Norwegian Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)
My bookshelves sag with stories—literature in the form of recipes, memories formed between batter-spattered handwritten lines. I’ve said for a long time that I care so much about Scandinavian food because of the people. My grandparents loved me with medisterkaker med surkål and fresh berries dressed in the fine silk of cream. They shared the family’s heritage with bowls full of riskrem drizzled with vibrant raspberry sauces and paper-thin potato lefse spread with butter and a dusting of sugar.
I started exploring Norwegian recipes as a way to grieve after my grandmother Agny died. Throughout the years, as I baked my way through Scandinavian cookbooks and coordinated frequent baking sessions with my mom and Grandma Adeline, I understood more deeply that food is so much more than sustenance and pleasure. It is about love. Reading about rømmegrøt recently, I realized that this old-fashioned Norwegian sour cream porridge is the perfect food to illustrate this idea.
Rømmegrøt is the type of food that in old times you might bring to a new mother, to nourish her body after she gave birth. Ingrid Espelid Hovig writes in The Best of Norwegian Traditional Cuisine that you also might serve it to celebrate the harvest or to feed your neighbors who helped out at busy times. You might eat it at weddings and funerals, those events that would bring you and your community together to either celebrate or to grieve. The composition itself, a thick, rich cream porridge, would be the sort to nourish the body and nurture the soul—especially when served with its traditional accompaniments of cured meats and salted fish. These days the thought of something so rich often makes people worry about calories and fat, an enemy of the waistline, but I think that’s missing the point. This is celebration food, food with history, food that would bring people together and provide a way to show love.
Rømmegrøt (rømme translates to sour cream, and grøt to porridge) is pretty simple, really—it’s mostly sour cream, milk, and flour. But I found myself overwhelmed and honestly a bit intimidated as I set out to make it. Being so tied to tradition–it’s said to be one of Norway’s oldest dishes–I wanted to represent it well. But I quickly discovered that true rømmegrøt is difficult to make in the United States as our sour cream is much different than that in Norway, containing much less fat than needed, and also containing stabilizers that prevent the fat from leaching out, which is an important part of the dish. As I made an initial batch, experimenting with conventional sour cream and pouring over additional melted butter at the end to serve, and then trying it again with homemade sour cream, I began to wonder if this might be something best left to hands-on instruction, a recipe passed down by one generation teaching the next.
Though my relatives made rømmegrøt back in the day and my mom remembers eating her grandmothers’ as a little girl in North Dakota, the porridge had disappeared from the family’s repertoire by the time I was born. It wasn’t passed down by my dad or paternal grandparents–who were all born in Norway–either. I was an adult the first time I tasted it, so it should make sense, then, that I was a bit intimidated to try making it. But I did. Food has been my way of learning about my heritage, about the people who came before me and the place where we have our roots. Rømmegrøt is a big part of that. The taste of the porridge, warm from the pot, is of nurturing cream, thick with comfort. I can almost imagine the nursing mothers feeling its nourishment spread through their bodies, almost hear the guests who’ve come to celebrate a wedding. Yes, my bookshelves sag with stories. Even if rømmegrøt has not been part of my own story until now, it has a history I’m so glad to have learned.
Norwegian Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)
The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes from the Sons of Norway online recipe collection. After reading many versions, I figured that if I’m going to traditional, that’s as good of a source as any. I’m sticking to the recipe pretty closely here, sharing what I experienced in the process. Considering how rich it is, this recipe can serve a lot of people. Cookbook author Signe Johansen writes in Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking: Scandilicious that rømmegrøt freezes well; if you have extra and wish to do this, just reheat using a little extra milk or water after defrosting, she instructs. Also, be prepared to stir relentlessly to minimize lumps. I’d love to hear how you make rømmegrøt too!
1 cup heavy whipping cream (at least 35%)
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 ¼ cups flour
5 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
Sugar, for serving
Cinnamon, for serving
Melted butter, for serving (optional)
To make the sour cream, in a medium saucepan, warm cream until it’s about body temperature. Pour in the buttermilk, give it a quick stir, and let it sit in the pot until it thickens, which should take at least 8 hours. I probably let mine sit 10 hours or so.
When you’re ready to make the rømmegrøt, bring the sour cream to a simmer, covered, in the same pan. Meanwhile, in another pot heat the milk so it will be ready to bring to a boil when you need it. After 15 minutes of simmering the sour cream, sift about a third of the flour over the cream, stirring constantly as you add the flour. Simmer for a few more minutes, until the fat has separated and you can skim or pour it off. Reserve the fat. Bring the milk to a boil in its pot. Sift the remaining flour over the porridge, stirring constantly as you go. (At this point, the original recipe said to bring it to a boil, but neither time I’ve made it—according to this recipe or another—was the porridge liquid enough to do so.) With the pot over heat, add milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until you have the consistency you want. I used all the milk, knowing that the porridge thickens as it cools. Transfer the porridge to the larger milk pot if you need for space. Whisk vigorously until the lumps are gone, and continue to simmer for another ten minutes. Stir in the salt. To serve, divide the rømmegrøt between bowls. Add the reserved fat to each (I didn’t end up with much, so would probably add a bit of melted butter as needed), then dust with sugar and cinnamon.
I used to make rømmegrøt the “old” way when we milked cows, so I could get real unpasteurized, unhomogenized cream. We always used sweet cream Now I just make a medium white sauce, using half and half and it’s very good. As you do, we serve it with butter, sugar and cinnamon. I like more than a dusting of sugar. We used to have grøt. too, made with milk, which wasn’t nearly as rich. That was the main course of the meal, usually served with canned salmon.
Hi Beverly, thank you for sharing your experience with rømmegrøt. It must have been so special to have it with fresh milk!
My Dad was from Sweden and he used to make this porridge, we called it white porridge my brother and I loved it.
Joyce, thank you for sharing! I didn’t know that it was a tradition in Sweden too!
The fresh cream from our jersey cow was very thick and if the grøt sat on the back of the wood stove in a heavy pot it would thicken with very little flour. Making it with commercial sour cream is close but not quite as delicious
I grew up on a dairy farm in ND, and when we separated cream, THAT was how to get the really good (and stinky) sour cream. My Godmother, who was also our neighbor, made heavenly rømmegrøt. We have a handmade rømmegrøt stirring utensil carved out of a tree branch: it has 5-6 prongs that point back towards the handle. It’s meant to help keep the pot well stirred and lump-free. 🙂 I also like fløyelsgrøt and risgrynsgrøt, but nothing is quite like the tang of rømme!
Marla, it’s fun to hear about what it was like to make rømmegrøt for you. That utensil must have helped a lot. Thanks for sharing!
My mother and grandmother made this for us . It was always made to make us feel better! We make it for our kids and grandkids too.
Margaret, what a sweet way to make someone feel better!
A friend and I decided to try making rømmegrøt as close to her mother’s recipe as possible (we didn’t have her recipe, so we chose one from my many Scandinavian cookbooks). We used European Style Sour Cream made by Wallaby. It turned out much tastier than rømmegrøt either of us had at the many Norwegian dinners and events we’d each had attended over the years. Yummy, need to visit that culinary delight again!
LaDonn, thank you for the tip! That sounds tasty!
I keep thinking about that delicious Rommegrot; we were great chefs!
In 1971, when I was 20, through a connection with the United Nations, I went to work at a Telemark apple orchard. The mother/wife was from Oslo, a city girl. She was dedicated to being a true Norwegian country girl. She made a point of making rommegrot for me, saying, as you say, it is a very old recipe prepared for mothers about to give birth. I can still taste it’s sweet, sour creamy goodness. Thank you for bringing back all the memories.
Thank you for sharing your story! What wonderful memories you must have there.
We LOVE Rommegrot too! But we always made it with sweet cream ( & milk ) Yum! My inlaws ( full Norwegians ) made something called “Grout” that is made with cornmeal & buttermilk.
Cori, sometimes rømmegrøt includes semolina. I wonder if your in-law’s grout could be connected to that in some way, or if it’s entirely different?
When I had my baby in January, my grandmother was here from Norway and her and my mom made me rømmegrøt with semolina. They swore up and down it would help bring my milk in and the production and I think it did. The only change was it had to be eaten cold and not warm like the traditional rømmegrøt…at least I can believe it helped while eating a yummy treat!
Grøt made with semolina is called semulegrøt, nothing to do wth rømmegrøt . And grøt made with sweet cream is not rømmegrøt but fløyelsgrøt (or smørgrøt) Sorry ladies, you can’t call it rømmegrøt it it doesn’t contain rømme !
Thats true. Rømmegrøt – sour creme….
I make rommegrut often—-esp. for the Sons Of Norway folks. Instead of using cream I use whole milk and also make it in the microwave. Very good and never a scrap left over.
Semolina porridge is made like this:
1 liter whole milk…heat up
Pour in about 2 dl semolina meal
Let boil for about 15 minutes, stirring so it wont burn.
Put in about 2 tbsp sugar, and around 10 drops of almond extract.
Serve with strawberry sause.
I like it both hot and cold. As a dessert, or as just a snack.
Used to make it for my kids, now I make it for me 😉
Ruth Ann Fitzke
Mom used to make it when we were children/teens. It was usually when we had no meat or other food. We ate it with a pat of butter and cinnamon. I didn’t like it then. Recently, a co-worker brought it to a potluck and I thought it was pudding so I tried it and liked it. Thanks for the recipe — I think I will try to make it.
We had this Christmas Eve with Lutefisk dinner. I now make it, but let cool and fold in whip cream so it is a dessert. Must have the warm raspberry to be authentic in our family.
I SEE YOU DONT USE OATMEAL BUT CALL IT PORRIDAGE
Mike Boardman St
Porridge is made with any number of grains. In this country and Scotland it usually refers to a cereal made with oats. You could make a real case for calling polenta a type of porridge. Risotto also
Rømmegrøt has always been a favorite of mine (we even had it at our wedding). Some kind of porridge was a standard supper for my grandparents – there are so many kinds. Sometimes we have risengrynsgrøt on the bottom layer and rømmegrøt on top. Last year I tried to figure out why I couldn’t get the butter out by searching online – the fat and additives. The Sons of Norway has a good recipe online with sour cream now. It’s pretty easy to find “European Style” sour cream in the stores now, so the butter does come out. I have used the brand Wallaby. But using whole cream and buttermilk may be more economical and I bet it’s delicious. I’ll try it next time!
My parents were both full blooded Norwegians, so we had a lot of Norwegian goodies growing up,. One of the things we loved was Rommegrot. Mom would make a huge kettle, with 8 kids it took a lot to fill us up. We never had it with sour cream or buttermilk, only sweet cream and whole milk. We had dairy cows so had lots of cream and milk. My German husband loved it a lot too. I still make it for myself, just me now, but I do crave some of that “comfort” food occasionally. We always served it with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. I do make several Norwegian goodies for Christmas, and have taught my daughters how to make them. We have a family “lefse making day” around Thanksgiving. I don’t do any rolling any more, my daughters do, and some of the grandkids do as well, even the boys. It’s a fun day!!
I believe the recipe calls for heavy cream, flour, and salt. You heat the cream where it makes its own butter.
It is usually referred to Sweet Cream Porridge.
Thank you for sharing your story and recipes that honor Norwegian culture and food traditions. I was blessed to be raised in a small Northwest Norwegian community and want to continue those traditions. I would love to include your recipe in a children’s book that I plan to submit for publication in the coming month. Please let me know if you would consider allowing me to add this recipe as an addendum to my fairy tale story from ancient Norway. Thank you for considering my request. LaniLouise
I made this recipe a few nights ago. It was delicious and, as a nursing mother, I can attest to it’s supportive, comforting, and nourishing qualities. It is a treat to have a small collection of custard dishes with this pudding waiting for me in the fridge.
When we moved back to wi to be closer to my Norwegian family, my mother was on the hunt for the 7th milking after a cow had her calf. She was told that colostrum made the best grot. At the time it was easy to find a small farm to get fresh milk. Now times have changed and we just get fresh heavy cream. I have made this Sons of Norway recipe for Norskefest until my hands were blistered. Folks just love this comfort food.
My grandma used to make this for my grandpa after he came home from work. As I kids we called it mush, cause that is what it looked like to us. My grandfather loved it, especially with butter and sugar. Don’t think he put cinnamon on it.My grandmother didn’t use sour cream, we lived on a farm and so she used the cream skimmed off the top of the fresh milk.
My father was born in Norway and grew up on this sinful cream concoction. We grew up in upstate New York and had a farm right next to us. Before bulk tanks were introduced to the milk house, the milk was put into milk cans and lifted into a cement vat of of ice cold spring water. We always get our gallon of milk from the milk cans before they were placed into the vat. Once home, the milk was poured into glass pitchers, then into the frig. Yes, we grew up on raw milk, none the worse for any “bugs.” Once the milk settled and cooled, there would always be four to five inches of pure cream on top of the milk. When my father came home from sea, as he was a captain with the merchant marines (home a month, out to sea a month), he would scoop a bowlful of this pure cream, put the bowl on top of the frige, and leave it there for eight hours or so. It would thicken up and he then commenced to sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, devouring the whole bowl! As kids, we thought it was disgusting…sour cream, but he was raised on it and loved it! We also made butter with the cream using a glass gallon butter churn, which I still have. So when I saw your recipe, it brought back memories! Thank you!
Simple “grot” without the sugar, cinnamon, and butter was considered the “poor man’s supper”. I worked at a restaurant known for its home cooking/farmer style meals but on Friday nights we served “grot”—I would always bring melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the customers, most who were elderly Scandinavians. Since my Mom always made rommegrot for us about once a month, I loved it and loved seeing these elderly people so happy to have a memory of days gone by.