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Table Fare

What do you know about the food on your table? The stories in this food issue suggest questions about the intricate connections between what we eat and our land, waters, agriculture, commerce, culture, and family. Perhaps they'll raise some questions for conversation at your dinner table. After reading "Everyone's Farm Bill," how do you think federal farm and food policy affects you? Will "Forest Delicacies" inspire you to forage for fungi? "Ojibwe Lifeways" tells how some of the region's earliest inhabitants learned to find, harvest, process, and prepare wild foods. These traditional ways live on today. What are your food traditions? What does food mean to you?

In many ways, my heritage trip to Norway this past summer centered on food. My husband, Lou, our daughter, Hannah, and I traveled from table to table, from Oslo to Telemark to Valdres to Bergen. Everywhere—from mountain streams of melting snow to hotel bathroom taps—the water ran clear and cold. Each morning smorgasbord featured salmon called gravlaks and fresh herring, whole-grain breads, and sweet, brown goat cheese called geitost.

At the Telemark farm that my mother's paternal great-great-grandparents sold in order to come to America, Hakon and Astrid Tråer invited us and Ole Rue, our translator, for coffee. Entering the living room, we saw an enormous coffee table surrounded by sofas and easy chairs and spread with a feast of waffles, cloudberry sauce, sour cream, and hazelnut torte frosted with chocolate.

In the Valdres valley at the farm that my father's great-grandparents left for Minnesota, Ola and Randi Veflen welcomed us at their coffee table lavishly laid with homemade cakes, breads, muffins, pancakes, raspberry and blueberry sauces, cheese, and cream. Hannah asked their daughter Jorunn if the cheese came from their cows. Maybe, she said, because the family sells milk to Tine, the dairy cooperative that makes the cheese.

After lunch, Ola and daughter Reidun drove all of us, including grandson Morten, up the mountain to the summer farm. In a few days, the family would move there and bring their 16 cows to graze until September. As farmer Jorunn explained, the cows thrive on fresh high-mountain grasses while lower pastures rest.

At Sørre Hemsing, a goat and sheep farm where we stayed for three days, the animals would also soon be led up a mountain to roam and feast on summer greens. Seated on benches at a trestle table, we ate a supper of goat-and-sheep summer sausage and rømmegrøt, a Norwegian porridge made with sour cream. Owner Berit Nefstad, who is known for her fine cooking, explained that Valdres rømmegrøt differs from all others because the butter is not drawn off. I realized that I had grown up eating the other kind at holidays, from a recipe handed down by Telemark women.

At Sørre Hemsing we dined on lake trout caught nearby by owner Arne Nefstad. Moving on to Bergen on the western coast, we gaped at the harbor-side market of fresh seafood—mounds of pollock, cod, shrimp, mussels, and more. On our last night in Norway, we celebrated my birthday with dinner at a restaurant called Hanne på Høyden. Like the chefs featured in "Wild Cuisine" in this issue, the chefs there take pride in using wild and local ingredients. When Lou asked for lemon to flavor his water, the waiter smiled and shook his head. "We don't grow lemons in Norway," he said. Savoring the subtle flavors of spinach soup, Lou commented to the waiter that he detected citrus. Something from the forest, the waiter suggested, perhaps pine. Birch leaves, wild garlic, and other edibles were procured from mountain forests surrounding the city.

I'm tempted to say the pollock at Hanne på Høyden was the best fish I've ever had, but the Valdres valley trout and the cod at the Tuddal Hotel in Telemark were unforgettable. Yet my most cherished memory of eating fish remains in Minnesota at Grandma and Grandpa Kjeldahl's enormous dining room table. On a summer day, more than a dozen family members gathered for a noon meal of sunfish, freshly caught by my uncles and cleaned, fried, and served by my grandmother with a little help from aunts and cousins. We had plenty—enough for everyone.

Kathleen Weflen, editor

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