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What did people eat in Sweden in the past?

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Share on FacebookShare on WhatsAppShare on TelegramShare on TwitterRight into the last century, people in Sweden ate what nature could provide. The Nordic peoples were farmers, people of nature, who lived off the land and the forest. Often the food was not enough and they had to go to the forest to [...]

Right into the last century, people in Sweden ate what nature could provide. The Nordic peoples were farmers, people of nature, who lived off the land and the forest. Often the food was not enough and they had to go to the forest to get what the fields could not provide.

Famine occurred at short intervals, especially in the northern regions, most recently in 1867-1869 during the so-called Norrland famine. "There is a page in the history of Swedish popular culture that is one of the darkest and bleakest, and that is the history of emergency bread," says Tobias Norlind. That sums up the challenges of putting food on the table for the Swedish people.

But there were years when the harvest satisfied Sweden's peasants and servants. Here is an example of the annual consumption of a Småland peasant family, taken from the book "De fattigas Sverige" (The Poor's Sweden) that Vilhelm Moberg had in his working library.

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The family in the example was relatively well off compared to the poorest, many of whom lived on the breadline well into the 20th century.

Of course, the diet also varied from place to place in the empire, depending on the conditions of cultivation. Up in colder Norrland, for example, more barley and less rye was grown.

In The Struggles for Freedom of the Swedish Ommogens volume 2 one can read about the conditions of the servants, and there it appears "that one did not starve the people, when the vintage left sufficient yield", here with an example from Uppland:

"Thus, from Upland in 1620, before the age of potatoes, the following menu has been preserved from the table of the common people:"

Sunday: Dinner: cabbage with grits or peas in it, pork, meat and steak - it should be noted that generally no more than two meals a day were taken - and evening meal: meat soup, fresh meat, fowls or birds.

Monday: Dinner: beer soup or egg soup, herring, pike.
Evening meal: porridge, boiled herring, cod.

Tuesday: Dinner, cabbage or peas, meat and pork, steak or saltwater meat.
Evening meal: meat soup', mashed potatoes with milk or other fruit; fresh meat.

Wednesday: Dinner: boiled or sweet milk, herring, dry or fresh fish.
Evening meal: porridge with salmon or pike or rice cooked with a jug of milk; boiled herring; cramp herring.

Thursday: Dinner as on Sunday. Evening meal: fresh meat soup with bread, sausages or jam, fresh meat.

Friday: Dinner: warm beer and bread, cramps herring, soaked pike or stockfish.
Evening meal: spiked herring, peas with vinegar and cod.

Saturday: Dinner: porridge, salmon or fresh fish, eggs, jam or sausages.
Evening meal: porridge, salt fish, cod or pike, turnips or other fruit of its value

More from Alfred Kämpes The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens about food in Ångermanland, Dalarna, Västmanland, Halland and Skåne:

"About the food conditions up to the 18th century, Linnaeus from Ångermanland 1732 states the following, which may be of interest to take note of:"

"Three meals are eaten in addition to breakfast in the summer. Then always in the days for dinner is eaten sour herring, so that the sour herring (often topped) is put between thin bread and bites sä a piece; then eaten sour milk without cream, then under it a slice of cheese or a sandwich. But meat is not taken after. To the food cal, peas, turnips, cabbage mostly Sunday, peas a bunch in the week: when the cabbage presses, 2 times peas, turnips mostly every morning with salt herring, at the end of the cooking the herring is put there, that he should not be cooked apart, a little flour on and sour milk supes. In the evening always barley porridge. In the morning, when going out, butter and bread or cheese and bread, which is rather. Of mixed bread they get 1/4 cake in the meal, the good bread they never taste, for it is too early or big feast, otherwise the stove bread, which is always eaten 4 or 6-fold, thin as paper. Always beer in the cellar (except ale drunk), when strangers come. In the summer always acid is drunk."

"The same celebre author leaves 1734 also from Dalarna the following food data:"

"Their stove is ordinary, except pea bread, bread with mash and barley flour, mixed barley bread, all thinly baked, which they put into the oven, through which they wrap the cake around a rod and then crank her out in the oven. Otherwise they also use thick bread, when they are away. Their food is otherwise ordinary, except that every evening they eat porridge, partly boiled whole hard of pea flour, partly of barley flour; if anything else, it is eaten for breakfast, whereupon they may eat 3 or 4 times a day. They also eat butter, buttermilk and cream cheese mixed together in a mass."

"From Västmanland Bergenskiöld 1784 gives the following information:"

"In the individual household is frugal, each day of the week has its certain food order, and I will here introduce one, which has been communicated to me by Lekman, and which will be established after the diet in Dalkarlsberg's mining law:

Sunday: morning: soup with cabbage roots and meat for soup. Dinner the same. Evening meal: cabbage and meat.

Monday: morning: cabbage and meat. Dinner: soup and cabbage. Evening meal: porridge and milk and herring.

Tuesday: all meals peas and meat.

Wednesday: morning: peas and meat. Dinner: milk and butter. Evening meal: porridge and herring.

Thursday: morning, noon and evening: root soup and meat.

Friday: cornmeal puff pastry with butter and herring all meals.

Saturday: morning: porridge, butter and herring. Dinner: milk, butter and herring. Evening meal: porridge and herring"

"Halland's food order 1796 is outlined by the provost Per Osbeck as follows:"

"The people here eat 5 times a day, breakfast, dinner, supper and supper. Breakfast is a drink of brandy if available. Daver consists of herring and drink with milk mixed in. Dinner: cabbage, peas, soup along with meat and pork or what can be accomplished; evening spirits. Evening meal mostly porridge, one evening boiled, the other roasted."

"In Skåne in 1797, according to Svanander, the following food conditions existed, at least in some places:"

"The farmer bakes his pumpernickel from rye flour and barley flour, half of each kind. However, the wealthiest people on the plain eat rye bread all together. Pork has been much used in earlier times, even for breakfast, when the forests were larger and the herring supply smaller. Now a poor farmer gives what he can, but the wealthier:

  1. A drink and bread, cheese and bread or a sandwich for your morning snack.

  2. For breakfast davre, herring, drink and bread.

  3. For dinner cooked food of cabbage, peas, soup, porridge with broth, pork, meat, fish, etc.

  4. For dinner goose liver, pussy food, sandwiches, pancakes, eggs, etc. with a drink.

  5. For the evening porridge and milk or drink and bread.

  6. During mowing, mowing and turf-cutting, small dinners are sometimes served.

These meals are nevertheless more carefully observed in the smooth part of the hamlet (Bara), than in the hilly and wooded one."

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One thought on “Vad åt man i Sverige förr i tiden?

  1. Markus says:

    Incredibly interesting to hear what ordinary people ate so long ago! Thank you for all you do with this project. I was wondering if you know of any other source of older food recipes that one can access? Perhaps some cookbook or site on the internet that might be of interest. Doesn't have to be 400 year old recipes of course, anything non-modern and Swedish is appreciated and an extra plus for Småland food.

    With kind regards

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