Norway’s Excellent Problem

The fruits of Norwegian baking -- if there's butter


When you think of smugglers, what do you imagine they’re carrying across a border in the trunk of their car, hidden within their body, or stuffed into their trucks or shipping containers? Trafficked people? Drugs? Undeclared cigarettes or alcohol?

If you’re a Norwegian border guard, you might find illicit butter.

Yes, butter.

Norway’s cows gave less milk this year than usual. As a result, in Norwegian supermarkets the butter shelves are bare at the most critical time of the year, when people all over Scandinavia bake like demons to produce hundreds of cookies which they then give to friends, family and neighbors. It’s an annual ritual that dwarfs American cookie exchanges, and it’s centuries old. Which means Norwegians, so rich in oil and fish, worry that this holiday season will be known as the cookie-less Christmas.

But never fear, Butterman is here! That is, some of the world’s best butter, that of Denmark and Sweden, is making its way into Norway. Some of it travels illicitly – hence the smuggling, which means the butter isn’t taxed and more profit can be made; hawkers are asking up to $32 per pound (about six times its normal value) – but a substantial amount of butter, though nowhere near what is wanted in the pre-Christmas season, reaches Norway through other private ventures.

The television show “Good Morning Denmark” has begun asking people to help send butter to their Scandinavian cousins, aiming for 1,000 or more packs for a country craving the real thing. And lest you have stray thoughts along the lines of “let them eat margarine”, be aware that that kind of philistinism sends shivers up the spine of any real descendant of Vikings. Cookies and pastry are made with butter, the stuff that originates from luscious green grass via the medium of happy, contented bovine creatures.

In Bergen, the lovely Norwegian fjord city, men with crates of butter were on the city streets. It wasn’t clear whether they were selling or donating, but Norwegians were snapping up those boxes of butter like . . . well, like it was gold.

This may become the Christmas Without Cookies in Norway, but in the US, the butter shelves are still crowded. Admittedly, much of our butter is generic, not up to Scandinavian (or Irish, or French) high standards, but it’ll get the job done .. as in the recipe below, an unusual one for the Christmas season, but welcome in its difference. While you bake, spare a thought for residents of Oslo and Bergen, who may not get to the cookie sheets at all this month.

As national headaches go, though, that’s an excellent problem to have. If only Somalia were so lucky.


Wienerstube                                  Makes about 40 cookies

These are spicy – depending on how much pepper you use.

1 ½  cups sifted flour

1 ½  teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 ½  sticks butter (6 oz.)

1 ½   teaspoons vanilla

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Sift together flour through cocoa.  In large bowl, cream butter and vanilla and sugar.   Beat in egg.  Mix in dry ingredients. Form dough into 1 ½”-diameter rolls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate two hours, or freeze. Cut into ¼” slices, place 1 inch apart on baking sheet.  Bake in 375º oven for about 10-12 minutes, watching carefully. Cool on rack.

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Filed under Butter shortage, Cooking, Denmark, Norway, Norwegian, Smuggling

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