06 November 2009

Review of Icelandic Food and Cookery

Book 15 in my first 52 books challenge.
Originally published in 3 parts in May 2004.


Entry 1:

Author: Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
Year published: 2002
Where got: public library
Genre: Food, recipes, social history

Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir is at the moment Iceland's most famous cookery book author who is not a chef. Her previous two cookery tomes, Matarást (Love of Food) and Matreiðslubók Nönnu (Nanna's Cookbook) are veritable food bibles. The first is an encyclopedia of food, ingredients, cookery methods, kitchen science, cookery terms, food history etc. etc., and the second is a collection of over 3000 recipes from all over the world. Both are unfortunately only available in Icelandic.

Icelandic Food and Cookery is Nanna's first cookery book written in English (to my knowledge). It focuses on food that may be called Icelandic, both traditional and modern. This book is of special interest to me because what Nanna is doing with this book is exactly what I have been doing with my cooking website, namely to introduce Icelandic cuisine to an international audience.
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Here is one of the downsides to library books: you never know what condition they're going to be in. Every time I open this particular copy, the stink of stale cigarette smoke wafts up to meet me. Not the nicest thing when you're thinking about food.
Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrr gggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!


Entry 2:

This is more than just a regular cookbook. The first section offers a short history of food and eating habits in Iceland, an introduction to Icelandic festive food and a listing of many of the festive occasions available to Icelanders and the traditional foods that go with them. A second section lists some of the ingredients in the recipes and in the case of ingredients largely unknown to Americans*, like skyr and hartshorn, there are suggestions as to where they can be got from and also what substitutes can be used.

The recipe section is divided into the usual categories. With each recipe there is a short text where the author explains why the recipe was chosen for the book and in the case of traditional recipes she often recounts some memories she has about the dish.


*The book is written for the American market and uses American measurements.


Entry 3:

This is by far the best and most representative Icelandic cookbook for foreigners I have seen. The recipes are a mixture of traditional and modern recipes, and the author never forgets that it is supposed to represent Icelandic home cooking. Too many Icelandic cookbooks for foreigners are full of fiddly "nouvelle" recipes that can only be called Icelandic - and not French, Italian or international - because they were invented by Icelandic chefs and use some supposedly unique Icelandic ingredient like rhubarb or fresh fish.

The recipes in this book are for the most part easy, although users in the USA may in some cases find it difficult to hunt down some of the more obscure ingredients. Hartshorn (ammonium carbonate) will certainly be hard to find, and even mundane (to Icelanders) ingredients like fresh haddock or a leg of lamb can be difficult to find. (I once searched supermarkets in eastern North Dakota from the Canadian border and all the way down to Fargo for both these ingredients and found neither. People who live in cities like New York will not have any trouble finding this stuff.)

The book was specifically written for the American market, and so the measures are American. The book is widely available from Internet bookstores, such as Powell's, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and I have no doubt that many of the bigger bookstores in the USA will carry it.
(I didn't recheck to see if it's still in print, but I did buy a copy at the August the Deuce celebration in Mountain, ND, last year).

Some recipes include:
Icelandic halibut soup, langoustines (scampi) with garlic butter, cocktail sauce, grilled salmon, leg of reindeer with rosemary, flamed puffin breasts, glazed potatoes, velvet pudding, bilberry soup, crullers, vínarterta and leaf bread.

Rating: Great cookbook, full of easy and tasty recipes for homemade Icelandic-style food. 5+ stars.

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