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Adaptation of dishes crossing frontiers: examples of the American doughnut and the Spanish bacalao

Dishes crossing frontiers: diffusion, adaptation, and innovation
Adaptation de mets traversant les frontières : exemples du doughnut américain et du bacalao espagnol
Henry Notaker


This is a study of how two foreign dishes, bacalao from Spain and doughnuts from the United States, were described in cookbooks as they gradually were introduced to Norwegian cuisine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1880-1940). By studying recipes in cookbooks from this period it is possible to establish a detailed analysis of ingredients and preparation methods and observe how the new dishes retained certain foreign elements while at the same time adaptating to the available ingredients in Norway. The study also evaluates the choice of new names for the imported dishes and discusses the social status of the dishes.

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1The transport of foodstuffs from one geographical and cultural area to another, as a result of an ever-growing international trade system, has been well documented throughout several centuries in historical works and statistical data. The question, in our case Norway, is how these foodstuffs have been prepared as culinary dishes after their cultural environments have changed. Cookbooks that were published during the transition period between the late decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century- are among the sources that can provide information about this. The cookbook is an important medium from which to learn about the introduction of a foreign cuisine into another culture.

2During the last decades, scholars have explored how new dishes have been introduced into a country from abroad and the changes or modifications that have taken place in the food culture of this country (Möhring, 2012; Panayi, 2008). New dishes have often been brought to new countries by migrants, but as Maren Möhring demonstrates in her study Fremdes Essen (2012), new dishes may also be introduced through a process of interaction between migrant or foreigners and nationals. For example, people from several Mediterranean countries arrived in Germany in the period between 1950 and 1990 and established shops and restaurants. Simultaneously, Germans spent their holidays in the Mediterranean countries and were introduced to new food habits there (ibid.: 457). Möhring mentions using cookbooks among her sources but has mainly based her study on official and unofficial documents and other materials. Panikos Panayi, however, in Spicing up Britain (2008), points out that an important part of culinary exchange is due to cookbook authors who have introduced new dishes from a foreign country, such as Elizabeth David, who introduced Mediterranean food in England starting in the 1950s. Panayi emphasizes that although cookbooks “cannot offer a scientific analysis of the food eaten” (ibid.: 100), they can provide an indication of the food that is eaten and he uses cookbooks as reflection of the differences in food habits between the upper and lower classes (Panayi, 2008). While Panayi analyses restaurants as well as cooking in private homes, Inge Mestdag (2003) follows the incorporation of Italian cuisine into home cooking in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. She refers to various forms of information but her main source is a cookbook that is regularly published in new editions between 1927 and 1999. Her aim is to describe how Flemish cuisine slowly went through an ‘Italianization’.

3The study proposed here does not intend to give a general picture of changes in the Norwegian cuisine as a result of foreign influences nor does it follow a specific cookbook representing a specified foreign cuisine. This study is a microanalysis, attempting to convey how the culinary preparation of two particular dishes developed during the period (1880-1940) when these dishes were introduced to Norway from Spain and the USA. Culinary preparation has been described in various forms of literature, often with various intentions and often by authors without a deeper knowledge of cooking (Notaker, 2017). Therefore, recipes in cookbooks that are written by authors with extensive cooking experience, may be more reliable when it comes to details of culinary preparation including the choice and amount of ingredients, cooking times and temperatures, and the use of garnish and decorative elements.

4The two dishes chosen were both introduced in the late decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. They were chosen because, in contrast to other new dishes arriving from abroad, they were not known in the other Scandinavian countries but were introduced directly to Norway from Spain and the United States. Bacalao from Spain introduced new and foreign ingredients to the preparation of a Norwegian dried fish that earlier had been boiled and served with only national ingredients (as potatoes). The doughnut from the United States resembled a well-known Norwegian cake with a similar form (smultring) but was prepared with a new raising agent and given its shape using a new technique. This study focuses on the period starting in the 1880s, when the dishes were introduced, until 1940, when the dishes were well established and World War II changed the circumstances both for food and cookbooks. This study hopes to contribute to the knowledge of culinary diffusion over national borders through a close reading and detailed analysis of recipes for two specific dishes, bacalao and doughnuts.

Method and sources

5Cookbooks are collections of recipes. A recipe is not a text that describes an existing culinary practice but rather suggests or recommends a possible culinary practice. We have no indication in the recipe itself if or how often it has been used. It is also important to mention that not all cookbook authors have been experienced cooks; some have just compiled recipes from other cookbooks. This means that it is not enough to refer to one single recipe or one single cookbook when trying to detect the characteristics of culinary development in a country or a region. However, international scholars have studied such developments by comparing recipes in cookbooks published over a longer period of time and observed important changes in the use of ingredients (for example, the amount of sugar, butter, and spices) and in preparation methods, such as the influence of the industrialization of chicken slaughtering, or the use of a national language to express national taste (Lehmann, 2003; Flandrin, Hyman and Hyman, 1983; Santich, 2010;). In addition to this, a cookbook may offer other insights. A close reading of recipes will reveal that they often contain commentaries about historical facts (prices, availability, customs, and prejudices) in a tone that is different in character from the recipe instructions. For example, recipes may be more descriptive than normative, which in many languages is illustrated by the grammatical use of the indicative instead of the imperative. Another significant aspect is the awareness that the authors, translators, and publishers have for the need of ‘adaptation’. This aspect is present in the titles of certain works (published within the last century) that have been adapted to American, English, Swedish, and Spanish conditions (Davidis, 1904; Escoffier, 1927; Courtine, 1955).

6Mestdag (2003: 57) explains that her study is based on an “in-depth content analysis” of several factors: the names of the recipes, the number and proportion of exotic recipes in the totality of recipes, the methods of preparation, the ingredients used in the preparation, the way the cuisine, the recipe, the ingredients, and the method of preparation were presented, the dietary recommendations and the sections in which the recipes were introduced.

  • 1 Only one edition of each book is considered in the study, often the first edition. Other editions w (...)

7This study has a different scope but the methods used are similar. The study a registry was made of cookbooks containing relevant dishes and published within the chosen time period. The selection of cookbooks was limited to general works including cookery manuals used by schools with chapters focused on common Norwegian foodstuffs (fish, meat, vegetables, desserts, cakes, etc.). According to a bibliography published by the Norwegian national library (Notaker, 2001), there are approximately 70 general cookbooks from between 1880 and 1940.1 58 of these cookbooks have been retrieved and used in this study, accounting for more than 80% of the cookbooks published during this time, which can be considered a representative sample.

8Möhring (2012), when discussing her sources, mentions the possibility that recipes in women’s magazines may be closer to actual culinary practice than recipes in books. But there is not necessarily a sharp division between recipes in books and periodicals. At least six of the works in this study are collections of recipes first printed in newspapers or journals. The reverse is also true, recipes in periodicals are sometimes copied from printed books.

9Using the registry of cookbooks as described above, this study then observes and describes the first time recipes for the new dishes are mentioned. This is followed by an analysis of the gradual development of similar recipes during this period, in order to see how the dishes are transformed in the process: which elements are kept? What is eliminated? What is added? What is substituted? Is there a variation in the choice and use of ingredients? Are the preparation methods modified? How are new names for recipes introduced? And are there references within the recipes suggesting social status or national identity?

10To get the best possible understanding of the recipes and the cookbooks, an effort has been made to explore the background of the authors and the circumstances of the publication of the relevant cookbooks.

Dish one: bacalao, a Norwegian food and a Spanish recipe

  • 2 The name has often been interpreted as cliff fish, because the word “klippe” does not only mean cut (...)

11The first dish presented in this study is bacalao. It is based on a typical Norwegian raw material, cod, but its culinary adaptation has a Spanish origin. Norway has two varieties of dried cod, both of which are historically successful export products. The oldest one is the air-dried tørrfisk/stokfish, which was common in large regions of Europe starting in the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. This particular preparation of cod was beaten (with a hammer) and soaked in water. In Northern Europe, it was further softened and whitened by the addition of a lye or soda, a tradition still popular in Sweden and Norway, resulting in lutefisk. Another variety, klippfisk,2 undergoes a more modern method of drying in combination with salting. On the north-western coast of Norway, dried and salted cod has been produced since the early eighteenth century. Originally, klippfisk (a Norwegian name meaning split fish) was dried on cliffs after being sprinkled with salt. Today the production takes place in elaborately designed and controlled drying houses.

12According to cookbooks before 1880 and the cookbooks included in this study, in nineteenth century Norway, klippfisk was boiled and served with potatoes with melted butter mixed with chopped hard-boiled eggs or with a mustard sauce. However, in the later part of the nineteenth century, new recipes containing tomatoes, oil, and peppers emerged along the Northwestern coast of Norway, specifically in the towns of Kristiansund and Ålesund (see map above). Both towns were centres for klippfisk production. This product was an important export to European ports, particularly to Spain, where the fish was transported by Norwegian ships and ships from other nations. Between 1830 and 1870, when 70-95% of exported Norwegian klippfisk entered the Spanish market, the Spanish authorities decided to put higher customs tariffs on foreign ships in an effort to strengthen their own merchant fleet. Consequently, many Spanish ships arrived in Norwegian ports to transport the product back to Spain (Vollan, 1956: 215-250; Løseth, 2014: 363-366).

13During this “Spanish period” (spansketida), Spanish sailors spent weeks in Norway, often in the two small klippfisk-producing towns where more than half of this exported Norwegian product was produced. It has been suggested that the Spanish visitors played an important role in influencing the culinary preparation of klippfisk, though it is likely that some influence came from the Norwegian merchants who visited Spain. The cookbook author Olaug Løken (1897), who presents her recipe with the name “Klippfisk på spansk” (Klippfisk the Spanish way), writes that the recipe was brought home from Spain by a sea captain (ibid.: 154). The new preparation was associated with the Spanish name bacalao and during the next hundred years it became a popular dish in Norway. Its popularity is reflected by the number of times the dish appears in the cookbooks: among the 39 works studied from the period 1880-1910 there are four with bacalao recipes and among the 29 works from the period 1911-1940 there are 18 cookbooks with bacalao recipes. In 1907, a new and important Norwegian encyclopaedia had this entry: Bacalao en salsa, Spanish dish, klippfisk, potatoes and oil with onion and tomatoes” (Nyhuus, 1907: 626).

14The oldest recipe I have found for bacalao in Norway, is in a cookbook printed in 1889 in Trondheim, which was an important export town for klippfisk until the mid-nineteenth century and had been the administrative center for Kristiansund, the leading export town since 1850. The author, a member of a prominent business family in Trondheim, recommended layering the fish, sliced potatoes, onion, tomato purée with “the finest oil”(Thams 1889: 41). The next Norwegian recipe is from a cookbook published in 1894, written by Haslund, a woman who was born and raised in Ålesund during the “Spanish period”. She called her recipe “Fisk i olje” (Fish in oil) and added, in parenthesis, “Baccalao in salza”. The ingredients are potatoes, onion, tomatoes (fresh or canned) and whole peppers. She recommended garnishing with pimientos, which she described as “pickled Spanish peppers”. This was followed by the following commentary: “The Spanish use garlic, but because this for us Norwegians has an unpleasant smell and taste, it may be substituted by charlotløg, shallots” (Haslund, 1894: 106).

15Spanish bacalao recipes include a wide variety of ingredients: carrots, peas, beans, rice, almonds, artichokes and oranges. Nevertheless, the most common ingredients are garlic, peppers, onions, and tomatoes (Garcia Fontuny and Jofre, 1992). What happened to these common ingredients in bacalao recipes printed in Norwegian cookbooks?

16In Norwegian cookbooks, onions are found in every recipe and oil is used in more than half of the recipes with butter and margarine listed as alternatives. Tomatoes are listed in all but four of the recipes with most of the recipes calling for tomatoes in the form of purée. Tomatoes were still new to Norwegians in the late nineteenth century. Most of the early recipes that include tomatoes as an ingredient in the cookbooks of the 1880s and 1890s (most of them for other dishes than bacalao) seem to have been taken from or influenced by Marie Blom’s cookbook from 1888. Blom’s cookbook is a special case because the author had spent several years with her husband in Constantinople, Turkey, where he was working at the Swedish-Norwegian embassy. It is therefore not surprising that she knew about this fruit. However, a careful reading of her recipes shows that she was aware that tomatoes were not part of the Norwegian cuisine in 1888. Blom found it necessary to tell the reader what the fruit looked like and she compared it to a well known vegetable, “the big flattened red onion” (Blom, 1888: 168, 171). Other authors confirm that tomatoes were rather unknown. In 1890, Sara Frog (1890: 275) writes that tomatoes are seldom used and many people don’t like them the first time they eat them. Another author, Olaug Løken, who lived in the capital Kristiania –now Oslo- did not have recipes with tomatoes in her first edition from 1987. Even as late as 1925, when she published her fifth edition of the cookbook, she remarks that “tomatoes are seldom appreciated the first time they are tasted” and “in our country… the tomatoes are still very expensive” (1925: 40, 183). There is evidence that there were differences in the use of tomato between different social groups. The most prolific cookbook writer in twentieth century Norway, Erken, published two books in 1914. One was an exclusive cookbook, which included 23 recipes with tomato (Erken, 1914a), while the other, was titled Cheap Food and had no reference to tomatoes at all, either as a dish or as an ingredient (Erken, 1914b).

  • 3 Romsdals Amtstidende, March 22, 1912.

17Garlic is a very important ingredient in Spain. In a book by two Spanish specialists, Garcia Fontuny and Jofre (1992), there are recipes for bacalao from all the Spanish regions and more than 90% of them include garlic. In Angel Muro’s famous cookbook El Practicón, published in 34 editions during the period we studied, most of the recipes with roots in Spain include garlic among the ingredients (1903: 430-440). In the Norwegian recipes studied, garlic is completely absent. On the other hand, several recipes refer to “spansk pepper” (Spanish pepper) but this term refers to different forms of capsicum in use in Norway at that time including both hot and mild peppers. Mimi Krag (1929: 271) explains that bacalao needs pimientos, which she explains can be bought in the market in the autumn, under the name “mild pepper” and in other seasons these are sold in cans. Krag is probably referring to the same product as Haslund did above. The mild variety of the pepper the authors are referring to was probably also what another author, Trulsen (1932: 32), describes as “a big, long, red Spanish pepper”, which was sold in the pharmacies at the time. Today, this product is called “paprika” in Norway and it is mentioned in a recipe for “Bacalao a la Vizcaína”, which is translated from Morphy (1935: 179) in an English book: “six big red or green peppers”. However, when the recipe was reproduced in a Norwegian book, a woman in Bergen, Dekke wrote (1938: 56): “If we want to make this dish, we better drop the red and green peppers, they are hard to find here”. Other recipes suggest “sterke” (hot, spicy) peppers. A few recipes recommended using “very little pepper”, likely referring to the hot capsicum. It seems that the majority of the recipes asking for Spanish peppers are referring to the hot variety, an idea confirmed by the fact that cayenne was sometimes listed instead of pepper. There was also an advertisement3 in a newpaper in Kristiansund for klippfisk and all the necessary ingredients for preparation of bacalao, and listed among them are both pimientos and Spanish pepper.

  • 4 The klippfisk itself was also a prestigious and exclusive product; the common people ate the fresh (...)

18Potatoes are used in Spanish bacalao dishes, but not as frequently as in Norwegian dishes. In the books that I examined, all the recipes include potatoes with two notable exceptions. These exceptions are found in two large, exclusive upper class cookbooks (Erken, 1914a; Mejdell, 1926), supporting the claim that bacalao was a dish for those with expendable income, not least because the recipes called for expensive ingredients such as tomatoes and peppers.4 In a cookbook published in 1895 in Bergen, another important klippfisk export town, Undahl (1893) has a chapter with ordinary fish dishes but bacalao is listed in the “Fine cookery” chapter. Another example is Mrs. Messels Book of Confectionery (Messel, 1926), an elegant cookbook with a menu focused on wild game and 57 pages describing how to fold table napkins. The recipe for bacalao is presented as a tempting dish from Syden, the Mediterranean (Messel, 1926: 278-279). Further evidence that bacalao was considered a fine-dining dish is the fact that recipes for “everyday” or “simpler” bacalao are listed in other cookbooks (Michelsen, 1931: 14; Dekke, 1938: 56). Løken (1901: 154) mentions that her recipe has similarities with the Spanish bacalao but her version is much cheaper because she uses “the best margarine” instead of oil.

  • 5 Romsdals Amstidende, 1883, September 20th and October 18th.

19In a cookbook published in 1894, Haslund writes that the dish is particularly popular among gentlemen (herrer in Norwegian), and in a newspaper published in Kristiansund in 1883,5 there are advertisements about bacalao being served in Klubben, the club rooms belonging to Kristiansund Klubselskab (the Kristiansund Club Company), of which only elite males could be members (Thurn-Christensen, 1939).

20One feature of the recipes that is repeated are the instructions that the ingredients should be placed into the pot in layers. This technique is also found, in modified form, in a recipe for the famous Spanish dish “Bacalao a la Vizcaína” (García Fontuny and Jofre, 1992:149-150). The capital of the Basque province Vizcaya is Bilbao, the port that received the majority of Norwegian klippfisk. Some of the recipes printed in Norway during this period also used this name (Thiis, 1932: 66; Morphy, 1935: 179; Dekke, 1938: 56).

Dish two: from doughnut to smultring

  • 6 The name “hjortehorn” is typical for Trondheim and “hjortebakkels” for Bergen.
  • 7 A “hjorthornbakkelse” is documented in Sweden, but has no leavening agent (Keyland, 1989: II.30).

21The second dish presented in this study as an example of adaptation has a sweet taste. It is the “smultring” and originates from the American doughnuts. Since the early nineteenth century, a deep fried cake, in the shape of a ring, existed in Norway. The term most often used for this ring-formed cake was “krands” (garland). The cake was called “hjortetak” (spelled hjortetakk since 1917) or “hjortehorn” or “hjortebakkels”, referring to the horns or antlers of male deer (stag, hart).6 A Danish cookbook has the name “hjortetakbakelse (Petersen, 1824: 320).7 The same names are known in Germany: “Hirsch-Geweihe and “Hirsch-Hörner” appeared in cookbooks during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Egerin, 1745: 305-306; Hommer, 1858: 831). The name may refer to the shape: small tips or points are made in the rings to make them look like deer antlers. The name may also refer to the use of hjortetakksalt (hartshorn, ammonium carbonate), which is one of the ingredients commonly listed in Norwegian recipes though this is not among the ingredients in the German cookbooks. The 1858 Hommer cookbook states explicitly that one should make the form of the cakes so they look like the horn of deer.

22Recipes for this cake are found in 21 of the 27 books studied from the period 1880-1900. During this period, a new recipe for a deep fried cake in the shape of a ring entered Norway from the United States, the doughnut. Some information about the use of raising agents is necessary in order to fully understand the introduction of the doughnut.

23Modern baking powder was developed in the USA around 1850. It contained both bicarbonate of soda (known as a raising agent since the end of the eighteenth century) and an acid, cream of tartar or tartaric acid (Davidson, 1999: 50). The oldest reference I have found to bakepulver (baking powder) in a Norwegian recipe is from a cookbook printed in 1882 in Stavanger (Wenneberg, 1882). It contains a separate chapter called “Amerikanske kager” (American cakes), where there is a recipe for sponge cake. One of the ingredients is baking powder and an asterisk refers to a footnote where baking powder is described as a mixture of 1/3 bicarbonate of soda and 2/3 cream of tartar. According to the author Wenneberg (1882: 54), these products could be purchased at the apothecary’s and mixed at home,.

24Baking powder was already common in Germany and England in the 1880s (Blom, 1888: 213) but it seems more likely that it was introduced into Norway from the United States. In 1897, Løken (1897: 252) lists it as an ingredient in a cake recipe: “half a packet of American baking powder”. This may well have been baking powder from the Royal Baking Powder Company, an important producer of industrial baking powder. This company published a special recipe book in Norway in 1904. The book was not for sale but was to be distributed when the baking powder was purchased (Erken, 1904). During the same period, the author Grethe Haslund, who mentioned baking powder as one of several raising agents in her cookbook from 1894, had informed her readers in a revised edition that baking powder produced in Norwegian factories was just as good as the foreign variety (Haslund, 1894: 130 and 1904: 162).

25If baking powder was imported to Norway from America, this may be explained by the circumstances at this time; in the 1880s and 1890s the Norwegian emigration to the United States peaked (Norges ofisielle statistikk, 1921: 12, 74). But this was not a one way communication. Influence from the United States made its way back to Norway through several mediums: with emigrants returning after a period of time living in the United States, in books and newspapers published in Norway by travellers or writers who had visited the United States, and from the thousands of letters sent from Norwegian emigrants in America to their communities in Norway (Kjærheim and Øverland, 1992-2011).

26It has been difficult to find sources that discuss the exchanges between Norway and the USA but two examples may give an idea of what happened. In the small rural community of Sigdal, a smultring was allegedly introduced in 1892 by two Norwegians who had returned from the USA. This information is found in a statement from a correspondent to the Norwegian Ethnological Research Archives, written in 1949. The correspondent lived during that time and there is every reason to trust his account but whether the name was established so early on is another matter.

  • 8Noget som den gaar i gjære af som kaldes bekinpouder.” Letter Sept. 7 1887 from Amund Pedersen and (...)

27An example of influence transmitted in written form is a letter in the 1880s about a new raising agent used in the baking of cakes. Norwegian emigrants in North Dakota wrote to their relatives back home and explained to them that serving kek (cake) with the afternoon coffee was common practice. This cake was made from butter, eggs, milk, flour, sugar and “something that starts fermentation and is called baking powder”8 (Kjærheim and Øverland 1992-2011: 197).

28Several Norwegian cookbooks in the two last decades of the nineteenth century contained recipes for American cakes (Moe, 1883 188; Nielsen, 1889: 89; Helberg, 1901: 37; Holm, 1902: 189). They differed from Norwegian cakes due of the use of chemical raising agents, often baking powder. When we take a closer look at the introduction of American cakes to Norway, we find a few signs of a gradual transition, particularly in the use of names, weights, and measurements. The American cakes were either called “American” or had names in English: “delicate cake”, “confection cake”. A few had Norwegian names, often direct translations of American names: “Guldkage”, “Sølvkage”, “Marmorkage”, from gold cake, silver cake, marble cake, respectively (Normann, 1890: 342; Frog, 1890: 161). These names had been used in a Scandinavian cookbook published in the USA (Anonymous, 1884: 23, 27).

29Another interesting observation is that many of the recipes for American cakes used measurements common in America. Norway, after a long period of using pints and pounds, switched to the metric system after the Metre Convention in Paris in 1875. Litres and kilogrammes are consequently used in cookbooks in all the recipes for dishes known in Norway before the 1880s, while the new recipes for American cakes use “cups”, an established measurement in the USA from the nineteenth century.

30As already explained, the example chosen in this study, the American doughnut, illustrates how an adaptation of an American cake goes through different stages before it is conceived as Norwegian. The American doughnut (in ring form) ends up as a Norwegian smultring, literally “lard ring,” referring to the fat in which it is fried. The doughnut dates back to the early nineteenth century in the USA, when it was made as a ball. The doughnut, in ring form, became popular in the United States starting in 1850 and a doughnut cutter with a hole is documented in 1870 (Davidson, 1999: 254-255).

  • 9 The orthography of the names of the cakes here is as in the book.

31The first printed recipe in Norway, of what must be considered a doughnut, is found in a cookbook published anonymously in Stavanger in 1883. After a recipe for ordinary hjortetakk, made as garlands, followed a recipe called “Amerikanske Krandse” (American garlands). While the first recipe recommended a teaspoon of “hartshorn salt”, the second recipe recommended a teaspoon of “hartshorn salt” and a teaspoon of crimotater, tartaric acid (Retledningsbog for unge Husmødre, 1883: 103-104). In the same year, Moe (1883: 194) listed recipes for “Amerikanske Frü-Cakes”. In 1888, a cookbook printed various recipes for hjortetak and one of them was called “Amerikansk Hjortetak” but with the term “fry-cakes” in parenthesis (Blom, 1888: 267). Then in 1890, a cookbook presented “Amerikansk Hjortetak” again, this time, in parentheses were the English terms: “raised doughnuts” and frücakes eller daughnuts (Frog, 1890: 178-179).9 The names “frü-cakes” and “fry-cakes” may have been transmitted orally, but there is actually a recipe for a “fried cake” in the Scandinavian cookbook published in the United States in 1884, where the dough is made into garlands by using two glasses of different diameters and subsquently deepfried (Anonymous, 1884: 44).

32We observe that in this early period, the 1880’s and 1890’s, the doughnut ring was always compared to the well-known hjortetakk and presented as a variety of it. Starting in the beginning of the twentieth century, this reference to hjortetakk was generally dropped in the headings. Doughnut recipes were now listed separately from hjortetakk recipes and given other names: “ringer”, “der koges i smult” (rings, boiled in lard) and “kafferinger” (coffee rings) (Wetlesen, 1890: 111; Erken, 1914a: 562). The first appearance of recipes that I have found and that are titled “smultring” date from 1896 (Larsen, 1896: 108). This name then occurs a few times between 1910 and 1920. But the name was not yet generally acknowledged. In the 1920’s we find the name “Berlinsmultringer (Mejdell, 1926: 195). In a couple of cookbooks from the early twentieth century, there are examples of the American name “doughnut” used in slightly modified forms: “donners” and “donasser (Wetlesen, 1902: 101; Erken, 1904). The spelling of these words indicates that the names may have arrived in Norway, not through books, but orally, possibly from emigrants who returned to Norway. Alternatively, the term could have been communicated in letters from Norwegian-Americans who were English-speaking but were not familiar with the orthography of the word “doughnut”. But during the 1920s and 1930s, the word “smultring” became firmly established as a name of the doughnut-inspired concoction.

33The raising agents used in the first Norwegian doughnut recipe were a mixture of “hartshorn” and tartaric acid. Moe used three teaspoons bicarbonate of soda. In the early recipes various raising agents were used until the 1920s when baking powder became more and more common.

34The main ingredients in the smultring recipes were basically the same as in the hjortetakk recipes: egg, sugar, butter, cream, and flour. But there was a tendency to list milk instead of cream and the recipes for smultring called for less butter than in the hjortetakk recipes. Some of the smultring recipes did not give the quantity of flour; instead they emphasized that not too much flour should be used because the dough must be soft, just hard enough to make it possible to shape the rings (Moe, 1883: 194; Blom, 1888: 267; Kogebog for almindelige husholdninger, 1894: 74-75). The soft or spongy consistency was actually the main difference from the firm hjortetakk. Another difference was that the smultrings were bigger and mostly without the “antlers” typical of most hjortetakk.

35There was also a difference in the way the form of the cakes was prepared. Most recipes for hjortetakk recommended rolling the dough into finger-thick “sausages”, subsequently forming them into rings or garlands. The dough for smultring was flattened and the rings were made (as suggested in the 1884 Chicago cookbook) with two glasses of a different size, for example a beer glass and an egg glass (Høst and Milberg, 1916: 59; Golden and Nilssen, 1920: 198; Frich and Wentzel, 1925: 103). Several cookbooks with recipes for both hjortetakk and smultrings, recommended rolling out the dough for hjortetakk, and then using two glasses for smultrings, or one glass and a thimble (Larsen, 1896: 197-108; Erken, 1914a: 558, 562;; Knudsen, 1938: 148; Dekke, 1938: 194). No books mentioned a doughnut cutter, which was the instrument used in the United States.

36It is difficult to point out a clear difference in social status between the two cakes but a few commentaries shed a little light on the issue. In 1937, the artist and amateur cook Ørnulf Salicath published a book with gastronomic information and recipes where he wrote about “the finest hjortetakk – not heavy and soft as the ordinary smultring, but light, dry and firm” (Salicath, 1937: 60). This preference may be explained by differences in the value or price of the ingredients. Grethe Haslund had two recipes for hjortetakk, one that did not call for chemical raising agents but used eight eggs while the other recipe, which was referred to as “inexpensive”, used only three eggs and bicarbonate of soda (Haslund, 1904). As mentioned earlier, the smultrings generally used less butter and often milk instead of cream. Marie Blom (1888), after five recipes for hjortetakk, introduced the American hjortetakk with this remark: “Very cheap and very good” (1888: 267). In 1947, Schmidt-Nielsen a chemist at the University College of Trondheim (NTH) published a book with definitions of Norwegian foodstuffs and dishes. He was born in 1877 and had lived through the introduction of doughnuts and had the following to say about the two cakes: “Hjortehorn, hjortebakkels, hjortetakk, small cakes in the form of rings, fried in lard. Smultring, a cake in ring form fried in lard, of a simpler quality than hjortetakk.” (1947: page 211).

Concluding remarks

37By studying recipes, published over time, of both bacalao and doughnuts, we learned how the two dishes were introduced to Norway. We also observed how the recipes, over time, had both similarities and differences between them, often reflecting the geographical area where they were introduced, how special circumstances influenced the choice of ingredients, and how they ended up with their names.

38The first observation is that one dish, bacalao, was introduced in a specific region of Norway before it spread to the rest of the country. We discussed how the authors of the first two recipes of bacalao had connections to the region from which klippfisk was produced and exported. The next bacalao recipe was written by the cook Elisabeth Undahl (1893: 57) from Bergen. The fourth bacalao recipe was by Olaug Løken (1897), who was born north of Trondheim and lived in this town during the 1880s. In other words, all four authors were from a klippfisk exporting region.

  • 10 Marie Moe, who was from Stavanger, published the book in Bergen in 1883, but it was reprinted in St (...)

39The introduction of the doughnut cannot be linked to a specific region in the same way as bacalao. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the first two cookbooks that contain doughnut recipes were published in Stavanger,10 where the first book with a recipe containing baking powder had been printed. Stavanger was a port on the west coast of Norway where contact with the USA, across the Atlantic Ocean, had been close years before the great emigration waves started. When emigration peaked in Norway, in the Southwestern part of Norway in particular, there were many emigrants who either came back to Stavanger to visit family or remained permanently in the USA. Many Norwegians from this area went back and forth, stayed in the USA for a period of time to earn money and then returned to Norway for a period of time (Mørkhagen, 2009: 461-474).

40It is safe to say that these two dishes were introduced to Norway under special circumstances. It is particularly interesting that these recipes became prevalent in Norway but were not introduced to the neighbouring countries of Sweden and Denmark. The traditional European deep fried (or baked) cakes in ball form had a long history in Denmark (æbleskiver) and in Sweden (munkar), but rings or garlands were only found in oven-baked cakes. Swedish and Danish recipes for klippfisk are few; the fish was generally boiled and served with mustard sauce or melted butter and chopped eggs. When recipes were presented with more elegant preparations of klippfisk, as was done in a few Swedish cookbooks in the late nineteenth century, they were French inspired, as brandade (Björklund, 1885: 57; Hagdahl, 1896: 269).

41The use of ingredients is a question of both availability and traditional practice. The doughnut-inspired recipes are often made with baking powder, while the hjortetakk had hartshorn salt” or just eggs as a raising agent. As explained above, it took some time before baking powder could be readily purchased in shops and some authors may have been hesitant to include this ingredient and so trusted their old method. Consequently, there is a variation in the use of raising agents in the smultring recipes. We find either “hartshorn salt” or bicarbonate of soda, activated by sour milk or other acidic components, or the baking powder, which gradually dominated the market.

42The reason why almost all bacalao recipes use potatoes may be explained by a pattern established in the Norwegian diet during the second part of the nineteenth century: potatoes had become an essential component in all hot meals. As demonstrated above, the introduction of tomatoes to Norway came rather late and consequently the tomato purée was the most common substitute for the fresh ripe tomatoes in Spanish recipes. An interesting phenomenon is that the tomato purée was frequently used in Norwegian bacalao after fresh tomatoes had become easily available everywhere. The percentage of books in the selection recommending tomato purée instead of tomatoes is actually increasing during this period, and peaking in the 1930s. This may have a social or economic explanation since tomato purée is still more accessible and cheaper than the fresh tomatoes. Another reason may be that the purée has obtained a status of tradition, established as something that belongs to this dish.

43Do the evolving names of the dishes tell us something about identification, or in other words, whether the dishes were looked upon as foreign or national? It is obvious that the epithet “American”, used in the first doughnut recipes, must have seemed more foreign than the well-known hjortetakk. The same is true for the droll terms donners and donasser. However, when the smultring term became the established name, the cake was soon considered as national as hjortetakk and other deep fried cakes with foreign origins, such as fattigmann for example.

44The naming of the new klippfisk dish took another road. There are examples of Norwegian names for this recipe, such as “fisk i olje” –fish in oil- (Haslund, 1894: 106), “klippfisk på Norsk”-klippfisk the Norwegian way- (Løken, 1901: 154) and “nedlagt salt fisk” –salted fish-(Golden and Nilssen, 1920: 54), but all of them have bacalao added in parenthesis. Most books just use the term bacalao, and this name remained (with orthographic variations such as baccalao, bacallao, bakalao, bakkalao, baccalav, some of which are also found in Spanish texts). The word bacalao simply means cod, but according to the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary, the term also means “cod meat cured and salted for conservation” (Real Academia Española, 2017). In Norway, the word has been used as a professional term for klippfisk among exporters, but for most Norwegians the word has only been identified with the Spanish-inspired klippfisk dish. Perhaps it is because of the name that bacalao still has foreign connotations, even if the ingredients are now found in any supermarket.

45What happened to these two dishes from 1940 onwards? Important new developments have changed the conditions for the dishes and this is a topic worthy of further research. Interestingly, most Norwegians today seem to consider bacalao as more of a Portuguese dish rather than a Spanish dish. Even though the number of Norwegian tourists to Spain is many times higher than to those who travel to Portugal, it is in Portuguese supermarkets and restaurants that Norwegians have discovered the bacalhau. The reason for this is likely due to the consumption per capita of klippfisk in Portugal today. But the bacalao most people prepare and eat in Norway has little in common with Portuguese dishes, except one: “bacalhau a la Espanhola (bacalao the Spanish way). It is also interesting that over the last several decades, a large portion of the Norwegian population has introduced important changes in the preparation of the dish, for example, the incorporation of garlic and the use of oil instead of butter or margarine. These new tendencies are examples of a new chapter in the influential forces on Norwegian food culture. These changes are based on the development of a stronger relationship with Mediterranean cuisine in Norwegian cooking generally, rather than from migrants and cookbooks.

46The smultring is also undergoing a shift. Today, doughnuts in their original American form are imported to Norway. These doughnuts are different from the homemade Norwegian smultrings, mostly notably because they have sprinkled confectioner sugar on top and the American name has remained. Additionally, they have not entered Norway as a result of migration, nor are they introduced through cookbooks. They belong to a new globalized food culture and are produced and sold within a form of fast food restaurant industry.

47Further research or a study of the contemporary varieties of bacalao and smultrings/doughnuts must be based on a new medium, the Internet. This will make it more difficult to trace the development over time than what has been the case in working with printed cookbooks.

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1 Only one edition of each book is considered in the study, often the first edition. Other editions will be referred to, but they are not included in the statistics.

2 The name has often been interpreted as cliff fish, because the word “klippe” does not only mean cut or split, but also cliff.

3 Romsdals Amtstidende, March 22, 1912.

4 The klippfisk itself was also a prestigious and exclusive product; the common people ate the fresh fish they had access to, minced it and prepared it in the form of balls, sometimes mixed with potatoes.

5 Romsdals Amstidende, 1883, September 20th and October 18th.

6 The name “hjortehorn” is typical for Trondheim and “hjortebakkels” for Bergen.

7 A “hjorthornbakkelse” is documented in Sweden, but has no leavening agent (Keyland, 1989: II.30).

8Noget som den gaar i gjære af som kaldes bekinpouder.” Letter Sept. 7 1887 from Amund Pedersen and Anna Bjorli, Nelson County, North Dakota to Hans Jørgensen and Eli Bjøkne, Lesja, Oppland.

9 The orthography of the names of the cakes here is as in the book.

10 Marie Moe, who was from Stavanger, published the book in Bergen in 1883, but it was reprinted in Stavanger in 1884.

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Electronic reference

Henry Notaker, « Adaptation of dishes crossing frontiers: examples of the American doughnut and the Spanish bacalao », Anthropology of food [Online], S12 | 2018, Online since 14 January 2019, connection on 18 February 2019. URL :

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About the author

Henry Notaker

Literary historian and journalist;

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Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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