This weekend at Grand Thing I’m teaching a class on this subject, so I thought I’d jot down my notes here first…
There are lots of Viking-possible foods that will survive a weekend without refrigeration. They possibilities really break down into two groups depending on whether or not you are willing to do any cooking, or just want to live off the cold food.
- Pickled vegetables. Some suggestions are sauerkraut, sauerruben (much the same only with turnips), pickled carrots, fermented kale, pickled radishes, pickled/fermented apples, cherries, plums. All of these things can be lacto-fermented (which is what the Vikings would have done) or modern vinegar pickled versions can be substituted. Any of these will survive a weekend without cooling, particularly if you can keep them from getting too hot.
- Bread. Any heavy wheat or rye bread will keep well. Alternatively, barley based hard tack or crisp bread. Easy to make, easy to keep, and filling. The hard tack can be eaten dry, or broken up into soup. You can also break up the hard tack into water or small beer and eat like grape nuts.
- Sour milk/buttermilk/yogurt/skyr. If you can keep it reasonably cool, these will all keep just fine for a few days. These go will with bread (above), by themselves, with fruit, or with roasted flour.
- Roasted flour. I’ve long suspected that the Vikings probably used pre-roasted barley flour as a travelling food, mush as the modern Tibetans do. Just recently, I found references to a Finnish food called talkkuna (or kama in Estonian) that is flour made from roasted barley, oats, rye, and/or peas. Since the roasting pre-cooks the grains, they don’t require additional cooking to be digestible. The modern Finns mix talkkuna with villi (a cultured milk product) or other yogurt/buttermilk to make While that doesn’t mean for sure that the Vikings did the same, it certainly is plausible.
- Cheese. A nice hard cheese will keep easily without refrigeration. Think a nice hard, sharp Cheddar, or Emmantaler for something more Norse. Parmesan or other hard grating style cheeses (mizythra, asiago) also work well. While probably not Viking, modern Scandinavian whey-cheeses like gjetost also keep well.
- Pickled meat or fish. You can make your own, or use modern equivalents. Pickled sausages are good. If you are willing to deal with non-period spices, bar-style pickled hot links are (aside from the chili pepper) very similar to Icelandic whey-pickled sausages. Some import stores also carry German sausages in glass jars (think giant Vienna sausages). These are really “pickled”, but they are salty enough to last the weekend, particularly until opened. Pickled pigs feet, salt pork, or salted and potted pork (think rillettes) also should keep, although I haven’t tried them. If you bring any kind of non-canned meat, make sure they stay cool and check them carefully for spoilage before you eat them. Canned kippered or other styles of herring are perfectly appropriate, and will keep indefinitely. They go really well with bread, cheese, and pickled vegetables. Dried meat such as jerky is passible, but I personally don’t think that the Vikings would have had the salt to dry rather than pickling beef. Maybe, though…
- Raw root vegetables or cabbage. Carrots, turnips, and green cabbage all store well if they are not too hot, and can be eaten raw or with skyr or other dairy products. Cabbages can be shredded for salads, and lightly salted cabbage with piima or other “buttermilks” is a simple coleslaw. Onions also keep well.
- Fruit. Apples, cherries, plums. Dried fruit keeps even better, but the fresh ones will last the weekend if kept out of the sun.
If you are willing to do some cooking, there are lots of possibilities.
- Grain + sour milk + salt + heat = flat bread
- Grain or peas plus water + preserved meat and vegetables makes soup or stew
- Sour milk, preserved fish + broken up hard tack makes “chowder”
- Grain + water + heat = porridge. Excellent with sour milk, fresh or preserved fruit, nuts.
- Old bread, cheese, preserved vegetables + hot broth makes “sops”.
These are just a few of the possibilities. It does take some planning, and as mentioned above it’s best to keep many of these things out of high heat or direct sunshine. I sometimes use an insulated wooden box in the shade to keep things as cool as possible without resorting to ice.
If you come up with other ideas I’d love to hear about them.