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Viking Foods

Dear Viking Answer Lady:

What did the Vikings eat?

(signed) Just Adopted into A Viking Household & Wondering What to Expect at Mealtime

Gentle Reader:

Viking hearth As you would expect, the Vikings ate a wide variety of foods. While Scandinavia is cold, many foods are available there, and what was not obtainable via agriculture and husbandry was available by trade with more temperate countries.

Unfortunately, the Vikings did not write cookbooks. The earliest cookbooks from Scandinavia come from the Scandinavian Middle Ages, ca. 1300 and 1350:

Kristensen, M. Harpestrang, Gamle danske Urtebøger, Stenbøger, og Kogebøger (Old Danish Urte-books, Stone-books, and Cookbooks).Copenhagen: Thiele. 1908-1920.

Also see:

Rudolf Grewe. "An Early XIII Century Northern-European Cookbook," in Proceedings of A Conference on Current Research in Culinary History: Sources, Topics, and Methods. Published by the Culinary Historians of Boston. 1986.

These books are based solidly in Continental culinary tradition, sharing a common French origin. They contain recipes for sauces, milk and egg dishes, and chicken. The recipes almost always utilize and extremely elaborate preparation,with ingredients being processed to the point where they could not readily be recognized by being cut up small, ground, or hidden inside pastry.

Another post-Viking Age Scandinavian source would be a list of meals served during the course of a year to the Swedish bishop Hans Brask around 1520:

Hildebrand, H., ed. "Matordningen i Biskop Hans Brask Hus." Kongl. Vitterhets och Antiqvitets Akademiens Månadsblad January. February-March 1885. pp. 1-21, 141-142.

More information may be determined through archaeological investigation. Pollen analyses from bogs and lake bottoms gives us data as to what types of plants were growing in Viking Age Scandinavia. Midden archaeology, the investigation of kitchen refuse and garbage piles from the Viking Age, provides even more specific clues. Some data may even be gleaned from the Eddas and sagas, although this information is scarce and only occurs in passing, as for example in this passage from Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:

Skallagrim was also a great shipwright. There was plenty of driftwood to be had west of Myrar, so he built and ran another farm at Alftaness and from there his men went out fishing and seal-hunting, and collecting the eggs of wild fowl, for there was plenty of everything. They also fetched in his driftwood. Whales often got stranded, and you could shoot anything you wanted, for none of the wildlife was used to man and just stood around quietly. His third farm he built by the sea in the west part of Myrar. From there it was even easier to get the driftwood. He started sowing there and called the place Akrar (cornfields). There are some islands lying offshore where a whale had been washed up, so they called them the Hvals Isles (whale islands). Skallagrim also had his men go up the rivers looking for salmon, and settled Odd the Lone-dweller at the Gljufur River to look after the salmon-fishing.
(Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, Chapter 29)

While these sources may tell us what foods were eaten, they do not tell us how they were prepared.




General Information

Daily Meals

The Vikings customarily ate two meals each day. The first, dagmál or "day-meal" was eaten in the morning, approximately two hours after the day's work was started (7 AM to 8 AM or so), while the second, náttmál or "night meal" was consumed at the end of the day's labor (7 PM to 8 PM or so). These times would vary seasonally, depending on the hours of daylight.

Types of Food

The foods listed here were known to the Vikings, as evidenced by mention in the literary sources, or documented by archaeological finds (i.e., grave sites, etc.). Additional foods were probably consumed as well, including but not limited to wild herbs and fruits known to grow in Scandinavia, additional game animals not listed below, and any foodstuffs that may have been imported from other countries.

Reconstruction of the food market in Viking York

Protein

Domestic Sources: Beef, mutton, lamb, goat and pork were eaten throughout the Viking homelands and settlements. Horse meat was also consumed, and by the Christian Middle Ages the consumtion of horseflesh had become identified as a specifically heathen practice.

Cattle were the most important type of livestock. Evidence for this is found in investigations of osteological finds and settlement remains, and archaeological traces of stall partitions gives investigators indications of how many animals were kept. In Viking Age farms, byres with room for 80-100 animals have been found.

In Denmark, about one half of the cattle were slaughtered before the age of 3.5 years, allowing most cows to produce at least one calf and making both meat and milk production possible. Archaeological evidence also shows a number of cows that lived around ten years, evidence that they were in use as dairy cattle. In Western Jutland, oxen were were renowned for their high-quality meat and were produced for export as meat animals by individual farmers, then later sold to a larger estate. When they were 4-5 years old, the oxen were walked down the peninsula about two weeks' distance and sold, then re-fattened for three weeks on the marshes before they were slaughtered. This trade in oxen supported some of the nutritional needs of the towns.

Meat was a seasonal product, as slaughtering was mainly done at the end of the grazing season. Farmers had to make a careful assessment of their hay supplies, and decide how many animals could be overwintered, with the strongest and most productive animals being retained and others slaughtered for meat. Slaughtering time for cattle and sheep was in October, pigs in November-December. Meat was not as highly valued a food as it is today in places such as America - milk products were the most highly valued, and cattle were essential to producing dairy goods. There is also the consideration that the very word for "riches" or "money" in Old Norse, , has a root meaning of "cattle", so for each cow that the farmer could not successfully support over the winter, they sustained an economic loss, thus meat as a food was in some ways an admission of failure, not success, which probably contributed to the value of meat as a foodstuff in Viking Age society.

Pigs were kept for meat, and were usually sent off into the forest to feed on mast (fallen nuts, for instance those of beech), especially in the southern areas of Scandinavia where pigs could be forest-grazed year-round. Pigs were an efficient means of recycling food waste and turning it into consumable meat. Pigs were also valuable food animals for town-dwellers and those in dense settlements where they could be kept penned and fed household scraps, a practice which began in Scandinavia in the Viking Age, particularly at magnate farms and in early towns.

In Iceland animal husbandry was the major source of food and the principal occupation of the inhabitants. Cattle appear to have been the main farm animal until the 12th century, when deterioration in the climate made it difficult to maintain large herds of cattle and sheep farming took the forefront. This would directly affect diet as well. In general, in farming areas of the Viking world, pork and beef were being consumed in roughly equal amounts. In urban and monastic contexts, cattle represent up to 60% of the meat consumed, with pork and mutton providing each about 20% of the meat in the diet.

The Viking Age people also kept chicken, geese, and ducks both for eggs and meat. Hens, geese, and ducks were used to provide fresh meat throughout the year.

Preservation of meat was quite important, and various methods for preservation were in use during the Viking Age, including drying, smoking, salting, fermentation, pickling in whey, or in northern Scandinavia, freezing. Drying was perhaps the most common method, and since properly dried meat could keep for years.

Fermentation of meat for preservation is a fairly alien concept to a modern Westerner, but was used in the Viking Age and continues to be used even today in certain traditional Scandinavian foods, such as hakikarl (fermented shark) in Iceland, or surströmning (sour herring) in northern Sweden. In general, the unopened animal was covered, often in a pit, and left to ferment in the absence of air and sometimes utilizing salt.

The far northern parts of Norway were so cold and dry that drying and smoking were the preferred methods of meat preservation. Some salt preservation was done, mostly in the more southerly areas of Scandinavia such as Denmark.

Hunting/Gathering: While people in the Viking Age did hunt and eat game, the amount of wild meat consumed was very low in comparison to that from domestic sources, as determined by bone finds in kitchen and midden excavations in most of Scandinavia. However, in the farthest northern areas, such as Norrland in Sweden, Troms in Finnmark and Nordland in Norway, game meats were much more important and represented a much larger, or even the greatest part of the meat consumed.

Deer, elk, reindeer and hare were the most important animals hunted for meat. Red deer has been shown to have been eaten in Jorvík and the Danelaw, and there is evidence that venison was consumed at Jarlshöf in the Shetlands. Bear, boar, and squirrel were all hunted at times as well. Squirrel was the most important animal hunted for furs, and so may have been eaten fairly often.

In Jorvík and the Danelaw in England, wild poultry used for food included golden plover, grey plover, black grouse, wood pigeon, lapwing. Wild goose has been identified as a foodstuff in Dublin.

Nuts were also a source of protein. Hazelnuts were the only nut found wild in Scandinavia and were consumed throught Scandinavia and the Viking settlements. Walnuts were imported, even in the Viking Age, and medieval Scandinavian cooks imported almonds and chestnuts as well.

Food from the Sea, Rivers and Lakes: It is estimated by scholars that up to 25% of the calories in the diet of coastal Norwegians would have come from fish in normal years. The fish resources in the Atlantic off the western coasts of Scandinavia were (and continue to be) extremely rich, providing cod and coalfish, and freshwater would have been a source of salmon. Even Norwegians who lived in the interior had access to high proportions of fish in their diets, since coastal people would have traded fish for timber and other goods. Shrimp were also eaten.

In Eastern Scandinavia as well fish was an important part of the diet, with herring being caught in Bohuslän, off Denmark, and in the Baltic, and salmon in the rivers and lakes. Other saltwater fish known to have been eaten include haddock, flat-fish, ling, horse mackerel, smelt, and saithe.

There is also evidence that a variety of freshwater and estuarine fish and shellfish were eaten. Most of the evidence for freshwater fish consumption comes from Jorvík (modern York) and the Danelaw. Freshwater fish included roach, rudd, and bream, with perch and pike being the most commonly found freshwater fish at archaeological sites. We have evidence for estuarine fish from both England and the Viking holdings in Dublin, including oysters, cockles, mussels, winkles, smelt, eels, salmon, and scallops.

In northern Scandinavia, the dry, cold conditions allowed fish to be preserved almost indefinitely by drying. The fish (mostly cod) was strung up and hung it from a rod or "stock" and allowed to dry. This produced "stockfish", called skreið ("sharp-fish") in Old Norse. During the Viking Age, the rock-hard skreið was prepared for eating by being beaten and pounded to break up the fibers, and served with butter. Skreið or stockfish became important in another legendary Scandinavian food, which is, however, not documentable until 1553, long after the close of the Viking Age: this is the (in)famous lutefisk, or "lye fish."

The earliest recipe for lutefisk comes from a German cookbook, Das Kochbuch von Sabina Welserin:

To prepare dried cod, from the gracious Lord of Lindau, who was Bishop in Constance. First take river water and ashes and add caustic lime [lye], which should be rather strong, and soak the dried cod therein. Allow it to soak for a day and a night, afterwards drain it off and pour on it again the previously described caustic lime solution. Let it soak again for a day and a night, put it afterwards in a pot and wash it off two or three times in water, so that the fish no longer tastes like lye. Put it then in a pot and put water therein and let it slowly simmer so that it does not boil over. Allow it to only simmer slowly, otherwise it becomes hard. Let it cook approximately one hour, after which, dress and salt it and pour salted butter over it and serve it. Also put good mustard on the outside in about three places. One must also beat dried cod well before it is soaked (Armstrong, 33).

Like the Viking preparation for skreið, lutefisk was a technique for allowing the board-like stockfish to be consumed by humans, with the lye acting to partially dissolve and thus soften the fish. Accordingly, lutefisk is not a Viking Age food, but became important in the Middle Ages as Christian fasting requirements led to greater needs for preserved fish which could easily be stored and shipped.

Beached whales were an important food resource for the Vikings

Whales were also an important food resource during the Viking Age. The sagas frequently mention complex conflicts that arose because of disputes over the legal rights of a landowner to the meat, blubber, and bone from beached whales. It was probably extremely rare that ships went out and harpooned whales, and probably only Iceland and the Faroe Islands used this method of whaling. Whales were also trapped in inlets and bays with narrow openings, where they were frightened and driven aground from boats, or shot with poisoned arrows. The Old English Orosius tells how the chieftain Óttar (Ohthere, in Old English) of northern Norway hunted whales:

Ac on his agnum lande is se betsta hwælhuntað: þa beoð eahta and feowertiges elna lange, & þa mæstan fiftiges elna lange. Þara he sæde þæt he syxa sum ofsloge syxtig on twam dagum.
(The Old English Orosius, 39-41)

(And in his own land is the best whale-hunting: they are 48 ells long (180 feet), and the largest are 50 ells long. There he said that he and five others slew sixty in two days.)

If the number of whales killed here is correct, then Óttar and his five men must have driven a pod of small whales such as pilot whales onto shore, and there killed them using knives and spears.

Porpoises and seals were also hunted. The most important seal product was blubber, which was eaten in place of butter or used for frying. Apparently seal meat was not a particularly prized food, but was eaten by peasants because other meat was scarce.

In addition, various sea birds and their eggs would have been consumed.

Fruits

Sloes, plums, apples and blackberries were consumed throughout Scandinavia and the Viking settlements. Bilberries were another common fruit, and unfortunately since the Icelandic word for bilberry is bláber (literally, "blue berry") many sources list these as "blueberries."

Other fruits eaten included raspberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries, cherries, sour cherries, bullaces, cloudberries, strawberries, crabapple, rose hips, and rowan berries.

Fruits were preserved by drying during the Viking Age, and by the Middle Ages in Scandinavia fruit was also preserved in honey or in sugar. Some fruit was imported in the medieval period, and there are archaeological finds in medieval contexts of fig seeds and grape pips.

Vegetables

Viking Age dasher from a butter churn The Viking peoples consumed a variety of vegetables, both grown in gardens and gathered in the wild. Vegetables known from Jorvík or Dublin include carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, spinach, wild celery, cabbage, radishes, fava beans, and peas. Endive has been found at Svenborg on the Isle of Funden. Other vegetables would have included beets, angelica, mushrooms, leeks, onions, and edible seaweeds. Sandwort and acorns were used sometimes as starvation foods, but were only eaten in extremity as they were fairly unpalatable.

Vegetables were generally preserved by drying.

A variety of seeds were used to produce oils used in cooking as well in both Jorvík and Dublin. These included linseed oil, hempseed oil, and rapeseed oil.

Dairy

Viking Age tray used in the manufacture of cheese. Dairy farming was very important in northern Sweden, Finland, and Norway, with cows being the primary dairy animal, although goat's milk was also used. During the Middle Ages, bread and other cereal food types only slowly replaced milk products as the staple food of the general population, and in some parts of Scandinavia milk products have remained the most important foodstuff up through the nineteenth century.

In Iceland, the diet included very little in the way of cereals but instead relied primarily on protein sources, including milk and butter: "In Iceland, dairy food nevertheless enjoyed higher prestige than meat..." (Jochens, p. 128).

Milk was not usually consumed, but rather used to create other dairy foods which could be stored for winter consumption, such as butter, buttermilk, whey, skyr, curds, and cheese (which was usually heavily salted to help preserve it). Fresh milk was seen primarily as a raw material that had to be treated, coagulated into skyr, which could be stored for months, or fresh cheese, and the whey produced as a by-product was used as a preservative for meat or butter. Salted butter could actually be kept for years:

... large stores were accumulated, like gold, by wealthy landowners. By the time of the reformation the bishropic in Hólar possessed a mountain of butter [from tithes] calculated to weigh twenty-five tons (Jochens, p. 128).

Whey was retained and used either as a beverage or as a preservative to pickle meats and fish. The lactic acid in whey acted to slow or halt bacterial growth, allowing foods to be stored longer just as pickling in vinegar (acetic acid) does.

Bread and Cereals

Archaeological examples of grain from the Viking Age. Occasionally archaeologists find the remains of cereal grains or bread survive from Viking Age sites, such as the bread from Birka shown here. Mostly cereals which have been burnt and carbonized survive in the archaeological record, to be discovered a millennium later.

Barley was the most commonly grown grain in Sweden in Denmark. Rye began being grown in Finland, eastern Sweden and parts of Denmark around 1000-1200, although rye production did not become widely established until the late Middle Ages. In Norway oats and barley were extensively cultivated. Iceland had some cultivation or barley and oats until around 1150, made possible by the favorable climate during the first part of the Middle Ages. Wheat has also been found at Jorvík, Birka, Oseberg, and Dublin. Some rice was imported from Italy in the Middle Ages, and millet and buckwheat were eaten occasionally as well.

At the beginning of the Viking Age, evidence of autumn-sown rye indicates that crop rotation systems were introduced in southern Scandinavia. A three-field system would be used, with the field planting order requiring rye being planted the first year, barley planted the second year, and the third year the field being left fallow, with the fields being worked and manured before the next crop of rye was sown. This cycle allowed optimal use of the manure resources, since each field was manured only one year out of three, and rye does well with fresh dung, while barley favors decomposed manure.

Hulled barley was used for thin, flat bread, baked on an open fire. Oats seem to have been preferred for bread and porridge in parts of western Sweden. In Denmark, barley was primarily used for porridge and beer, while oats were fodder for the animals. It is thought that rye became the main bread cereal in southern Scandinavia during the Viking Age, but it took another 500 years or so for rye bread to reach Central Sweden, and it never replaced barley bread in the north.

Most of the barley grown would have been used to make ale. The remainder was used for bread and other dishes. Porridge or gruel made from whole or cracked grains was an important everyday food for the Viking farm family and it is believed that it was the staple food of the Viking Age. During the week the grain for the porridge would be simply cooked in water and then eaten. At celebrations porridge would be cooked with milk and eaten with butter.

In Iceland particularly it was very difficult to grow grain, becoming more difficult due to climactic changes with the beginning of the Middle Ages:

Scarcity of grain meant that in Iceland, unlike in continental Europe, bread never became a staple. It was in fact so rare that people dreamt about it, and one man received his nickname "Butter-Ring" (smjör-hringr) from his favorite food of bread and butter. Scarcity of grain and ovens made flat bread the preferred form in most of the north, but even in this form it never became important in the Icelandic diet. Grain was instead diluted in gruel and in porridge, probably the most important food on ocean travel and a preferred dish for elderly (toothless) people (Jochens, p. 127).

Bread has been found at several Viking Age sites, most in Sweden (particularly Birka and Helgö in Central Sweden) but also some in Denmark. These breads are small, thin and biscuit-like; some have holes in the center, allowing them to be hung on wires or rods of iron or bronze. They are generally made from at least two different cereals, one of them almost always barley. The proportion of cereals used for the breads corresponds roughly to the proportion in which they were cultivated. The Birka loaves are believed to have been baked on a baking slab or an iron pan. Apparently ovens for bread-baking were not widespread, and some investigators believe that leavened, oven- baked bread was developed as an effect of the increasing cultivation of rye in southern Scandinavia.

Finds at Birka suggest that the most common types of bread there were made with a mixture of barley and some type of wheat, although bread might also contain other grains, such as spelt, oats, linseed, or even sprouted peas. Rye was used mostly for baking bread as well. Written sources would indicate that oats were considered animal fodder, but a find from Hamar, Norway, shows that oats were also used on occasion for oatmeal bread, and oats were probably used in porridge as well.

Bread from Birka Viking Age quern for grinding grain.

Grain had to be ground before being made into either bread or porridge. The hand-mill used in Viking Age Scandinavia consisted of a flat, stationary stone with another on top, the top stone being turned by a handle fixed at the edge and pierced through in the middle where the raw material to be ground was introduced. Turning such a mill was heavy, laborious work, and almost always reserved for thralls or slaves. The grinding of grain, however, is never mentioned in the sagas or historical documents of the Viking Age, though there are legends involving grinding being relegated to lower-class women, such as in the Eddaic poem Grottasöngr (Jochens, p. 127):

Nv erv komnar til konvngs hvsa
framvisar tvær Fenia oc Menia;
þær 'ro at Froþa Friþleifs sonar
máttkar meyiar at mani hafþar.
Þær at lvðri leiddar vorv
oc griotz gria gangs of beiddv;
het hann hvarigri hvild ne yndi,
aðr hann heyrþi hliom ambatta.


[Now then are come to the king's high hall
the foreknowing twain, Fenja and Menja;
in bondage by Frodi, Fridleif's son,
these sisters mighty as slaves are held.
To moil at the mill the maids were bid,
to turn the grey stone as their task was set;
lag in their toil he would let them never,
the slaves' song he unceasing would hear.

Herbs and Spices

Dill, coriander and hops are known from Jorvík and the Danelaw. There is evidence from Dublin for poppyseed, black mustard, and fennel. The Oseberg burial included watercress, cumin, mustard, and horseradish. Other spices included lovage, parsley, mint, thyme, marjoram, wild caraway, juniper berries, and garlic.

By the Middle Ages, Scandinavia had access to exotic spices obtained by trading. These included cumin, pepper, saffron, ginger, cardamom, grains of paradise, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, anise-seed, and bay leaves.

Vinegar was used as a flavoring in foods, as was honey.

Beverages

Alcoholic drinks were heartily consumed, this being one way to preserve carbohydrate calories for winter consumption, and consisted usually of ale. Hops and bog myrtle were used to flavor ale.

Mead was also consumed: honey was cultivated in southern Scandinavia, and imported by those in regions where bees cannot thrive. A drink which was both very alcoholic and which is described as being sweet was bjórr. Fruit wines were occasionally made, being used for sacramental purposes late in the period, and grape wine imported from the Rhine region by the wealthy.

Other beverages included milk, buttermilk, whey, and plain water.

To learn more about Old Norse alcoholic beverages and drinking customs see my article, Northern European Drinking Traditions.

Food Preparation Methods

Cooking was the province of women. As Hallgerðr states in Brennu-Njáls saga, chapter 48:

... enda er það ekki karla að annast um matreiðu.

[...it is not for men to get mixed up in the preparation of food.]

Cooking Equipment: Utensils for cooking were surprisingly like cooking tools in the Middle Ages and even those of today:

Cooking followed techniques and employed utensils that changed little over time. A comparison between the kitchen equipment buried with the woman entombed in the Oseberg burial in Norway in August or September 834 and the household recommendations of 1585 by the Swedish Count Per Brahe for his wife shows remarkable little change over a span of seven centuries (Jochens, p. 129).
Viking Age eating utensils were very similar to many used in the modern day. Cooking utensils from a Viking Age grave find. Reconstruction showing how suspended clay pots were used in cooking over an open fire.

The Hearth: The Vikings used a special fireplace or hearth for cooking. The fire itself was called the máleldr or "meal-fire". The máleldr was smaller than the long fires which heated the house, and a fire was built there near suppertime, and sometimes was located in a different room than the long fires (Jochens, p. 130).

Some liquids such as milk were heated by being placed in a suspended animal hide, clay pot, or soapstone pot and then dropping heated stones into the liquid. Cooking stones for this type of use are mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga chapters 52 and 54, in the haunting scenes where the ghosts drive the inhabitants of the farm at Fröðá away from the fire (Jochens, p. 130):

Að Fróðá var eldaskáli mikill og lokrekkja innar af eldaskálanum sem þá var siður. Utar af eldaskálanum voru klefar tveir, sinn á hönd hvorri. Var hlaðið skreið í annan en mjölvi í annan. Þar voru gervir máleldar hvert kveld í eldaskála sem siður var til. Sátu menn löngum við eldana áður menn gengu til matar.... Heimamenn stukku úr eldhúsinu sem von var að og höfðu hvorki á því kveldi ljós né steina og enga þá hluti að þeir hefðu neina veru af eldinum.

[At Frodis-water was there a great fire-hall, and lock-beds in therefrom, as the wont then was. Out from the hall there were two butteries, one on either hand, with stockfish stored in one, and meal in the other. There were meal-fires made every evening in the fire-hall, as the wont was, and men mostly sat thereby or ever they went to meat. ... [And when the ghosts came in...] Then the home-men fled away from the fire-hall, as might be looked for, and had neither light nor warm stones nor any matter wherewith they had any avail of the fire.]

Small spit-roasted birds are shown being served at a banquet in the Bayeaux Tapestry. Preparation of Meats: Viking Age men were responsible for the slaughtering and hunting of animals for meat, however women were responsible for preparation and preservation or cooking of the meat so obtained. The sagas mention that sometimes women had to stay up all night to finish cutting up meat after slaughtering (Jochens, p. 129).

Especially during slaughtering time, a special cooking house or soðhús was used, where the meat was cooked in a pot called a soðketill (Jochens, p. 130).

Meat was usually boiled, often being cooked in clay or soapstone pots. Although there are scenes of spit-roasting birds in the Bayeaux Tapestry, among the Norse boiling seems to have been the preferred method of cooking meat. This was so much so that in Sturlunga saga, when brigands roasted a cow on a spit over a fire, the saga author felt it necessary to explain that this was because there was no kettle available (Jochens, p. 131).

Boiling meat required large cauldrons, and meat forks or skewers to spear and lift the boiled meat from the vat.

Viking Age cauldron Viking Age meat skewer



Recipes

The following recipes are reconstructions of what Viking cooking may have been. We do not have any actual recipes surviving from the Viking Age.

Kornmjölsgröt (Barley Porridge)

This recipe is adapted from Trine Theut and from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes), with my own modifications, notes and observations. Makes about 4 to 6 servings.

  • 10-15 cups of water
  • salt
  • Two cups of chopped barley kernels, soaked overnight in cold water
  • A handful whole grain wheat flour
  • A handful crushed hazelnuts
  • 3-4 tablespoons of honey

Instead of chopped barley (which to date I haven't been able to get in Texas) I have had very good luck using John McCann Oatmeal, which is not that flat rolled stuff, but rather whole grains which have been steel-cut. I've used the pearl barley that can be obtained for soups and stews with good results as well. I've also gone to my local brewing supply and gotten various types of malted whole grain, including various roasts of barley and wheat, had them run it through the crusher, and used that -- this results in a much sweeter, darker flavor because of the malt and the roasting.

Put the ingredients in a large pot. Pour 10 cups of water in the kettle and heat to a rolling boil. Stir regularly, reducing heat if needed to maintain a low boil. Add water if needed if the mixture starts getting too thick. Cook until done. This takes me about an hour, but I've had it vary.

There are two ways to serve porridge. The first is what Americans would consider "hot breakfast cereal" style. For this type of porridge, about 15 to 20 minutes before the porridge is done, add a cup of chopped fruit, such as apples, pears, rose hips, etc., then serve with fresh cream and some butter on top. Any left-overs may be pressed into a buttered mold and chilled for storage a day or two, then sliced, fried in butter, and served with either a hot fruit compote, or with butter and jam.

Another way to serve porridge is to make it a savory dish. The Poetic Edda mentions the god Þórr eating porridge with herring in it. I've had good results adding chopped chicken, veal, or pork. The meat should be added to the porridge early enough in the cooking process so that it is cooked thoroughly. For fish, this will be closer to the end than it will be for the various meats. You can also add garlic, onion, and other herbs and spices. This makes a hearty, filling dish.

Viking Age porridge spoon

Osyrat Kornbröd (Barley Flatbread)

Cooking flatbread over an open fire This recipe is from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes). Makes approximately eight servings.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups barley flour
  • 1/2 cup water

Blend ingredients together until a stiff dough is formed. Warm a griddle over a fire (or you can use a cooking sheet in the oven). Take a heavy rolling-pin and take a ball the size of a walnut and roll the ball until flattened. Roll outward so that it is as thin as you can until you have a flat, round disk. Lay it on the griddle and and place it over the fire (or cook at high heat in the oven) about 30 seconds on either side. One flat loaf at a time, roll out the dough and cook. It is most efficient to have two people, one rolling dough and one cooking flat loaves.

The bread should be eaten immediately, but may be frozen and then reheated. They are good with all Viking foods but also may be eaten with butter or Skyr (see below).

Green Soup

This recipe comes from Vikingars Gästabud (The Viking Feast), and is for four servings.

Ingredients

  • 3-1/2 to 5 oz. of fresh, parboiled spinach, or about 8 oz. of frozen whole spinach
  • 10 cm of the white part of a leek
  • 1 quart good bouillon
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • Dash of pepper
  • Dash of ground ginger

  • 2 to 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Grated nutmeg

Clean and rinse the fresh spinach or thaw the frozen.  Rinse the leek and slice thinly.  Bring the bouillon to a boil and add the spinach and leek.  Let boil for 5 minutes.  Add the parsley and boil together a few more minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and ginger.

Whisk the yolks with the cream in the bottom of a soup tureen. Pour in the soup while whisking briskly. Grate some nutmeg over the soup and serve it with a good bread.

For a more visually appealing presentation, I have whipped the cream and yolks separately, then placed them in a squeeze bottle with a narrow opening (the type you'll sometimes see in restaurants with mustard or ketchup in them). Place the soup in the individual soup bowls, then use the squeeze bottle to draw a sunburst design -- a wavy line around the outer edge of the bowl, and place dots inside and outside the line. Add nutmeg as before. Diners stir this into the soup themselves.

Nässelsoppa (Nettle Soup)

This recipe is adapted from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes). Makes 4 servings.

Harvest nettles early in spring. To avoid the sting of the fine hairs of the nettle, wear gloves or grab the stalk very firmly. Personally, I always wear gloves as I've never got the "grab firmly" part perfected and always get stung. Nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals, which the body craved after a long Viking Age winter.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts fresh nettles
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons wheat flour
  • 1 quart good bouillon
  • salt
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/3 cup chopped chives
  • 4 cooked egg yolks, chopped finely

Wash nettles well. Cover nettles with bouillon and boil for 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain the liquid off the nettles and save it. Chop the nettles. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add a little flour to the butter and stir until it starts to brown, then gradually add the bouillon. Add the nettles back in, then cook at a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt, thyme, marjoram, and chives. Place into individual bowls and garnish with chopped egg yolk.

Rökt Fisk (Smoked Fish)

This recipe is adapted from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes).

Smoking is a common method for preserving foods, and is especially good for fish. Many types of fish were preserved in this manner.

First you will need to build a smoker, or you can buy small smokers commercially these days that resemble small barbecue grills with deep lids. Collect wood for the fire. The very best wood is not the nice, dry seasoned wood, but rather a mixture of dry woods that will burn well with a larger amount of wet wood which will smoke. Taking oak or hickory or fruitwood chips and soaking them overnight in water, then adding them to the fire, or even to a charcoal fire, will work well also.

Gut and scale the fish. Leave the backbone intact with the two sides still connected to it, but remove as many of the remaining bones as is possible. On a large fish, cut a series of parallel slices into the muscle to allow the smoke to completely penetrate the flesh. Place the fish above the fire. In a smokehouse, the fish would be hung from lines. In a commercial smoker, lay on the highest rack. Do not seal tightly, allow a little air in for ventilation for the fire.

How long you will need to smoke the fish depends on the size of the fish. A small fish may take only ten minutes or so, while large fish can take much longer. The fish is done when the meat will flake with a fork.

Scandinavanian specialty stores and some of the larger supermarkets will also have smoked mackerel or herring available for purchase.

Chicken Stew With Beer

This recipe comes from Vikingars Gästabud (The Viking Feast), and is for four servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, about 2 to 2-1/2 lbs.
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 1 turnip, about 1 lb.
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • Thyme
  • 6-8 whole allspice
  • 1 bottle (12 oz) dark beer

Chop the chicken into 8 pieces.  Peel and cut the vegetables into pieces.  Fry the chicken in butter, about 5 minutes on each side.  Season with salt and pepper and place in a pot.  Add the vegetables, thyme, allspice and beer.  Let boil for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Serve the dish with bread.

Note:The use of allspice in this recipe probably isn't a very good recreation. Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree in the myrtle family. After drying, the berries are small, dark brown balls just a little larger than peppercorns. Allspice comes from Jamaica, Mexico, and Honduras, all in the New World in areas where the Vikings never visited. Christopher Columbus discovered allspice in the Caribbean, mistaking it for black pepper, which he had heard about but never seen himself, calling it "pimienta," which is Spanish for pepper. Its Anglicized name, pimento, is occasionally used in the spice trade today.

Honey Glazed Root Vegetables

This recipe comes from Vikingars Gästabud (The Viking Feast), and is for four servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 turnip
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 slice of white cabbage (use a quarter of a head of cabbage)
  • 1 leek
  • butter
  • honey
  • salt and pepper

Peel the root vegetables and cut them into pieces. Boil together in slightly salted water about 5 minutes and drain.  Sauté the root vegetables in butter until soft. Let the leek and cabbage sauté with them at the end. Add some honey and stir the dish carefully.  Season with salt and pepper.

Kokt Svinmålla (Boiled Lambsquarters)

This recipe is adapted from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes).

Lambsquarters Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album, also called fat hen, goosefoot, or pigweed) are a member of the same family as chard and beets. From the Viking Age until nearly the end of the Middle Ages, lambsquarters has played the same role in cooking as spinach does now.

Lambsquarters are an ancient food that has been almost completely forgotten today. It is uncertain whether lambsquarters were domesticated or gathered in the wild during the Viking Age, but ample finds have been made of lambsquarters from the Bronze Age to suggest that it was being deliberately cultivated. The leaves of lambsquarters are edible and contain more iron, protein and Vitamin B12 than spinach. Lambsquarters were a valued vegetable crop throughout early Europe until spinach was introduced from Asia in the 16th century.

Lambsquarters are found today as weeds at the edges of ditches and gardens. They have several near-relatives, such as orache (Atriplex patula) and spear-leaved orache (Atriplex prostrata), which are also good to eat. All these plants may be boiled just like spinach or used in salads. To make four servings:

  • 1 lb. fresh, very young, tender lambsquarters
  • 2/3 cup water
  • dash or two of salt

Rinse the lambsquarters. Add the salt to the water and bring to a boil. Add in the lambsquarters and boil for about 5 minutes. Pour off the liquid and allow the lambsquarters to drain. Serve with a little butter.

Pancake with Berries

This recipe comes from Vikingars Gästabud (The Viking Feast), and is for four servings.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup lingonberries or bilberries

Turn on the oven to 425°F (225°C). Whisk the batter together without the butter and stir in the berries.  Melt the butter in a heat-resistant baking pan and pour it in the batter. Bake it in the middle of the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the pancake has a nice color.  Cut it into pieces and serve with some jam.

Färskost (Skyr)

This recipe is adapted from Över Öppen Eld Vikingatida Recept (Over an Open Fire Viking Age Recipes).

Skyr has a consistency and flavor that reminds many people of yoghurt. However, skyr is made much like cottage cheese or cream cheese, using rennet to congeal the milk solids and allow the whey to be separated -- thus the Swedish name, Färskost or "fresh cheese".

True skyr is made with unpasteurized buttermilk. The fresher the buttermilk is, the better the results will be. In Iceland, skyr is properly made by adding a little skyr to the new mixture, which innoculates the new batch with all the special cultures that make up the flavor of skyr. A similar result may be obtained elsewhere by adding sour cream to the mixture.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Rennet
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Candy thermometer to check milk temperatures

Check the rennet package for specific instructions on how much rennet to use. This will vary depending on whether you are using vegetable rennet or not, and whether it is liquid, granular, or tablets. If you are not using liquid rennet, you will need to dissolve the rennet beforehand in a little tepid water. Ideally this should be done in a small measuring cup which has been pre-warmed using hot water.

Heat the milk to 185-195°F (85-90°C) and hold it at that temperature for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to boil or scorch the milk. Cool down to 100-102°F (38-39°C). It is important that you allow the milk to cool properly, or else the rennet may not work. Check the rennet package instructions for heat tolerance guidelines.

Stir the sour cream (or skyr, if you're lucky enough to have the Icelandic variety) into a tablespoon of milk until well mixed. Pour into the warm milk and mix well. Add the rennet.

You now need to allow the rennet to work its magic. For best results, the skyr needs to cool down gradually. I sometimes use a crockpot for making skyr, because the insulated cooker and heavy stoneware vessel cool very slowly. Allow the skyr to cool about 6 hours. You will be ready to proceed to the next step when you can make a cut in the skyr which will not close immediately.

Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth or a fine linen cloth and pour in the skyr. Tie the ends of the cloth together over the top and hang over a bucket or other container so the whey can drip off. Be sure to retain the whey -- it can be used to pickle foods, and adds lots of flavor to recipes when substituted for part or all of the water. Allow the skyr to drain until it is fairly firm. The consistency should be like ice cream.

Before serving, whip the skyr with a whisk until smooth. Skyr should not be lumpy or grainy. Skyr may be served with cream and honey, and goes very well with fruit such as bilberries or lingonberries.

Skyr may instead be flavored with garlic, chives or caraway seeds.




Bibliography

Recipe Resources

References

  • Anthimus. De obseruatione ciborum: On the Observance of Foods. trans. and ed. Mark Grant. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books. 1996.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • BBC Radio Food Fit For Heroes on Viking Age Food (25.2MB, 30 minutes)
    The BBC's Radio 4 series Food Fit For Heroes began when Dylan Winter challenged Britain's Royal Navy, The Royal Airforce and the Army to each recreate a meal that would have been served to the sailors under Sir Francis Drake, the pilots of The Battle of Britain and to the soldiers who beat Napoleon at Waterloo (see the Radio 4 website for these shows). The series was so successful that the BBC has gone on to produce more Food Fit For Heroes shows, featuring even earlier foods, such as those from Roman Britain and from the Vikings of the Danelaw.

  • Berquist, H. and J. Lepiksaar. Animal Skeletal Remains from Medieval Lund. Archaeology of Lund 1. Lund: Museum of Cultural History. 1957.

  • Björnsson, Árni. Saga Daganna. Reykjavík: Mál og Menning. 1993.

  • Brennu-Njáls saga. (In Old Icelandic). Netútgáfan Internet Icelandic Literature Website. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Chevallier, Grant, ed. and trans. The Voyage of Ohthere. Includes Old English text and a partial translation, with glossary. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • DaSent, George W., trans. (1861) Njal's Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). July 1995. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Graham-Campbell, James. The Viking World. New York: Ticknor & Fields. 1980.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Grewe, Rudolf. "An Early XIII Century Northern-European Cookbook," in Proceedings of A Conference on Current Research in Culinary History: Sources, Topics, and Methods. Published by the Culinary Historians of Boston. 1986.

  • Hagen, Ann. A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption. Pinner, Middlesex: Anglo-Saxon Books. 1992.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com Buy this book today!

  • Hagen, Ann. A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink: Production & Distribution. Hockwold cum Wilton, Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books. 1995. ISBN 1-898281-12-2.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com Buy this book today!

  • Hall, Richard. The Viking Dig: The Excavations at York. London: The Bodley Head. 1984.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Hamilton, J.R.C. Excavations at Jarlshof, Shetland. Ministry of Works Archaeological Reports 1. Edinburgh: HMSO. 1956.

  • Hansson, Ann-Marie. "Bread in Birka and on Björkö [Uppland]". Laborativ Arkeologi 9 (1996) pp. 61-78.

  • Hildebrand, H., ed. "Matordningen i Biskop Hans Brask Hus." Kongl. Vitterhets och Antiqvitets Akademiens Månadsblad January. February-March 1885. pp. 1-21, 141-142.

  • Janssen, W. "Essen und Trinken im frühen und hohen Mittel alters aus archäologischen Sicht" (An archaeological overview of Food and Drink in the Early and High Middle Ages). Liber Castellorum, 40 Variatas op Het Theme Castel. ed. T.J. Hoekstra et al. Zutphen: Walburg. 1981.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com Buy this book today!

  • Jørgensen, G. et al. Analyses of Medieval Plant Remains, Textiles and Wood from Medieval Svendborg. The Archaeology of Svendborg 4, Odense: Odense University Press. 1986.

  • Jørgensen, Lise Bender. "Rural Economy: Ecology, Hunting, Pastoralism, Agricultutal and Nutritional Aspects." The Scandinavians from the Vendel Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective. Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology 5. Judith Jesch, ed. Woodbridge: Boydell. 2002. pp. 129-152..
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Levick, Ben. Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England. Regia Angelorum. 1992. Accessed Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Levick, Sue. Feasting and Fasting. Regia Angelorum. 1993. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Lund, Niels, ed. Two Voyagers at the Court of King Alfred: The Ventures of Ottar and Wulfstan together with the Description of Europe from the Old English Orosius. York. 1984.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Martin, Gary. Food and Feud in Saga Iceland. Research Centre for the History of Food and Drink, University of Adelaide. 1998. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Morris, William and Eirikr Magnusson, trans. (1892) Eyrbyggja saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). January 1998. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Pulsiano, Phillip et al., eds. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 934. New York: Garland. 1993.
    • Myrdal, Janken. "Agriculture." pp. 3-5.
    • Nedkvitne, Arnved. "Fishing, Whaling and Seal Hunting." pp. 307-308.
    • Nedkvitne, Arnved. "Hunting." pp. 194-196.
    • Skaarup, Bi. "Diet and Nutrition." pp. 135-136.
    • Stefánsson, Magnús. "Iceland: Economy" pp. 312-313.

    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Priest-Dorman, Carolyn (Mistress Þóra Sharptooth). Archaeological Finds of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Viking Foodstuffs. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Priest-Dorman, Carolyn (Mistress Þóra Sharptooth). Archaeological Finds of Viking Hearths. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Priest-Dorman, Carolyn (Mistress Þóra Sharptooth). Building and Using a Medieval-Style Hemispherical Bake Oven. Accessed 22 December 2005.

  • Roesdahl, Else. Viking Age Denmark. trans. Susan Margeson and Kirsten Williams. London: British Museum. 1982.
    Buy this book from Amazon.com  Buy this book from Amazon.com

  • Theut, Trine. I Lære Som Viking. Aps, Denmark: OP-Forlag. 1994. ISBN 87-7794-248-5.

  • Theut, Trine. Running a Household in the Viking Era. Viking Network. Steven Mohn, trans. 1998. Accessed 19 January 2004. (Link dead as of 12/22/05. The page may still be accessed via the Wayback Machine).

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