Around nearly every corner in the Lofoten Islands, you will find a vista with natural and human elements: in the background, a stunning stretch of mountains and sea, and in the foreground, a line of triangular wooden racks hugging the shore. They are arranged along most coasts, sturdy-looking and, in winter, largely bare, left like the ghostly remnants of a tented city. You can’t help thinking of tents, or laundry, because racks like these are made to be covered.
For thousands of years – perhaps since the last Ice Age – humans have caught cod off the coast of the Lofoten Islands. From around the Viking Ages, and especially in the Middle Ages, Norwegians have caught cod as one of their biggest export products. Export to far-flung places requires a solid preservation method, and drying is one of the world’s oldest. Air-drying cod on the ubiquitous hjell (racks) allows the stockfish to stay good for several years while retaining necessary nutrients. Spring is the main season for drying, and for those weeks the hjell are covered end-to-end in fish. When summer comes, the stockfish are packed up but the hjell remain, a hundred monuments to the legacy of cod fishing in Norway.
Photo: Outside Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway / February 2016
And . . .