Food Culture on

How the Institute for Language and Folklore brings Swedish cultural heritage to the digital audience.

Åsa Holmgren & Marlene Hugoson, Institute of Language and Folklore (ISOF), Sweden.

Built from the bountiful archival sources of the Institute for Language and Folklore (Isof) in Sweden, cultural heritage on the themes of food, drink and meals are now made available on the website Matkult (English: Foodcult), a knowledge bank for traditional small-scale food culture.

In the ISOF archives, extensive knowledge on traditional food culture has been and still is being collected. The themes extend from agriculture and fishing to the diet, food resources, plant varieties, livestock breeds, dishes, food production, kitchen utensils and meals of the Swedish countryside.

The collected material is rich in its diversity, and forms a source of knowledge of both food production and the context surrounding food as well as an understanding of people’s relationship with food. The aim of the archives’ early documentation was also to record dialects, and in the archival sources a wide variety of geographical words and expressions are presented.

The Map

On the clickable map, descriptions, ideas, and stories about traditional food culture from all over Sweden can be found, recipes included. If interested in a specific subject, the visitor to the site can also click on the categories of leguminous plants, bread, fruit & berries, fish, honey, cabbage, meat, milk, flour dishes, potatoes, eggs, and beer.


The map contains a selection of archival sources from the folklore archives in Gothenburg, Lund, Uppsala and Umeå, to date, some 2200 posts. The majority date from the period 1850–1950, and consist of answers to the questionnaires the archives sent out over the years.


In addition to the questionnaires, includes the extensive knowledge from the individual voices documented in the archives, lending deeper knowledge to each category of food. This includes information on diet, various food resources, cooking, and dishes throughout history, the dialectological names of dishes and food resources, and folk belief and traditions connected with food culture.

The historical background and development are illustrated in timelines. Suggestions for further reading are given in articles, literature and weblinks. There are quizzes too. Finally, over 800 older recipes from different parts of the country are collected in Kokboken (‘The Cookbook’), where they are divided into category, geographical area, or the year in which they were recorded.

The images used are photographs and illustrations taken from the Isof archives and other cultural institutions. Each is linked to the source, where more information about the photographer/illustrator and image can be found.


One example of a category of food presented is Honung (Honey), a sweet treat in demand throughout history. Clicking on HONEY the visitor gets information on honey and mead, recipes, bees and beekeeping, a recording with a farmer’s personal story of beekeeping, suggested reading, and finally a map presenting archive records.


A voice in the category is that of Colonel Heideman’s wife, who gives her recipe for a gingersnap sponge in a written record from 1874:

“Ingredients and preparation
8 eggs are whipped for half an hour, when 1 bowl pound of boiled, skimmed and cooled honey is added, 10 units sugar, cardamom, carnation, and cinnamon according to taste, finely sliced bitter orange peel, as well as lemon, whereupon this mix is whipped for another half hour. Lastly, 28 lots of flour is stirred into the mix, poured into oven dishes to be baked: at most for an hour.” (archival source: Isof, ULMA 40938).

Chalet Culture

Chalet interior in Torsåker. Isof, ULMA 34715, p. 53

Under the heading MJÖLK (Milk), the reader gets an exotic insight into Fäbodbruk (Swedish chalet culture), once an integral part of householding in the northern parts of Sweden, and now on the rise again in modern shape as tourist attractions, showing a more sustainable form of food production.

As an example of the sort of illustrations provided on the website, sometimes in great detail: in the answer to a questionnaire from 1943, William Eriksson (born 1894) shared an illustration of an ordinary chalet interior in Torsåker in the district of Gästrikland, Sweden.

The main functions of the traditional chalet were as grazing for animals and processing milk. Click on this theme for information on the geographical spread of the chalets, their organisation, the hard work of the chalet maidens, the production of cheese, butter, sour milk and buttermilk, the music and calls used both for communication to ward off predators (recorded samples included), as well as a historical perspective including the folk beliefs connected to the work.

Isof, ULMA 34715, p. 43

Finally, the chalet maiden’s dress code is described: “During chalet work, the chalet maiden used worn clothes. Some old man’s hat was worn on her head to make any bear think she was a man.”

A Joint Project is a knowledge bank for traditional small-scale food culture, and the result of a project bearing the same name. It was funded by the Rural Development Program, and is part of the Government project “Traditional Small-Scale Food Culture”, where several official agencies join together in support of a living dynamic culture involving food and food production. The participants are the Institute for Language and Folklore together with the Swedish Board of Agriculture, The Swedish National Heritage Board, and the Sami Parliament.

In Sweden, Isof has been given the general responsibility for UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the aim of which is to transmit cultural diversity, human creativity, tradition and expressions of the past to future generations, thus raising awareness of immaterial cultural heritage. One of the working themes is Food Heritage (Swedish “Levande mattraditioner”), and this is where connects to the convention.

Authors: Åsa Holmgren & Marlene Hugoson Institute of Language and Folklore, Sweden. Contact: