Norwegian summer

by | Sep 11, 2022 | What's Happening

After having continued our shooting season through the month of June, Aidan and I headed to Scandinavia for most of July and August. Having travelled up through Sweden we arrived at my parents place in North Norway in the middle of July, where we also could catch up with my sister Heidi and brother Knut who respectively had arrived from the south and the far north of the country. I started off our month long visit by testing Covid positive, of all places in my childhood home where I don’t get to visit too often. I was however soon on my feet again to get out into nature with Aidan and Knut. Fishing has always been the big mutual interest Knut and I have had (he doesn’t hunt).      A large part of our time back inside the Arctic circle was always going to be on various fishing trips. On some of these we were also joined by either our uncle Jack or his son Øyvind, our cousin. The photo above and the four photos below are from a fairly remote mountain area where my family have been hunting & fishing for many generations. Aidan, Knut and I spent a few enjoyable days there, having timed the trip well with the weather forecasts. Staying in these familiar areas, living on brown trout and picking berries while remembering past times spent there is always a highlight for me. The pictures are from three different lakes in those mountains. Knut can be seen landing a trout on our last morning when the sun is still behind the mountain behind him. Aidan can be seen having a drink of water from a river flowing into one of the lakes, where we set up camp and had a good feed.

Just like where we live in New Zealand, this area of Norway is still better known for the ocean fishing. But while the NZ fishing has very much had a recreational, sport fishing angle, the coastal waters of North Norway have been known to feed not only its locals but the world population. In particular the cod export as stockfish has been what Norway was dependent on, not least before the country became an oil nation in the 1970s. Our nearest proper town Harstad (pop. 24 000) is now the centre for the oil industry in North Norway. It grew into a town nearly 120 years ago thanks to the herring fishing but prior to this has important medieval and Viking history. Jack and Øyvind live in Harstad and Øyvind made sure to get us out in his boat on a couple of occasions. Øyvind has become a bit of a halibut specialist but unfortunately Aidan still has to wait a bit longer to land his first of this species. It was instead all about catching lots of the North Norwegian summer fish, saithe (Pollachius virens, also called coalfish/coley or pollock in the USA), very often confused with the similar looking pollack (Pollachius pollachius also called lythe which doesn’t school like the saithe). The saithe we catch on the North Norwegian coast in summer is served as a summer feast, steamed in pieces and often with the liver. If there are lots of leftovers they’re often served cold the next day, with finely sliced cucumber, sour cream and hot potatoes. That’s the closest one gets to a traditional North Norwegian salad.

The bigger saithe we catch are fileted and kept for frying. On a trip out with Øyvind he had new braid put on one of his reels but the spooling machine had not put it on very tight. I asked him to stop somewhere deep so that I could let out most of the line to wind it back on tighter. I dropped it down to 230 metres and soon after I started reeling it in hooked up to a large fish. It turned out to be a large saithe (Øyvind pictured with it below). These have usually become solitary specimens, no longer in schools. 

Another summer fish that has entered northern waters in more recent years is the Atlantic mackerel. It’s always been very popular in the southern part of the country, while many North Norwegians still think of it as bait or only eat it canned in tomato sauce. It is of course a versatile food fish. Squid was also previously just known as bait but my countrymen still happily order their crispy lemon pepper calamari when on holiday in the Mediterranean. We now often catch mackerel in good numbers as they’re schooling and interacting with the saithe schools. My family is split about their value as food but both my parents and I rate them. 

In one of the photos below Harstad can be seen in the distance, where we had become popular with the seagull population after gutting a lot of fish. Øyvind is pictured with a wolf fish that he speared. We first introduced him to spearfishing when he visited NZ a few years ago.

While the summer fishing season was heading towards the end and some people started looking forward to the herring arriving in fiords during the autumn months, for many the upcoming hunting season would be a highlight. The season started in Norway yesterday. For Jack that means ptarmigan and maybe the occasional black grouse, while Øyvind also hunts grey geese. Some farmers in the area contact him to come and hunt some for them, to get flocks of birds away from their crop. A bit like the culling of Paradise ducks here in NZ.

The hunting-fishing-gathering that we do is obviously all about harvesting from the delicacies nature has on offer.  Without piling up a lot of food photos the three pics below represent some of our highly appreciated foods in Norway. The first are what we call cod tongues but is in fact more correctly cod necks. They are most commonly fried like shown below but last time we were in Norway I made them the way they’re done in the Basque area of northern Spain, slow cooked in garlic & chilli (see my post Norway, Qatar & NZ). The middle photo is of the classic dish lutefisk, made from stockfish (dried cod) that has been reconstituted. Traditionally served with potatoes, mashed peas, bacon and beer & aquavit. Akevitt (or aquavit) is a distilled spirit that has been made in Scandinavia for nearly 600 years. It is flavoured with various herbs, most commonly caraway, dill and fennel. It can be quite a surprising taste sensation for many non-Scandinavians. I have over the years introduced a few people here in NZ to it, as I’ve often had a bottle in my liquor cabinet. My brother Knut introduced my family to quite a mild and very drinkable brand called Fru Lysholm, which ever since has been our go-to aquavit back home. At the moment I have a Gilde Christmas aquavit and one called Akevitt Spesial here in NZ; the latter is the favourite of my mate Geir who also lives in Harstad. The third photo is of our Arctic gold: cloudberries. It was a very good cloudberry year in North Norway and luckily they were ripe to pick while we were still there. They’re made into jam or in creamy desserts, yoghurt, cakes and waffles. Some also make them into liqueur, like the Finnish.

As mentioned, like Jack & Øyvind my mate Geir also lives in Harstad (but originally comes from Tromsø). We have known each other for nearly 30 years, since my pointer days in Denmark. Interestingly our friendship was initiated by the well-known author & professor Johan B. Steen, who at the time was the chairman of the Norwegian Pointer Club. No trip back to Norway is complete without seeing Geir too.
Geir is talented in the kitchen and has always dished up some excellent food. This time around it was monkfish, which just about completed an entire range of Norwegian seafood on this trip. At the moment Geir has three pointers; Barentsvidda’s D Wind Cries Mary (Titan – Barentsvidda’s Mafia) and her two children Barentsvidda’s E Little Wing (by Barentsvidda’s C Nansen) and Barentsvidda’s F Hey Joe (by Led Zep de l’Azur et Or). As seen below Aidan was impressed by the three year old Hey Joe’s temperament and physique. 

Soon after we left Norway and went back to Sweden and then for a quick trip over to London to watch Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, Geir won a championship trial at Altevann with Little Wing. When we arrived back in New Zealand we had a day at home, then went up north with Bentley to hunt the forest on the Saturday of the last weekend of hunting season. Even after this break we were very happy with him in the field and we also found some coveys of quail. Last weekend in Norway Geir started both Little Wing and Wind Cries Mary in the Norwegian Championship but unfortunately no luck there this time. 

To finish the story of our trip back to Scandinavia, I’ll wind back to the fishing again and to two lakes closest to where we grew up. One holds brown trout, the other holds Arctic char. We fished both of them on various occasions. Below Aidan is seen with a trout while Knut holds a char. I’m seen making coffee in the rain, between fishing. The weather in those northern parts can change quickly and often. We had some great weather but lots of very average weather with rain and wind. There is a Norwegian saying that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes – a saying that Knut definitely lives by. While one needs to have utmost respect for the conditions both at sea and in the mountains, the weather shouldn’t stop us from being active. Our generation certainly has better gear to tackle the conditions than our ancestors had. Both Aidan and I very much look forward to our next time and won’t let it go as long until we’re back. Next time also with Finn and Hayley returning to Europe.
Next on the programme here is to have Aidan’s boat & motor serviced and then blow the cobwebs off our dive gear, to get back in the water while it’s still Spring in New Zealand. On Øyvind’s recommendation Aidan bought an underwater camera from the fishing shop Gapahuken in Harstad. Øyvind has got some great footage of halibut and wolf fish, so we’ll see what we can get here in NZ.

The Olsen Brothers, Frank-T. & Knut N. in our family mountain area.