Iceland’s known as the Land of Ice and Fire. This is a pale description of her hot gasses and smokey, geothermal vapors which ooze out of the ground against a background of stark, icy glaciers.
Iceland sits above the source of nearly one-third of the earth’s total lava flow. Over two-hundred and fifty thousand people live here, just south of the Arctic Circle near the capital city, Reykjavic. Descended from Norse, Danish, Scottish and Irish warriers and farmers, most making their living from the sea, an abundant sea.
Though life in a cold climate is a very careful study in survival alertness, geography has bestowed a few merciful compensations upon Iceland. First, the island’s volcanics have been harnessed to powerplants which provide electrical power to homes and support to some greenhouses. Also, Iceland is near the Gulf Stream’s warming effect, so seasonal temperatures are milder than one would guess from a glance at a map. Colorful nighttime lightshows, the Northern Lights or the aurora borealis, present dramatic, bright arcs, folds and contrasts across unpredictable night skies. Long, almost 24-hour, darknesses occur in winter, however, they are balanced with as much light during summer. Soothing, natural hot springs afford relaxation and healing for her people.
Their hot ground also makes it possible to cook food in the ground. Icelandic cookery writer, Nanna Rognvaldardottir, describes Icelanders’ current use of direct thermal cooking. “These days it is usually dark rye bread which is put into tins, or other containers and buried near a spring in the hot earth for up to 24 hours.” Bakeries and some individuals still use this method. Rognvaldardottir’s next cookbook, will be published in English, comes out later in this year.
Food purity is paramount in this culture. Animals are hormone-free and graze on flavorful mountain herbs; fish spring from crystal-clear, unpolluted waters. Use of fertilizer and pesticides is minimal. Within the next few years, meat and vegetables will be produced organically. These people are four-square against genetic modification.
Worldwide, fish from Iceland is regarded as superb with delicious taste. Cod, haddock, halibut, skate, karfi and herring abound within their 200-mile fishing perimeter. In lakes and rivers they catch fresh-water salmon and trout. These gifts from the sea enable Icelandics to ship gourmet exports of smoked salmon, gourmet caviar, cured salmon, peppered salmon and marinated herring world-wide.
Due to the risks of contamination, importing meat is prohibited. Sheep breeding techniques go back to the time of settlement and their flesh imparts a distinctive flavor. Animals in the wild are squirrels, wolves, moose, caribou, polar bears, musk oxen, in addition to domestic mutton and cattle.
Dairy products are very important, and producers cater to every possible taste. Still popular are the Icelandic specialties, “skyr” and “mysa (whey.)” Classed as fresh cheese, skyr is made from skimmed milk and is similar to yogurt, or the German “quark”. Whey is a by-product in the making of skyr and is used in pickling. Mysa has always been a popular thirst-quencher. The Icelandics also make over 80 types of cheese, and again, they feel the success of their cheeses is due to high standards.
Almost all fruits and most vegetables must be imported. One outdoor crop in abundance is Icelandic moss or lichen, an important nutrient for all their animals. It’s also a valued food for humans after it is soaked, dried and powdered. It’s then worked into cereals, potatoes, breads, soups, salads and jellies. It’s also used as a flavoring for a special schnapps.
· Boiled Fish, either haddock or cod fillets poached in salted water, served with lettuce, potatoes and butter
· Caramel Potatoes: Cooked potatoes are heated with butter and browned sugar in skillet until completely coated.
· Fish Balls: Haddock fillets, salt, pepper, flour, potato starch, eggs, onions and milk combined then fried and served with brown or tomato sauce.
· Flatbread of moss, rye flour, stoneground whole wheat flour and salt is served with butter, cheese or thin slices of smoked lamb.
· Leg of Lamb seasoned, roasted and basted, is served with thickened drippings with cream added.
· Mutton Soup, a combination of meat, water, onion, cabbage, carrots, turnips and rice
· Pancakes: Flour, eggs, milk, baking soda and cardamom, sprinkled with sugar after cooking
· Schnapps, made from potatoes and flavored with caraway
· Singed sheep’s head, along with eyesballs, is boiled, then served fresh or pickled.
· Sheep’s stomach stuffed with ram’s testicles is boiled and preserved in whey.