Jun 052013
Danish Constitutional Congress

Danish Constitutional Congress


Today is Constitution Day in Denmark, commemorating the signing of the constitution on 5 June 1849, which turned the nation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.  It had been an absolute monarchy since 1660 (rather oddly by a constitution granting the king absolute power), but the pan-European revolutions of 1848, plus the movement of Norway to a constitutional monarchy, prompted a rise in democratic sentiments in Denmark.  Unlike in the rest of Europe, in Copenhagen there were no violent clashes at the barricades, or the like. There was apparently just a quiet realization that it was time, and the structure of power shifted relatively quietly. Everything was achieved through democratic process, with the king’s assent.

The constitution of 1849 followed the principles of the French philosopher Montesquieu, ensuring certain key notions such as the separation of powers (with checks and balances), and the assurance of basic human rights. From that point on the role of king was purely symbolic.  Denmark’s constitution is curious in that it has never been amended.  When the need arises to change it, they write a new constitution. Thus, since 1849 Denmark has had five constitutions, the latest signed on 5 June, 1953.  The constitution of 1915 granted women the right to vote, and that of 1953 changed the parliamentary structure from two houses to one.  The constitution is not easy to change.  Under current rules a change in the constitution must be voted on twice by parliament, both before and after a general election.  It must then be submitted to a popular vote where it must receive a majority of those voting, and 40% of the total electorate must vote yes.  Thus a low turnout spells failure.  All very civilized for a nation whose berserker Viking warriors struck fear in the hearts of peoples across Europe. Ivar the Boneless and Sweyn Forkbeard spring to mind.

Danish cuisine is noted for several popular dishes.  Universally known is the breakfast Danish pastry, which is actually of Viennese origin, and so is called wienerbrød in Denmark.  Lunch is usually a cold meal consisting of smørrebrød, an open faced sandwich on dense, dark rye bread topped with slices of cold meat, sausage, liverwurst, or hard-boiled egg, with fancier toppings, such as prawns and smoked salmon for fancier occasions.  Dinner is a hot meal focused on meat, sausages, meatballs, or fish.  The national dish is frikadeller – meatballs in brown cream sauce.

There are many variations of frikadeller, but traditionally they are made of ground veal, pork or beef (or a blend of two of these meats); chopped onions; eggs; milk (or water); breadcrumbs (or oatmeal or flour); salt; and pepper; then formed into balls and flattened somewhat. They are then pan-fried in pork or beef drippings, or bacon fat. Modern cooks often use olive oil or vegetable oil. Another popular variation is fiskefrikadeller replacing the meat with fish as the main ingredient and often served with remoulade, which you can make by mixing capers, chopped pickles, lemon juice, dill, chervil, parsley or other fresh herbs, with mayonnaise.

As a main dish frikadeller are most often served with boiled white potatoes and gravy (brun sovs) accompanied by pickled beetroot or cooked red cabbage. Alternatively they can be served with creamed white cabbage.

Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)


2lbs (.9 kilos) ground meat (veal and pork is my favorite)
1 finely chopped onion
½ (64 g) cup breadcrumbs
¼ (1.25 g) tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 ½ (6.25 g) tsp salt
2 tbsp (30 g) flour
2 eggs
milk or water
beef drippings or bacon fat for frying (olive oil for the health conscious!)


Beat the eggs.

Mix together thoroughly the meats, onion, breadcrumbs, pepper, salt, flour, and eggs.

Add enough milk or water so you can form meat mixture into balls, a little bigger than a golf ball. Some cooks then flatten them into patties, or you can keep them round.

Brown the meatballs in drippings or bacon fat over high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer slowly until the meat is cooked through, but not dry.

Serves 4 to 6

Brun Sovs (Brown Sauce)

Brown 3 tablespoons (45 g) of flour in ¾ tablespoon (11 ml) of dripping from the meatballs over medium heat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and slowly add heavy cream or whole milk, whisking  constantly until the mixture reaches gravy consistency.

Add salt and pepper to taste.