My grandfather, Don Mathison, was a proud American-Norwegian, and I am grateful to be reminded each year at this time to honor his memory as part of our family's Syttende Mai observance.
Syttende Mai, also known as the National Day of Norway or Constitution Day, is a national holiday celebrated each year by Norwegians around the globe, to commemorate the signing of Norway's Constitution on May 17, 1814.
Unlike other nations' celebrations of independence, which often honor the occasion with military parades and displays of armed strength, the hallmark of Norway's Syttende Mai tradition is the annual Children's Parade. In every community throughout Norway, children from each school come together to march in the parade, with many waving flags and dressed in their traditional bunad, or Norwegian folk costumes.
With ethnic demographics around the world changing due to the arrival of new immigrants and refugees, time-honored, peaceful traditions like the Children's Parade can be a wonderful way to welcome new arrivals and introduce them to the native culture. Syttende Mai celebrates the values on which the Norwegian constitution was formed, freedom, equality and brotherhood, and children from all backgrounds are encouraged to participate in Norway's many Children's Parades.
In today's world, where youth is the currency, it can be easy to lose sight of the old traditions that made a country like Norway great, as many long-held customs die with each passing generation. Food is a terrific way to recognize our cultural heritage, share stories with newcomers, and gain a better understanding of how those who came before us, either our biological or cultural ancestors, lived.
Popular Norwegian specialties like lefse, krumkake, lutefisk, pickled herring and Norwegian meatballs are still favorites in many Norwegian diaspora communities like Fargo-Moorhead. Others have become lesser known, like fruktsuppe, also called sot suppe, a wonderful Norwegian sweet soup that can be warm or cold, either as a breakfast soup or as a topping over ice cream, oatmeal and cakes.
Norwegian fruktsuppe is a classic peasant dish made with dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, cherries, prunes and apples. Dried fruit was used not only because it could be enjoyed year-round, but also because it was more available and considerably less expensive than fresh fruit among the working class. The natural sugars from the fruit infuse the dish with sweetness so that very little, if any, sugar is needed, resulting in a dish that is not only delicious, but also nutritious.
Old-fashioned dishes like fruktsuppe tell a story far beyond their simple ingredients, and are worthy of reintroduction because they highlight a place and time so very different from our own. A time when people had to make do with what they had, with nothing available at their fingertips other than the tools they required to survive ... a time when simple pleasures came from a humble bowl of stewed, dried fruit.
In honor of my Grandpa Don and Norwegians everywhere, we wish you a very happy Syttende Mai.
Serves: about 4 cups
5 cups water
½ cup dried apples, diced
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup dried apricots, halved or quartered
½ cup pitted prunes, halved or quartered
1 ½ tablespoons small pearl tapioca
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup lingonberry or any fruit preserves (optional)
1 star anise (optional)
1 cup fruit juice (orange, apple, cranberry or lingonberry)
in a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil; reduce heat to medium and stir in dried fruits, tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, preserves and star anise. Simmer gently for 25 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup reaches desired consistency.
Stir in fruit juice for added flavor, if desired, and continue to simmer for five more minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and star anise before serving. Serve warm or cold as a breakfast soup, cereal topping, or over ice cream and desserts. Leftovers may be refrigerated for at least a week.
Sarah's Tip: Cash Wise grocers has a large bulk-food selection with all of the dried fruits and spices available.
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com. More recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.