEPTIONAL potatoes (the best I’ve ever eaten, in fact!).
While raspeballer does specifically refer to the potato/wheat flour/barley flour dumplings, it also refers to the complete dish itself in Norway – and I am going to share with you how to make it PROPERLY, the Bergen way! 😀
I like my raspeballer rich with meats – and that includes smoked sausage (I prefer an artisinal kielbasa as the best choice to use in the U.S.) and a smoked ham hock. Mutton is traditional as a key ingrdient in Norwegian raspeballer, but it is virtually impossible to find in America. As such, I recommend several slices of lamb foreshank or shoulder as the best choice to use here. Barley flour is a must for making the dumplings, you can buy an excellent brand here. Lyle’s Golden Syrup is enjoyed by Norwegians as an optional garnish.
Lingonberries are a MUST in raspeballer dishes – I very much enjoy the frozen brand foraged in Scandinavia from here, or you can far more inexpensively just use the excellent lingonberry preserves from here. Barley flour is also needed in this dish to make the raspeballer according to the old ways (the ONLY ways, IMHO!) – this is an excellent and inexpensive brand. I use a far more complex-flavored broth for poaching than is standard for the recipe – but I *AM* TFD, after all. My version is better. 🙂
It is always My great pleasure to share unusual recipes from around the world to TFD Nation – and nothing brings Me greater pleasure than to share a recipe with great personal meaning to Myself or a close personal friend. Björn – this one is for you, My brother from another mother! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?