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Carol Gold University of Alaska Fairbanks
These are potato sandwiches being served at a nursing home in Vanløse, Denmark, in honor of Valdemar’s Day, June 15, 2010.1 Valdemar’s Day is thus on its way to being a memorial day both for Dannebrog and for our last, true national seasonal food. … the serious background for this initiative is that new eating habits have recently driven out the potato as the Danish national dish. Especially young people have turned their backs on potatoes.2 [emphasis added] This quote is from the website of the Danish National Potato Council. “Valdemar’s Day,” June 15th, commemorates the day in 1219 when the Danish national flag, Dannebrog, fluttered down from the heavens to support King Valdemar the Victorious in the midst of a battle in Estonia.3 June 15th is also genforeningsdag (Reunification Day), the day in 1920 on which the northern part of north Schleswig was
” . Boyhus actually states that her potato lunch is “Danish. Not coincidentally. Red and white (radishes) are also the Danish national colors. this is the day which was chosen by the Danish Potato Council to promote the use of the potato. The day obviously has very heavy national overtones. despite the fact that there is nothing indigenous to Denmark about potatoes. so Danish. With this a cold beer and. that their new world origins have been forgotten. buttered with first class butter.5 Danish constitution was promulgated on June 5.” It is as though they have become so assimilated. covered with slices of [cold] boiled potatoes. wrote this article in honor of the Danish Constitution Day. next open potato sandwiches: pieces of dark rye bread. everything she suggests is indigenous to Denmark – except the potatoes. a slice of bread with cheese and red & white radishes. yet here they are referred to as a “true national seasonal food. The first. since it too is made from potatoes. All subsequent constitutions. with one exception. They are a “new world” transplant. Looked at closely. a well-known Danish food historian. 1849. the colors of the Dannebrog. Of course. and perhaps the snaps. sprinkled with a little salt and decorated with chives. First an open sandwich with freshly peeled fjord shrimps. part of the Columbian exchange. non-indigenous foods can become part of a national cuisine. in honor of the day. a cold snaps. 2 Twice in a single paragraph. Lastly. Boyhus’s article outlined a lunch to be eaten in honor of this national day. Beautiful and Danish.4 Else-Marie Boyhus. June 5th. and very democratic. but this seems to go further and to imply that the potatoes themselves are Danish.Gold returned to Denmark after its loss to Prussia in 1864. have also been promulgated on June 5th. the Potato Council refers to potatoes as a “national” food.
signs spring up across the Danish farmland advertising “new Danish potatoes!” (nye danske kartofler) signs frequently accompanied with the Dannebrog. Potatoes in Denmark were never as tied to the idea of famine and bad times as they were in Ireland. Danishness and potatoes. Aquavit is a kind of a national Danish drink. … [Y]es. since potatoes have been one of the most important ingredients in the Danish production of aquavit. but the conflation of the two is telling. but rather as food of which to be proud. One is rather tempted to ask what would be left of Aalborg Aquavit without potatoes. often consumed with a beer chaser.8 Danes eventually embraced potatoes.7 The point I am trying to make is that there is a perceived connection between Denmark. In the summer. when new potatoes are ready to be harvested. even with the existence of Denmark itself (“what would be left of Denmark without potatoes?”). not as poor food. as part of a quintessentially Danish diet. but their explanation clearly ties potatoes in with a Danish agricultural past (“our hardworking forefathers. and served with potato sandwiches during the aforementioned Valdemar’s Day luncheon at Danish nursing homes.”) and indeed. There probably also would not have been anything called AALBORG AKVAVIT.Gold 3 Danes are raised on potatoes. an integral part of Danish festive meals. what would be left of Denmark without potatoes? Cheers!6 The Aalborg Aquavit website has an obvious interest in promoting Danish snaps. Without potatoes our hardworking forefathers would not have had a healthy vegetable to live on here in the cold north. .
Both groups were funded by the Danish state as projects to promote the arable use of otherwise unusable land.” in France.10 By the late 18th century.Gold 4 9 Indeed. or “Copper River Red Salmon” from Alaska. They were spread further by the so-called “potato Germans. one can get potatoes.” who arrived mid-century. probably brought by French Huguenots who settled near Fredericia. encouraged to immigrate in an attempt to colonize the heaths of west Jutland. in 1719. Potatoes grow well in the sandy soil of Denmark. Potatoes arrived in Denmark in the early to mid-18th century. Sure. And. who was . the intensity with which “new potatoes” are greeted can easily be compared with the arrival of “nouveau Beaujolais. but that which comes from Denmark. Christian VII. the absolutist Danish state was controlled by Crown Prince Frederik (to be the VI). wine and salmon from other places. There is an underlying sense of terroir at work in these cases. in the name of his father. France or Alaska is obviously better and preferable. there is an element of nationalism (or regionalism) underlying all terroir claims. of course. in Jutland. on heaths and in ditches along the roads.
Privy Councillor. potatoes and other useful roots will no longer be a rarity. made use of the media to help generate support for its reforms. there is not doubt that times were good. The young crown prince. the sour meadows and marshes will be changed into productive fields … a time in which the cultivation of clover. a radical Copenhagen periodical.” The Crown Prince’s government. 40% of Danish peasants had title to their own land (up from 3% before the reforms). or “self-owners” (selvejere). contiguous plots to the peasants who worked it. undoubtedly helped in the success of the reforms. who was only 16 when he took over power from his father in a palace coup. gave a “Talk. describing his vision for the reforms: 5 I see a time ahead in which the outlying fields will resemble the well-fertilized villages.11 This is interesting not only because of Reventlow’s vision of using new crops. but also because of the public nature of Reventlow’s “Talk. was surrounded by reforming landlords and ministers. together with the extensive Danish merchant marine. president of the Finance Ministry (Rentekammer) and thus overseer of these agricultural reforms. which resulted in buying out noble land and transferring it in compact.12 Danish neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars. But the good times also made it possible for the reforms to . The nobles of the crown prince’s inner circle were interested in aggressive agricultural reforms. By 1830. Between 1788 and 1805. grain prices rose by 50% and butter and beef by 3540%. now known as farmers. to fertilize previously unusable parts of the land. well aware of the value of advertising.Gold certifiably insane. and 60% of the former peasantworked land had been bought by peasants. The reforms were an undeniable success. All of which means that potatoes came into Denmark in a very public way and with definite and visible government support. Count Christian Ditlev Frederik Reventlow. reprinted in Minerva.” in 1788. including potatoes.
was not an equal immediate success. loath. and poteter in the evening. or “earth apples”) and English. “ate kartoffler in the morning. And yet. boiled potatoes made up the major portion of the noon dinner (which was still the main meal of the day). sliced on the equally ubiquitous heavy. Any potatoes left over from this meal. which followed the wars. reappeared cold. Danish cookbooks through the 18th century can not agree on a common term for these new root vegetables. though. One can understand this comment as reflecting the ubiquity of potatoes in the Danish diet by the late 19th century. peasants. Peasant-farmers resisted their introduction.13 Potato cultivation. on the Danish kitchen which was to continue through to the late twentieth century. One sees recipes for potatoer. to experiment with new and unknown crops. as claiming that in order to get some variety into their diet. was obviously being ironic.”14 The source. When I first lived in Denmark. jordæbler and kartoffler. 6 How then. French (a direct Danish translation of pommes de terre. . including the national bankruptcy. jordæbler at noon. is quoted by potato historian Hans Kyrre. whoever he was. if you will. as these are three words for potatoes – from German (which eventually took over as the Danish word).Gold weather the very bad times. in an attempt to encourage peasants to follow suit – to no avail. in the manner of centuries of peasants. One of Reventlow’s stewards wrote of how he and the Count demonstrably ate potatoes in public view in one of the villages. but the Danish ethos as well? This is a relatively rapid story. a stranglehold. not only the Danish diet. an unknown source. do potatoes so successfully take over. in the early 1960’s. writing in 1887.
a word which sounds better in Danish than in English). Potatoes did not get off to an enthusiastic start in Denmark. 7 the restaurant served four kinds of potatoes – there were French fries and potato chips on the platter. cucumber salad and potatoes. red cabbage. and then the linkage of potatoes with Danishness (danskhed.” to the easier – and more exotic – carbohydrates. which was decorated with an edging of mashed potatoes. Neither of the early groups of French or German colonists were successful and both groups broke up fairly quickly.” So what happened? This is. there was a separate bowl with a mound of boiled potatoes.Gold dark rye bread. French fries and potato chips were just beginning to enter Denmark. And. 15 The fact that this potato cuisine is losing ground.” And despite the fact that potatoes were pushed by . pasta and rice. and I have a vivid memory of a meal eaten at a rural kro (inn) with my parents. just to be sure. I believe. It was to be a “typical” Danish meal of roast pork. some of the Germans were expelled as “rebellious elements. But to show off their continental elegance. as the cold potato sandwiches referred to earlier. a two step process – first the spread of potato cultivation. is what spurred the Danish Potato Council to declare a national “potato day. among “youth.
17 So gradually. The late 18th century agricultural reforms. Cultivation of potatoes was helped by their early use in institutions for the poor and the sick. peasants resisted this new member of the deadly nightshade family.19 One can follow potatoes’ reputation through cookbook recipes. Christina Ax also feels that. also gave them enough land on which to live and support a family – unlike the English enclosure movement which forced peasants off their lands or the land transfers of the French Revolution which resulted in small plots. which were continually subdivided into even smaller plots.Gold government forces including local parish clergy. potato cultivation spread around the country. and flourished in the rainy Danish climate. they were adopted as human food. There was enough of a cushion to enable farmers to experiment with new crops. By the 19th century’s end. potatoes do grow well in the sandy Danish soil. these provided a market.16 However. They are an excellent source of nutrients and one acre of potatoes can supply ten people with their annual nutritive needs. At the end of the 18th century there is still confusion over names. which gave peasants title to their own land.18 8 People could cultivate that which they would not dream of eating themselves. authors are writing recipes which presuppose full familiarity with potatoes. in addition to their original use as animal fodder. As these flourished. It could be a way of raising one’s self over one’s neighbors. and were sold. They didn’t like the taste. It showed that one had education and enough economic and cultural capital to experiment with new forms of cultivation. and the name has settled . but that spread the cultivation – and eventually also the use. such as potatoes. status was connected with cultivating potatoes. “Selfowning” Danish farmers were able to support themselves and their families. like “candles” they said. as well as generate enough extra produce for the growing capitalist market.
there is still several decades between the two events.Gold on kartoffler. in Boyhus’ preception. But. Dr. this is not strictly accurate. based on the growing importance of the independent farmers. What was left was the “kingdom of Denmark. Potatoes’ entry into Denmark predates the 1849 constitution by at least a century. This of course a more difficult “proof. In 1883. There is general agreement that these tubers had become an integral part of the Danish diet by the end of the 19th century. An excellent connoisseur maintains in full seriousness. that he can determine a housewife’s moral character according to the quality of the potatoes which she serves.21 As we’ve seen.” she writes." So bear with me as I conduct a thought experiment containing several strands. “The history of the potato in Denmark is just about as old as the history of the constitution.” but what was “Denmark”? What did it mean to be Danish? Over time. 9 The next step is to decipher the connection between potatoes and Danish national identity. somehow. Denmark lost the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia and Austria. the two go together – Denmark and potatoes. In 1814. Denmark lost Norway to Sweden as a result of ending up on the losing side in the Napoleonic Wars. Charles Emil Hagdahl goes so far as to connect potatoes with a housewife’s moral qualities. national identities . it’s an irony which is based on the ubiquity of the potato. Boyhus’ article on a Constitution Day lunch sees an obvious correlation. among which are an acculturation process. in 1864. Even if one stretches the timing to start with a widespread usage of potatoes.20 Even if he’s being ironic. and the need for and desire to create a national identity in a country recently democratized and newly truncated. Half a century later.
the Danes lost about two-fifths of their population and a huge chunk of very valuable land.Gold became connected with languages. wrote an inscription for tokens to be used at the Great Nordic Art and Industry Exhibition. Much of the politics of the 19th century centered around a struggle for control of the cabinet. Holst.” How to make a Dane? The absolutist Danish monarchy turned itself into a democracy in 1848. the Danes refused to accept additional territory from Germany after the First World War. in 1920. demands for responsible parliamentary government. . H. In 1872. poet. This battle was finally won in 1902. drawing the national boundary approximately where the linguistic boundary ran. 1849. which granted universal manhood suffrage for the lower house of parliament. the area in which people spoke Danish? Eventually. to help in its promotion of draining the heaths in west Jutland in an attempt literally to create more farmland. This has since come to symbolize Danish feeling at the time and was to become the motto for the newly founded Heath Society. It was a shock to their collective system. But that was after almost a century of struggle. With the loss of Schleswig-Holstein. “For every loss a replacement will be found/ What was outwardly lost shall be inwardly gained. with the introduction of what the Danes refer to as “the change of system” (systemskift). author and newspaper editor. Danes started organizing political groups in the early 19th century when Denmark was still an absolutist monarchy. in a kind of linguistic shorthand – so was Denmark 10 then.P. promulgating a new constitution on June 5. the Danish language turned out to be a fairly accurate marker of Danishness. There was also a property qualified upper house and the king still retained significant power in terms of appointing his own cabinet.
When the agrarian crisis reached Europe in 1873 (as American grain was cheaper to buy in the European market than European grain). and industrializing. In addition to political parties and lobbying pressure. but not Holstein. their agricultural sector. There’s one other factor to throw into this mix. So the agrarian . made up of a shifting coalition of leftoriented groups. As part of the response to the 1873 agricultural crisis. they wanted control of the government. This has often been missed. In 1870.” To do so. They were a potent pressure group. Denmark successfully weathered the crisis by shifting away from grain to animal farming. and capable of acting on them. aware of their needs and desires. connected and educated. in the Danish state – “Denmark to the Ejder River. Venstre was only one manifestation of the organizing that was going on in the agricultural areas of Denmark throughout the nineteenth century. The point of all this is that farmers were organized. independent farmers organized a formal political party – the Venstre. It was this push which resulted in the new constitution (which probably went farther then they had anticipated). industrialization in Denmark took place first in the countryside in the agricultural sector.22 They were the motive force behind the push for responsible parliamentary government as they quickly achieved and maintained a majority in the lower house of parliament. dairies and slaughterhouses. Danes reacted by modernizing. a kind of live-in community college system. since industrialization in Denmark did not follow the “standard” (English) model of textile industrialization. or “Left” Party. built community halls (forsamlingshuse) across the country side. farmers created cooperative stores. and established “folk high schools” (folkehøjskoler).Gold 11 National Liberals agitated for a policy which would include Schleswig.
they are eating potatoes. from the countryside into the towns. Constitution Day. And by now. in Peasants into Frenchmen. press for more power. Dannebrog. into the political system. Eugen Weber. some people get it off. There is. As they move into Copenhagen. others don’t. Denmark has few national symbols. There is no national dress. cities and capital of Copenhagen. describes an acculturation process which starts in the capital city of Paris and reaches out into the countryside. some get a half day off. with them. and food.Gold 12 population in Denmark had motive. There are two national anthems. the flag. with new money. they had money and political clout. that the new class brought their cuisine with them. June 5th. of course. they bring their material culture. They were the up-and-coming group. such as the bunad of the Norwegians. and the royal house. means and opportunity – that is. they were the new entrepreneurs. What says “Denmark” to Danes? . is not a true holiday.23 I am suggesting that the process went the other way in Denmark.
the majority of historical research done in Denmark on the 18th century was focused on agriculture. Despite market values. or undertones. there are an estimated 62. I am not suggesting that potatoes filled that void. despite the fact that close to one-quarter of them live in Copenhagen alone. plots and houses may not be sold for more than the value assigned by Kolonihaverforbundet. Danes think there is something inherently “Danish” about these plots.” a member of the Danish People’s Party commented.000 plots in Denmark. This is not completely inaccurate.” said a member of today’s Venstre Party. and indeed still is. although similar groups do exist elsewhere and there is even an international webpage. Danes still see themselves as somehow only about one generation removed from the land. as agricultural exports made up the majority of Danish exports until after the Second World War. to these groups.Gold 13 Mostly the red and white colors of the flag. “We maintain the historic vision of kolonihaver. should have the possibility to come out and get a little fresh air as a kind of a poor man’s summerhouse. the Supreme Court said. “Families that can not afford to buy a house.26 “Kolonihaver are for everyone. Small summer garden plots (kolonihaver)24 surround each of the major cities in Denmark. Their vision of their past history is an agrarian one. a void. in order to be able to spend time outdoors and to cultivate plants.”27 . Until very recently.25 Danes with city apartments move out to these plots for the summer and spend week-ends there the rest of the year. There are nationalist overtones. despite the fact that Copenhagen was a wealthy and flourishing seaport and administrative center through the eighteenth century. in response to a recent Danish Supreme Court decision that puts a ceiling on plot prices. but I am suggesting that there was. who live in apartments.
I hasten to add that all Danes do not feel this way. a frequent writer of letters to the editor of Jyllands. as the politics of the century was played out (successfully) by independent farmers. the kolonihave association regularly lists “flag days” (holidays on which one is supposed to fly Dannebrog). Danish nationalism (even in more neutral forms). no one with whom to share the events of his youth. to differentiate themselves from others (such as Germans).Posten28 sent in the following contribution. nor even all kolonihave-owning Danes. one or two Pakistanis in a kolonihave can fit into the whole. The feeling of sharing one’s experiences with one’s neighbors. they have elevated potatoes to fulfill that void. “Are Danish Social Democrats globalists?” The article ended this way. and a Danish agricultural past.” to a space in which a shared Danish past and culture can flourish. As Danes traversed the 19th century. Potatoes are an integral part of that past. and as these same farmers became the successful economic motor of the new . yes. as well as competitions and recipes for potatoes. looking for ways to identify themselves.Gold 14 Some years ago. The trick is to weave all this together. There is a connection between kolonihaver rhetoric. this means that the Dane will have no one to talk with. no one to drink a beer with. But I do think all the elements play together in some non-quantifiable way. If a kolonihave Dane has an Afghan on one side of the fence and a Pakistani on the other side. But not thirty. the experience of a connection between the past and the present will disappear. I mention it as an example of the space in which some Danes dwell. I do not believe that there is a one-to-one correlation – that because Danes grow potatoes in their kolonihave plots they somehow see this as essentially Danish. or because Danes can not agree on a single national anthem.29 So now we’ve stepped back from kolonihaver as breathing holes for fresh-air deprived city dwellers. In its newsletter. Yes. “for everyone.
and growing numbers of non-Europeans immigrating into and settling in Europe. with demands on member countries’ sovereignties. it should not be surprising to find various nationalities struggling to “protect” themselves against 15 “others.”30 It should not be surprising to find Danes trying to hold on to that which they perceive/d of as “Danish” against the inroads of institutions as seemingly benign as “pasta.” In today’s world of the European Union.Gold country – it was the farmers’ material culture which embedded itself in Danes’ consciousness as “Danish.” . with unfettered movement of people across the continent.
Danish Cookbooks. 16 Ax. vol. 90-92. June 10.D. 98-103.danishchurch.dk. 1784-1830. Kartoffelens Krønike. 7 ”Danmarks ældre fejre flagdag med snaps.” Ph. “Kartoflen som folkeføde I Danmark I det 19. (1788). Illustreret Kogebog. 4 Else-Marie Boyhus. Stanford University Press. 12 Jens Vibæk. http://www. accessed June 26. 2010. Christina Axe speculates that this is because the potato did not make up as large a part of the rural diet in Denmark at that time. 15 A more recent version of this meal from The Best of Danish Heritage Cookbook. the rural population had other food to put on their tables. It might also be mentioned that Denmark has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in Europe. accessed June 26. 5 This constitution introduced universal manhood suffrage for the lower house of Parliament. p. but is. the umbrella organization for the garden plot organizations.ca/Danish Lutheran Church in Vancouver. See also. Politiken. “Tale. accessed June 16. Copenhagen.bc.000 members/gardens.” Minerva. 77-81. cit. BC. 1999. 2 1 .” as it is. dissertation. Copenhagen. 3 The citizenship test given to immigrants who wish to become naturalized Danish citizens included a question in 2010 on the year which Dannebrog fell from heaven. it never had the same impact as it did in Ireland. 13 Danish neutrality ended in 1807. ”The Danish Reform Era. Kolonihaveforbundet. July 5. 97. June 4. Christina Folke Axe. 1976. pp. Copenhagen. 596.” Berlingske Tidende. Ole Hyldtoft. www.” Aalborg Akvavit webpage.bc.dk. Copenhagen. no. 24 These are sometimes referred to as “allotments” in English. eds. 44-45. 9 Picture taken by Kenneth Olwig. http://www. 1975. 11 C. 22 The party name is sometimes given as “Liberal” or “Agrarian. The party still exists today.” Politiken. but I hesitate to use the term as it has a completely different connotation in American Indian history. when the English bombed Copenhagen and sailed off with the Danish fleet. Denmark.ca/ . Denmark remained steadfastly allied with Napoleon throughout the remaining wars and thus ended up on the losing side in 1814. June 16. 2 Danish Potato Council website. 20 Charles Emil Hagdahl. Peasants into Frenchmen.D.landbrug.kartoffelraad. 14 Hans Kyrre. ironically. accessed June 16. CA. one of the most right-wing parties in the Danish political spectrum. 2010. But it was to the “left” of the other political grouping at the time. 1938. 43-45. 2010. Indeed. The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World. the “right” or Conservative Party. 2. 2009.” Kost og spisevaner i 1800-tallet. ”Nye kartofler.F. for a discussion of the reforms in English. Stanford. Reform og Fallit. accessed June 8. Reventlow. http://politiken. 17 Larry Zuckerman. June 16. 8 Although the potato plague did ravish Denmark between 1845 and 1848. See also Carol Gold. a bourgeois and not a socialist party. pp. University of Wisconsin. 6 “Stik fingeren I jorden og hæve glasset. p. North Point Press. 2010.dk/indland/article995928. pp.kolonihave. June 6. 2006. and always was. for a discussion of potatoes in cookbooks. pp. Copenhagen. This meal has both roast and boiled potatoes. Copenhagen.vancouver. 18 Ax. 2009. p. 1998. p. Carol Gold. along the road in Sjælland. 21 Boyhus. 10 Ax. Axe feels that the plague may have encouraged Danish farmers to diversify their product. p. NY. p. 1964.danishchurch. ed. Op. 2001. 2010. see her article for an extensive account of the introduction and history of potato usage in Denmark. lists about 420 associations with 42. 1-7.2010. pp.dk/. aalborgakvavit. 25 Politiken.vancouver. 23 Eugen Weber.dk. Kolonihaveforbundet for Danmark. John Danstrup & Hal Koch. 19 See Ax for maps showing the spread of potato cultivation.Gold 16 Notes Politiken.ece. Politikens Forlag. Museum Tusculanums Forlag. 10 in Danmarks Historie. 2007. Museum Tusculanum Press. 6. 2010. http://www. århundrede.
June 2010.org/frameset/englisch/eengl.nomos-dk. http://www.Gold 17 26 The British organization is The National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners Ltd. 29 Ole Hyltoft.” in 2005. 27 Politiken. Bragt som kronik i Jyllands-Posten 18 oktober 2001.htm. 2010. accessed June 8. .jardins-familiaux. accessed June 10. June 10.dk/midgaard/ole_hyltoft3. 30 Cf the recent Dutch election. http://www. 2010. ”Er danske socialdemokrater globalister?” NOMOS. 2010. 28 Perhaps best known for its publication of the ”Mohammed cartoons.htm.
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