Some time before 1879 the peasants of the remote and mountainous district of Telemarken, Norway, grew tired of using their skies solely for traveling along snow-clogged highways. They set out to transform this dull wintertime routine into a competitive and pleasurable sport by devising wild races and stunts that tested participants’ powers of vaulting. News of these hyperboreal capers reached nearby towns and districts, creating such a stir that soon annual competitions came to be held outside Christiania (present-day Oslo). In his 1905 book, Ski-running, D.M.M. Crichton Somerville describes these meets as “very ludicrious, the hill being neither steep nor long, the competitors riding astride their poles down the track, and only jumping, if jumping it could be called, a few yards.” The decidedly unspectacular nature of these feats spelled the competition’s early demise.
Yet the competition did not die in vain. Norwegians felt themselves bitten by the ski bug. A few years later they once again took to the slopes, this time carrying “long, stout” staffs that imbued these new jumping contests with a comedic element. “Starting from the summit,” Somerville writes, “riding their poles … like witches on broomsticks, checking the speed with frantic efforts, they slid downwards to the dreaded platform or ‛hop.’” At that point they were supposed to leap, but, as Somerville observes, they instead “trickled” to a soft landing. These flaccid performances did little to diminish the competition’s appeal, however. Curious spectators who flocked to Christiania from far and wide were left with the impression that these displays represented veritable wonders of the world.
The trend sparked by this world wonder swept Christiania and environs. Somerville reports that the city’s youth abandoned their favorite haunts – “billiard rooms” and “ill-ventilated cafes” – for the slopes. Even women suffering “terribly from anemia” braved icy forests and their slick, precipitous terrain. Indeed, nary a brumal day passed without the sight of a hillside dotted with leaping and sliding Norwegians, “a race of robust men and healthy women” rescued from the wasting influences of urban life thanks to this salubrious newfangled sport.
Wholesome exertions require wholesome food. Exhausted from a day’s snowy recreation, Norwegians no doubt repaired to their homes for a hearty helping of fish pudding. Should you wish to make this signature Nordic dish part of your après-ski, this recipe, which appears in The Ann Arbor Cookbook
(1899), should leave you feeling stuffed to the gills.
Norwegian Fish Pudding
Scrape raw white fish to a pulp, add salt, pepper and a little grated onion; rub and beat most thoroughly, add milk little by little, mashing (with a potato masher) and finally beating to a froth with a spoon. Add now 1 or 2 eggs well beaten and a little butter, (when completed it should be about as thick as cream). Bake brown in bread tin or steam it thoroughly. Serve it sliced, hot or cold.
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