Is Icelandic cuisine the key to a happy marriage? Yes ! A rhubarb pie with the unpronounceable name of hjónabandssæla. Let’s pay tribute to marriage with this traditional sweetness.
Iceland, a country of authentic and intense beauty, is renowned for its splendid landscapes forged by ice and fire. It is an island nation in northern Europe located in the Atlantic Ocean, between Europe and North America.
The forces of nature on this mountainous island, have shaped landscapes that are out of this world, where nature is omnipresent. Between the live geysers, the hot water lagoons, the lava fields, the dizzying falls and the glaciers where icebergs float, Iceland offers a robust and authentic cuisine, as authentic as the beauty of its landscapes.
In general, it can be said that traditional Icelandic cuisine is a lot based on the fish that can be found in the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds this large island near the Arctic Circle. Fish is a big part of a typical meal in Iceland. The reasons are easily imaginable: being an essentially frozen island most of the year, the sea was and remains the main source of livelihood for the population whose economy relies largely on the fishing industry.
Icelanders also eat a lot of mutton and lamb that are not just relegated to Easter recipes, but also to everyday cooking. Icelanders are proud of their herds and say that the tender and unique flavor of their sheep and lambs is the result of months of wild pastures in uncontaminated environments. They cook this roast meat, accompanied by caramelized potatoes. They also make dumplings or simmer it in rich meat soups, such as kjötsúpa.
The lamb also gives a special touch to Icelandic hot dogs, pylsa. The Icelandic specialty is smoked lamb or mutton, a must for the Christmas season, with potatoes, red cabbage, beetroot or peas that complement the meat very well.
The hákarl is one of the oldest and most unique dishes in Iceland, prepared with putrefied shark meat. The preparation of this succulent and unusual dish is quite long: the shark meat is buried in a pit and fermented for three to six months.
As good fishermen as they are, the Icelanders have always known that shark meat was very toxic to humans if consumed fresh and they then found the system to eliminate its uric acid.
The shark is then cut into thick strips and dried for more than 5 months. Obviously, the hákarl, a dish reserved for strong and reckless stomachs, has been prepared by fishermen since antiquity for its long conservation.
Another dried fish, hardfiskur, more classic, is particularly tasty. It is prepared with a typical fish from these latitudes, the haddock.
Among the most popular Icelandic dishes, there is also smoked salmon, trout and grilled cod.
To dive into the most classic Icelandic tradition, you have to taste the national dish, the þorramatur, a combination of offal including shark, lamb, with also testicles of lamb or dried fish.
What is hjónabandssæla?
This quintessential oatmeal and rhubarb jam dessert is not, as one might expect, a cake that is served at weddings. However, it is said that it contains all the secret ingredients of a happy marriage.
One explanation for this name? This cake contains the ingredients that are always present in kitchen cabinets in Iceland. It is indeed very easy to make, inexpensive, and has all the necessary ingredients for a woman to make her husband happy.
In Iceland, it is said that the preparation of this rhubarb pie must improve over the days and years, just like a wedding. People also say that its preservation method must also improve over the days and years. If it is poorly preserved, it can become bad and spoil. In sum, like marriage, hjónabandssaela needs to improve with age.
What is rhubarb?
Rhubarb, which is the main ingredient of this dessert is one of the most popular foods in Iceland. It grows like a weed. Rhubarb can be found in most Icelandic gardens. It is used for both sweet and savory preparations. It is so common that those who do not have any in their garden go pick some up in the neighbor’s garden.
Rhubarb jam is easy to prepare. It can also be used to prepare liqueurs, digestifs, chutneys, tasty desserts and infusions with antioxidant properties. Rhubarb jam being tart, it is particularly appreciated by those who do not like jams that are too sweet; if you prefer to balance the acidity, then add strawberries. Also use this jam to accompany aged cheeses.
In the Nordic countries, the oldest sources of rhubarb usage date back to 1700 in Denmark, but it was not until the 1840s that its usage became commonplace in all Nordic countries, with the exception of Iceland.
The earliest written record of rhubarb in Iceland dates back to 1883. According to this source, we can assume that rhubarb arrived in Iceland shortly before the beginning of the year 1880 and that this plant has therefore been connected to Icelandic history and culture for over 130 years.
Danish cuisine also has recipes of conjugal bliss that can be found in ægteskabskage (wedding cake) and kærlighedstærte (love cake), recipes “old fashioned”. None of these recipes are similar to hjónabandssaela but they are all a matrimonial affair.
Hjónabandssaela is an excellent cake that Icelanders recommend to eat aged. Just like a good marriage, it gets better with age.
Was Cupid from Iceland?
- 2 cups white spelt flour
- 2 cups oatmeal
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter , diced
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 5 oz. rhubarb jam (recipe below)
- 1 egg yolk (for glaze)
- 2 lb rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
- 3 cups sugar
- Juice of 1 orange
- 6 tablespoons agave syrup
- 2 vanilla beans , split lengthwise
- Take the butter out of the refrigerator, cut into small cubes and keep it at room temperature for 30 minutes so that it softens.
Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Grease and flour a cake pan.
- In a large container, mix the flour, oats, baking soda, and sugar. Place the butter on top.
- Mix everything together quickly with the palms of both hands and with your fingertips, and rub the dough to turn in into a powder. Transfer the dough in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix using the flat beater at medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Knead the dough for 1 minute at maximum speed.
- Roll ⅔ of the dough and spread it at the bottom of the mold. Cover with rhubarb jam. Roll the remaining dough and cut into strips. Place these strips to form a lattice on the cake. Brush the lattice with egg yolk.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The crust should be golden.
- Boil small glass jars for a few minutes. Turn them over and place them on paper towel.
- Add the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan. Barely cover with water.
- Mix well and macerate for 1 hour at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
- Turn the heat to high and add the split vanilla, orange juice and agave syrup.
- Bring to a boil, then cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Return to low heat and simmer the jam for 50 minutes stirring regularly. The jam is ready when the rhubarb turns golden.
- Pour the hot jam into the jars with the vanilla beans. Let cool.
- Close the jars, turn them over and let stand for 8 hours.
- Turn them back over and keep at room temperature. Store in the fridge after opening.