Stones that made food

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For centuries there was production of millstones in these mountains, now a national park. The production in Kvernfjellet (The millstone mountains) started sometime during the 1500s, and lasted until 1914. There have been many sites for millstone productions in Norway during history, but this was the biggest with more than 1000 quarries. For some centuries this area supplied more or less all the country with these stones.  In the 1800s most of the bread eaten in Noway was baked from flour made with thes stones, that is mica-schist scattered with 2-5mm large crystals of hard minerals. In the picture above is a broken millstone left in the mountains.

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Millstones were needed to grind grain, our most important food source, in Norway as in so many countries. There have been a lot of scientific work on these sites lately. A multidisiplinary research project involving geologists, archaelogists, historians, botanists, geographers and people with craft knowledge. Also cooperations with researchers in other contries, like Denmark, UK and Spain. The objective is to study the long forgotten cultural and industrial landscape of millstone production.

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The old house in the picture above, Kvernfjellstoggo, was moved from the mountains to the village of Selbu about 100 years ago. It is now part of the village museum, and local historian John O. Evjen is showing one of the bigger millstones.

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The mills were always by a stream, so that the mills could be run be hydro power directly, like this old mill. One of many in this area.

Mølle og eldhus, Kalvåa i Selbu.

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There are quarries all over Norway, small or big, and used at different times. The different communities are now cooperating to make this important part of history known. On the picture above is Franziska Rüttimann (to the right), who is the new leader of the national center for millstones, Norsk Kvernsteinsenter. It is located in Hyllestad in Western Norway, and they cooperate with the other millstone regions. On the picture above she is shown the millstone exhibition of Selbu Bygdemuseum, by Solveig Borseth.

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This is a house from the millstone mountains. 10 men used to spend the winter in a house like this, coocking, sleeping, resting, in one small room. They were all farmers, and had to spend the summer in the village, farming the land and producing food for the cattle and the people. And all winter it was hard work cutting stones. Many of them died on their way to or from the mountains, as it was high mountains and blizzards were common. Most norwegians today probably have no idea how hard the life was just a hundred years ago. There are more photos in this gallery.

Kvernstein og Kvernfjellstoggo, Kalvåa. Selbu bygdemuseum. Sør-Trøndelag.

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129 thoughts on “Stones that made food

    1. Yes, the biggest millstones are quite big, and it was long and hard work to make them, and to transport them. First down from the mountains with horses in the spring, and then out to the “world”. Thank you for your comment, Ady.

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    1. Used for centuries, Anneli, and different ones in so many countries. In Norway they were used mainly for grinding rye and oats, they were important in our diet then. Wheat does not grow that well here and is now imported.

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    1. These stones are part of our history, that is for sure. But kind of forgotten I guess, since we now just walk to to shop and buy some bread, anytime. It is the old Norway you see on the pictures, but I hope we can preserve some of our roots and history. You are welcome, Anna.

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  1. Interesting report Bente.
    European culture was based on the hard grain, wheat which need to be ground.
    And the mechanical solution and the way of thinking said have made a direction
    of western technological development.
    Though, eastern culture was based on the rice which can be eaten just by boiling
    said have made the east technically rugged behind. (A theory said.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a cold northern country with only 1 percent arable land the old Norwegian could only dream about wheat bread, Yoshi. Rye and oats were our staple food, and they are even harder to grind than wheat. Maybe that is why the stones are so big? Interesting to hear the difference compared to rice: it was easier for you to get food. But I don’t think I follow you concerning the east tecnically rugged behind. At least not with the technology invented these days. Thanks for your comment Yoshi.

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  2. I’m sad that, here in America, given the fads of ‘low carbohydrates’ ‘ gluten-free’ diet, so many people eschew the beauty, history and tradition of grain based cultures – I purchase my red winter wheat from a local farmer who still plants his fields with the seed ‘descendents’ of the seed his great-grandfather used – unfortunately – I use an electric mill to grind, because the only ‘stone ground’ mills available for purchase for use in a home are way out of my budget -! 🙂 Thank you for the beautiful and informative post!

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    1. I agree with you. I believe all these fad diets is not the solution for a healthy diet or slimmer bodies. Just look at our forefathers and foremothers, they certainly looks slim enough, so we probably have something to learn from their frugal diet. Not all is as lucky as you who can get seed with well known origin. And interesting to know about the small mills still in use, electric or stone. In the museum I also saw small stone mills, every home (farm) had one of those before, to make grains for porrigde. I didn’t know. Or didn’t think about it. Thank you TamrahJo.

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  3. This is the most interesting story Bente! I would like to reblog it for my friends to read about the history of stones for food in Norway and to indulge in your stunning photographs..

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  4. Helt underbara bilder! Är mkt intresserad av “hur man gjorde då” dessutom 🙂 Min mormor tvättade t ex kläder i en fjällbäck till 1968…
    Kram och allt gott till dej!

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    1. Vasket klær i fjellbekken helt til 1968, oj, det er imponerende, og må ha vært kaldt og hardt arbeid. Brrrr. Ikke så overrasket, på gården til mine besteforeldre var det bare toalett ute (utedo) fram til først på 1970-tallet. Det har skjedd utrolig mye de siste tiårene. Mye til det bedre, men ikke alt. Tusen takk, og klem til deg også Svorskan.

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  5. Very different in the desert! Grain was ground on a hollowed out stone called a metate. It was ground by hand with a round stone tool. On a larger scale, the grinding stones we set outside and a horse was hooked up to the stone on top. He walked round and round making the top stone go around and grind the meal. Wish I had photos! Yours were great.

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    1. This is an interesting story all of the world it seems. Our common history, with all the varieties. Where people have been eating grains of some kind. But I was told (thanks Yoshizen) that in Asian countries where rice was the staple food, they did not have to grind. Rice just have to boil! Thank, interesting comment Emilie.

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  6. Superb photos.
    Thanks for sharing this aspect of Norwegian life – that winter one-roomed cottage is amazing. We certainly have it easy in modern times.

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  7. Absolutely gorgeous, and completely fascinating! I’ve seen a few large ones here in the American South — but never in person, in situ! (Only in museums sadly….)

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    1. Yes, most of them are in museums these days I suppose. Except in this village. The millstones are all over the place – used as outdoor tables, as steps before a building, just decorations, or left in the mountains. And some are still in old mills, but not for daily use. I love to hear all the millstone stories from around the world. Also the museum stories. Thank you Fey Girld.

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  8. Your photos and narrative are wonderful, Bente. There were grist mills in my home state of Iowa in the 1800s, before corn and oats supplanted wheat as a primary crop. I have visited this mill, but clearly mills were far more important in your country. There was a popular American song called “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” that my dad used to sing to my mother when they were courting.

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    1. How interesting Shoreacres. I am sure the were some bread-eaters in Iowa too back in the 1800s. Seems like it from the song. And interesting to hear about the change to corn and oats. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Bente. Delighted to have found your intriguing and eye catching blog. Loved this window into the past – so easy for us in comfortable modernity to forget the enormous labour of everyday life experienced by the generations before us who gave us so much. Great to have that heritage illustrated so beautifully here. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

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  9. Congratulations for being Freshly Pressed, Bente! You really deserve it as your photos in this post really bring up that curiosity in me, and your readers I believe.

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  10. The stones are speaking of a life long past yet so full of the rich history of Norway. My husband’s ancestors came from Norway and this is such a wonderful post. Your images are stunning especially of the waterfall. Gorgeous. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, a well-deserved recognition.

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  11. According to the nutritionist Adele Davis, when modern milling methods replaced stones in the late 19th century, mental illness rose dramatically. Seems a lot of essential vitamins are ground away or destroyed by heat in power grinding. The stone ground flour was much healthier, and bread made from the flour was far more nutritious.

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  12. Stopped by your Blog, and glad that I did. I just love snooping around in Historical places. There are quite a number of places around my area. One of them is the Berks County History Center where they do have on display Mill Stones that were once used to grind corn into flower. It was all done by hand. There was no fancy machinery back then.
    Be Well
    Les

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  13. it’s a great idea to bring up forgotten history, especially related to staple needs like food production. never knew the equipment was that big to make bread in the past. a great choice of subject and wonderful pics!

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  14. The Millstone Mountains, how amazing, and what a fascinating piece of history. I love the photos of the giant old stones out in the grass, with lichen and moss growing on them. Really beautiful. Now we need a tour of the brown cheese factory 🙂

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