Tromso, “On Top of the World”
Listen to Interview with Ashley on Off the Beaten Path
Probably my favourite trip which I have taken while pursuing an exciting career as a chef, was to visit the city of Tromso in northern Norway. At the time I was working in England at the Gosforth Park Hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne [well known for its beer, beer drinkers and the famous Newcastle brown ale or as the locals call it “a bottle o’broon"]. As a promotional exercise the hotel started to partner up with other food establishments, offering different styles of cuisine and hosting British food festivals. After a festival with a famous Japanese restaurant from London, they decided to try a Scandinavian theme as the countries were not too far away, just across the North Sea.
The contact was made with the local tourist board, as they tried to make it a business development trip for the Tyneside area and back came the reply that plans for a trip were underway, and I would be among the contingent heading to Norway to learn about their cuisine.
I was briefly familiar with Norway as a country [I had once done a project on the country, years ago, in grade school , and had seen the beautiful scenery of mountains and fjords and general clean looking , fresh-air atmosphere in books], and expected to set off for one of the major cities - Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger etc. Our destination city was Tromso.
"Where? What?" was the question being asked around the hotel. Out came the atlas and looking on the map around the southern part of Norway, close to where we would probably fly into and where most of the major cities are, nothing could be found!! So to the index we went [I guess this probably would have been the smart thing to do in the first place!] and located the city way up in the north and right in the middle of the rugged landscape that Norway is famous for. In fact it is 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Although I was going to work, this news made the trip sound increasingly like the trip of a lifetime; I would be going to a place that most people have never heard of, never mind planned to visit.
Specialty foods for the menu, as it was a British theme, were to include black pudding [blood pudding], cockie leekie soup [a chicken broth with shredded chicken, leeks and prunes], roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast leg of lamb, and sherry trifle, of which some ingredients had to be transported with us as they were just not available so far north!!
After flying from Newcastle to Stavanger, only a one hour flight, and staying over night, we caught the plane to Tromso the next morning. We then found out that this was a 5 hour flight [how far north were we really going??]. The plane was probably a 40 seater at most, and as you can imagine we felt every bump on the runway. We also found out that the reason why the flight was so long is this is really the “local bus service” [greyhound service] for the smaller cities and towns in the north, and is the only fast way to cover the long distances between towns, exacerbated by the rough terrain making roads very sparse.
So there we are, up and down like a rollercoaster over the mountains maybe 5 or 6 times into each city; land, drop off maybe only one person, pick up one more and back into the air, by the time the seatbelt sign went out and you stood up to go to the washroom, the seatbelt sign came back on and it was time to land again.
The views out of the plane of an unspoiled land and unbelievable terrain are something I will remember for the rest of my life. Finally we landed and exited the plane. The air was so fresh and crisp. We were driven to the hotel, unpacked, and were told the itinerary for the evening was a welcome celebration hosted by the British consulate [yes there is one there as this town was the Norwegian Government Headquarters during the war] held in Mack ol brewery [ol is the Norwegian word for beer). After a long flight and being British, that sounded like a good start to the trip! The brewery was classified as the most northerly brewery in the world (although recently there was a small micro brewery set up farther north, called "Sorry Mack Brewery"]
On arriving at the brewery, we found out why the party, hosted by the British consulate was held at the brewery - the consulate offices were in the brewery, and on the wall of the brewery entrance is the consulate emblem. As they say location, location, location.
Aurora_Borealis, or Northern Lights.Work was fun and busy, but I managed to make time to wander around this city of 60,000 + people. It is home to the most northerly university in the world, and because of that has supposedly the best night life in Norway. It is said people come from far and wide, probably on the "flying bus service", to visit this party town. This is also the place many arctic expeditions use as their base camp or starting point and also where the famous Roald Amundsen, who was first to cross the North Pole, died. The city offers beautiful views of the fjords, snow capped surrounding mountains, famous architectural "arctic cathedral" with a unique shape on the mainland across the bridge from the main city on the island, the sight of icebergs floating down stream in the harbour. I was there in October, and at about 2.30 - 3 o’clock, dusk fell and by 4.00 pm it was very dark, but as it is known as the "land of the midnight sun", in the deep of winter it is 24 hours dark and in summer 24 hours light. This area is also known to be one of the best places on earth to see the "Aurora Borealis" or commonly called the Northern Lights.
Midnight sun.On the day of our departure, when the time had come to leave this place of pure and unpolluted land and air, we arose early for our 7.30am flight. Having lived in large cities around Britain and the World, catching planes normally meant arriving at the airport 2 – 3 hours ahead to check in and then wait around. Here we were told that check in is usually about 1 hour, as it is a fairly small airport. We gave ourselves a little longer, in case problems arose, and arrived at the airport around 6.15am. Not a soul in sight.
The cab driver assured us that someone would arrive shortly. At 6.45am there was still silence; just the noise of the wind blowing, and two guys with suitcases, literally sitting at the locked gates. 7.00am, cars were heard in the distance, as 2 more cabs pulled up, and dispensed more customers, bags in hand looking like they were leaving town. 7.10am, 2 more cars arrived, out stepped a lady dressed in uniform and a gentlemen, dressed like a pilot. Now we could relax!! The lady proceeded to unlock the gates and doors but with no sense of urgency, as though tomorrow would do. She also doubled as the ticket clerk and baggage handler. By now we were probably 10 people and ready to board the "flying greyhound bus". Up we went and eight hours later we were back on British soil, after an experience I will never forget. One day I hope to return to see the beautiful sights again.
The recipes from this travel experience combine a recipe I brought with me, the famous cockie leekie soup which has its roots in Scotland, and one a souvenir from my trip, a recipe from Norway using the local cloudberries. Found in northern climes such as New England, Canada and Scandinavia, the cloudberry looks like an amber-colored version of the raspberry to which it's related. The berries are too tart for out-of-hand eating but make excellent jam. Cloudberries are usually wild.
Scandinavian Cloudberry Layer Cake
1 1/3 cups egg (about 5 large), at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, stirred before measuring
1 1/2 cups fresh berries or preserves
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Crack eggs and measure them in a 2-cup measuring cup. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs until frothy. Slowly beat in the sugar and continue beating at high speed for 5 minutes until light and lemon-colored, beat in the vanilla and salt.
With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour thoroughly. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched in the center. Cool cakes on a rack in the pan. Loosen the edges and remove from pans. Split cooled layers to make 4 cake layers in all.
To assemble the cake, split cooled layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers in all. Place bottom layer on cake plate and spread with whipped cream. Top with the second layer. Spread with 3/4 of the fruit or preserves. Top with the 3rd layer and spread with more whipped cream, then top with the 4th layer and spread with the remaining fruit or preserves.
Frost the sides of the cake with about half of the whipped cream. Put the remaining cream into a pastry bag with a star tip (if desired), and press onto the cake decoratively on the top, and around the edges.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 16 servings.
Cockie Leekie Soup
2 medium onions
1 chicken breast
1 cup apple cider
4 cup chicken stock
¼ cup rice
1 Tbsp prunes
1 tsp. chives, chopped
Remove the dark outer leaves from the leek, cut in half lengthwise, finely slice, wash well and allow to drain. Peel and finely slice the onions.
Heat chicken stock to a simmer, add the chicken breast and poach gently for about 5 minutes. Remove from stock, allow chicken to cool slightly, cut finely (dice). Reserve stock.
Melt margarine in a saucepan, add finely sliced onion and leek and cook over low heat until vegetables have softened. About 5 minutes. Stir regularly. Add cider and chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer 5 minutes.
Add the rice and cook a further 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir regularly.
Stir in the diced chicken and prunes, season well with salt and pepper. Ladle hot soup into bowls, serve immediately sprinkled with chopped chives.
Serves 4 people
Listen to Interview with Ashley on Off the Beaten Path