Yesterday was time for the annual karvekaalsuppe party in Malvik. The young spring shoots of caraway are ready for harvesting in early spring (April to early May). They have a mild parsley-like taste not at all like the seeds. They were traditionally used to make a soup (karvekaalsuppe). Karvekaal literally translates as caraway-cabbage or -greens. This soup is described in Norway’s first cookery book by Hanna Winsnes in 1845. She recommends that the karvekaal should be cooked to soup either with meat or fish stock. Jens Holmboe, in his wartime Norwegian book Free Food from Wild Plants (Gratis Mat av Ville Planter ,1941) wrote, ‘There are many homes around the country in which the serving of the year’s first fresh karvekaalsuppe brings on a real spring party atmosphere after the long hard winter’. I know exactly what he means.
This week’s veggie karvekaal soup was made from both leaves and roots, first fried in a little butter with onion, garlic, sweet marjoram, chili, salt and pepper with a little barley miso. Delicious!
When we had children, first Robin in 1983 followed by Hazel (1986), I had less time to forage for food and started moving some of my favourite wild edibles into my garden. One of the first was Carum carvi (caraway / karve). My foraging mentor, Jan Erik Kofoed, had taught me about using the spring greens and how not to confuse it with cow parsley (hundekjeks) and yarrow (ryllik) which it often grows together with here. Locally it grows on coastal rocks and meadows, further afield on farmland. However, I could never find enough. It grew well in the garden and I had it in the same spot for over 20 years, self-seeding and always there, giving the impression of being perennial.
Caraway was probably taken by the Vikings to Shetland, Iceland and Greenland, where it is still found. Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen describes having eaten karvekaalsuppe in 1888 at the beginning of the first crossing of Greenland where they pitched their tents on a grassy area: ‘…after a strenuous day, a fantastic warm karvekaalsuppe, which will be difficult to forget, was our reward for our efforts’.
In Norway, karve grows throughout the country, in the south even being found in the mountains and, in the north, to the Arctic Ocean north of 70°N. Its range otherwise is throughout northern Europe including the Baltic states, most of Central Europe and east into Central Asia, Mongolia, Kamchatka, northern China and spread in the Himalayas. It is also found in Iceland and Greenland and has naturalised in many parts of North America. Outside of Norway I’ve also found documentation of using the spring leaves in soup both in Estonia, Poland and Slovakia.
More on the multi-purpose plant caraway on my blog as a root vegetable, spice or edimental: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=caraway