Barley malt syrup as a sweetener.
Barley malt syrup as a sweetener.
This weekend was An Tir‘s Culinary Symposium, which was a smashing success. We had a great time geeking out with the other food nerds on subjects ranging far and wide. I’m all fired up to work on more sausages and cheese for this year. I’ve been a little concerned about curing/fermenting meat, and I think this is the time to get over it and give it a go. I also got a chance to go to Mistress Katrine‘s class on the cookbook of Anna Wecker, the first woman to publish a cookbook. There was a separate paper track, the proceedings of which will hopefully be published soon, check back for details…
I gave two classes, one on Baking Bread without Commercial Yeast, and the other on Fermentation in Theory and Practice. Follow the links for the class handouts. I’d love to get feedback if people have comments or questions.
So we went to a Viking party (like ya’ do) on Saturday, and to get ready I made some food. I started out with some bread. I got a grain mill for Christmas this year (thanks honey!) so I ground some hulless barley to start with. The first batch of bread was barley and oat flour (about 6:1), salt, and enough buttermilk to make it all come together. I rolled them into patties about the size and shape of veggie burgers and baked them until they were browned. The other batch was barley flour, salt, some rye sourdough starter, and goat milk to make a stiff dough. I rolled it out quite thin and cut it into strips, then baked until crisp.
Next up was some “Viking hummus” that was composed of green pea flour, goat milk, dried dill weed, dry mustard powder, grated horseradish, salt, and some hazelnut oil. It comes out about the same consistency as hummus, and is good on the crackers.
I also pickled some turnips. Had I planned this ahead, they would have been lactic acid fermented. Since I didn’t, I used water, salt and vinegar, mustard seeds, juniper berries, and added a quartered beet for color. They came out pretty well, and now I’d like to try them the “real” way.
Along the way I made some skyr too. I started with a gallon of non-fat milk, heated it to 185°, then let it cool back down to 105°. Then I stirred in a cup of Siggi’s commercial skyr for culture, and two Junket rennet tablets. I was pressed for time, so I only let it sit for 3-4 hours before straining it, so it didn’t come out as sour as I usually like. I drained it in muslin hanging from my microwave for another couple of hours until it was well set.
I took a little bit of the skyr and mixed in some roasted beets, and left the rest plain to go with the bread.
There was a lot of awesome food at the party, including smoked salmon, pickled beets, pickled herring, more flat bread, etc. It was most excellent.
May the new year be filed with joy, light, and Viking food!
Another new project for the coming year is a plan for “Viking trekking”. Eulalia and I are talking earnestly about trying a trek (aka hiking/camping) using only Viking (or in her case Celtic) appropriate gear and methods. We’re shooting for some time in August, since the fishing may be OK, the huckleberries should be ripe, and the mosquitoes should be not too bad.
There’s going to be some preparation required, both for gear in general and for cooking prep. I need to bone up on my flint & steel firestarting, since it’s been years since I’ve done it. Also, I need a small cookpot that will be easily portable and can be used to boil meal/oats/etc.
I’ll post updates as we make more plans…
This year I spent a lot of time experimenting with fermentation in the hopes of learning more about what the Vikings had to eat. The new project for the upcoming year is going to be wild foods and foraging. There are several species that appear commonly in the Viking age archeological record (including stinging nettles and lamb’s quarters [Chenopodium album]) that also grow wild here in the Pacific Northwest, and I aim to track them down and eat them.
We are also going to do some foraging for local species that aren’t Viking appropriate, just ‘cause it sounds like fun and they are tasty. We’re planning a clamming and crabbing trip this winter, and maybe some fishing and mushroom hunting for later in the year. Interestingly, there are very few shell middens in Viking age Scandinavia, although they do appear in earlier and later eras. I think there are some in Viking age Ireland and England, but I’d have to double check that. Did the Scandinavia Vikings have some religious injunction against shellfish? Were they just not fashionable? Interesting. We do know that the Vikings, particularly those in Iceland, gathered seaweed, so I’ll give that a go too.
Next Fall I’m hoping to gather and process some acorns. At some point I came across an article on acorn eating in a Viking context, I’m pretty sure, although I haven’t been able to re-find the reference.
In any case, I think this will provide new opportunities for understanding what Viking’s really had to eat. Wild foods have traditionally been part of everyone’s diet, from spring greens to mushrooms to fish and animal species. Whether those were actively sought out or just eaten opportunistically probably depends on where/when, and how much cultivated food was available.
More reports to follow as events warrant…
At least twice recently, the question has come up “did the Vikings have cauliflower?”.
The short answer is “probably not”.
The longer answer involves that fact that it turns out to be quite difficult to distinguish between the various members of the cabbage/mustard family (brassicas) in the archeological record. Most of the archeo-botanical reports from Viking digs include something like “brassicas” rather than a particular species, because we can’t really tell.
The ones they probably had were likely to be an open leafed (not headed) cabbage like modern kale or collards, something like a turnip (the white and purple kind, not rutabagas), and mustard greens of some kind. Cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are later inventions. Cauliflower in particular didn’t appear in Northern Europe until the 16th C.
I didn’t do too much that was specifically “Viking” this weekend, but I did spend a large part of the weekend (our September Crown Tournament) cooking in the arts & sciences demonstration area. We started off slow on Saturday morning with some bacon wrapped around pitted dates, strung on a skewer and roasted over the coals until the bacon is done. Documentable? I have no idea. Delicious? Very much so.
The next project I did have documentation for. I made a Trayne Roste. It was totally fun to do, and a great conversation piece. Lots of people came over to ask questions during the process, and it kept me busy for the whole middle of the day. The result was also delicious. I ended up making two batches of the batter, the first runny and the second much thicker (mainly because I was running out of wine). The thicker batter worked much better. I think if I’d had a brush, the thinner batter would have worked well, but as I only had a spoon, drizzling on the thinner batter resulted in a lot of it ended up in the fire. Given both the batter and the layout of my fire pit, I found I also needed to keep the fire really hot. The thicker batter adhered pretty well, and was easier to work with overall, although it went on thicker and took longer to cook.
For dinner I made some arguably Viking barley pilaf, that was just smoked pork, barley, leeks and water. It didn’t cook long enough before it was time for dinner, so it was a little chewy, but the flavor was quite good.
Sunday morning our friend Katrine made both waffles and wafers over the fire, using the same batter from a recipe she translated from a 16th C German cookbook. It involved ground almonds, flour made from lebkuchen, and was generally made of fabulous. Both the waffle and wafer iron performed well over the fire, and the results were very tasty. The wafers rolled around dates was particularly popular. My son made a taco out of one of the wafers, some dates, and a piece of smoked pork loin which he declared delicious but the crowd was generally skeptical about. Sunday dinner was stew of smoked pork (do you sense a theme here? I smoked 8 lbs worth of pork loin last Thursday…) with plums and leeks. I had meant to thicken it with some barley bread, but it went clean out of my head, so the result was soup rather than stewy, but delicious nonetheless.
I realized I’ve been a bit quiet here of late. Not much to report. The last few events we’ve been to have been hot, so nobody wanted to cook over the fire. That means eating out of the cooler, which is a bit less Viking and a bit more convenient, as much as I hate to say it.
In the mean time, I’ve been studying up on modern Scandinavian food. While modern food certainly doesn’t tell us what Vikings ate, it can tell us something about environmental and cultural constraints. Some of the features of modern Scandinavian cooking point to environmental constraints that would have applied to Viking Age Scandinavia as well. For example, modern Scandinavian (and Icelandic) cooking tend to use a lot of sour flavors, probably due to historic constraints on the amount of salt available. These sour flavors also develop well in cooler climates. Bread tends to be heavier than in Southern Europe, and include a lot of barley, rye and oat flour because wheat doesn’t grow well in the North. Fish is still very prevalent in the modern diet because it’s readily available. And so on…
I’ve also been working on getting the hang of sourdough rye bread. I’ve been baking a lot more lately, in part because the while idea of sourdough (and other fermentation) just tickles me, and because the kind of dense, flavorful rye bread so popular in Northern Europe (and perfect for smørrebrød) is very hard to get here so I’ve been making it myself. I just finished a batch of this Danish rye, which came out really well, as well as a few batches of German Volkornbrot, and one of Russian Borodinski bread. These breads take a bit of work, and somewhere between 2-4 days start to finish, but they keep really well, and are very tasty. Just the thing for a nice open faced sandwich. A little bread, a little herring, some pickles…