Fastelavn is the three days before lent. The word derives from low-German and means the evening before lent, it also tells of Norway’s religious history and influences: lent is a Catholic tradition, while Norway is primarily Protestant, much of the tradition has been brought to the country through German influences. Lent starts seven weeks before Easter, which would be now on Wednesday. Today is the last Sunday before lent. Traditionally the days before lent were days where you could feast before the 40 days of fasting, consequently the days before lent are in Norway called ‘fleskesøndag’ (lard Sunday), ‘fleskemandag’ (Monday) and ‘feitetirsdag’ (fat Tuesday).
The Christian traditions were mixed with heathen traditions of fertility. ‘Fastelavnsris’, twigs from a birch-tree decorated with colourful feathers, are sold by a non-governmental organisation for women’s health in all supermarkets the Saturday before fastelavn. Historically the ‘ris’ was used on married, young women who had yet not born children and to fight of winter. Norwegians might have invented friendly spanking…
Today much of this is lost. The meaning of it is not given much thought, but a combination of the earlier traditions lives on. Today is, by the man in the street, called ‘fastelavn’ or ‘bollesøndag’ (sweet-roll Sunday). The modern tradition involves exquisite sweet-rolls, the dough similar to that of the French brioche, served with cream and a sprinkle of icing sugar. And the tradition still stands strong. Last year my parents visited for ‘fastelavn’ and my mother made the rolls. Here is her recipe:
Makes 12-16 rolls:
3,5 dl whole milk
50 grams of fresh yeast
100 grams of butter
1 dl sugar
500 grams of flour
1 t cardamom
Melt the butter and mix with the milk. Make sure it’s not too hot when you add the yeast. Add the egg and mix with the dry ingredients. Knead the dough and leave to rise until it has doubled in size under a plastic cover (the plastic will keep the moist from vaporising). Roll out and leave to rise while the oven heats up to about 200 degrees Celcius. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and delicious. Try and wait until the rolls are cool before you slice them in two and add whipped cream (mix the whipped cream with custard cream if you feel decadent) and serve with a sprinkle of icing sugar. Many also serve with a layer of jam (raspberry or strawberry) and a thin slice of marzipan.