Monday, 26 April 2010
At least for my Viking food blogging, I'm moving to www.vikingfoodguy.com
. My goal is to blog more regularly on Viking food, but I can't really make any guarantees.
Friday, 27 February 2009
I’ve been doing some thinking this week about Viking-appropriate breakfast foods. My favorite breakfast at events is still dark bread with cheese, fish, kraut and hard boiled eggs, but there’s only so many times you can eat that, and some people fear fish. So…
Roasted barley flour + skyr: mix some roasted barley flour into skyr or non-fat yogurt, then top with honey (if desired, roasted barley flour is pretty sweet) and fruit, preferably berries.
Fried oatmeal: leftover steel cut oats cooled in a pan, sliced and fried in butter/lard/bacon grease/whatever. Would be good with butter and honey, or savory with bacon/sausage or fish (kippers maybe).
Scrambled eggs with dill and smoked salmon + some dark bread
Monday, 10 March 2008
I let my piima culture die over the winter, which made me sad. I have remedied the situation however, and now have not only a new healthy piima culture but some fil mjolk as well. I haven't tasted the fil mjolk yet, but it sets up very nicely at room temperature, and has a much sharper "buttermilky" smell than the piima. Both are room temperature "yogurt" cultures that come originally from Scandinavia. I also made some skyr last week, which didn't work out particularly well. I think I left it too long at too high a temperature, so it was very grainy and sour. It did produce some nice whey though, that will see it's way into lactic acid pickles over the next little while. I just finished some sauerkraut and some fermented bean paste before the whey was done, and they soured much more slowly than the ones using whey I made last year. I left some of the whey out to see how sour it will get. I'm itching to try some of the traditional Icelandic whey pickles, but need good sour whey (syra or mysa in Icelandic I think) to make it work.
I'm recovereing from a wintertime slump into too much prepared food and cooking a lot. It's so much fun to try new stuff. I managed to dehydrate a batch of Ethiopian berbere over the weekend, so it will hopefully keep longer and take up less space that way. I want to experiment with adding some to green pea flour for "instant" backpacking food. I think it should work pretty well. Only one way to find out...
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
Monday, 23 April 2007
In my ongoing quest to reproduce the flat bread unearthed in grave finds at Birka and other locations, this weekend I got to try baking them in an earthen oven. I'll post pictures soon, but until then, a brief summary.
The oven was constructed by some friends of mine last fall. It's made from adobe, and is a dome shape about 4 feet in diameter and 2.5 - 3 feet high, with a smoke hole at the top, and an opening in the side just big enough to admit a metal baker's peel.
We fired the oven for probably 2-3 hours before any bread went in. For the first loaves, which were more modern sourdough loaves, we left some of the coals at the back of the oven, and put the bread in at the front. This left the oven way too hot, and the loaves blackened pretty seriously before they were done all the way through. For my flatbread, I scraped out the rest of the coals, and relied on the heat of the oven walls.
I used several different recipes, but the one that worked best was 1/2 whole grain barley flour, 1/4 oat flour, and 1/4 green pea flour, plus about 1/2 tsp of salt. I made a stiff dough using buttermilk, and left the dough unrefrigerated overnight to sour (it didn't, much). The dough was shaped into two flat "loaves", each about 8" in diameter, and 1" high. The surface was pricked with a knife before baking, to increase the surface area of the top crust and encourage drying.
The loaves went into the oven, and backed for probably around 20 minutes. As the oven cooled a bit, subsequent batches took slightly longer to firm up.
The result was quite good, with a crisp crust, and a nice texture. Not light, more like a heavy scone or batter bread in consistency. It went excellently well with some simple soft cheese and dried fruit.
I'll have some pictures up, hopefully this evening. I got pictures of the whole process.
Wednesday, 11 April 2007
For this morning's breakfast I tried the "Viking breakfast" that I put together as part of the "Viking bachelor food" experiment. I didn't actually get to implement it over the weekend, as much of the food I'd set aside for the weekend ended up spending said weekend in the fridge in my office, not coming with me to the event. Very sad.
Anyway, this morning I lined up
- A thick slice of the "IKEA bread", more properly "ragbrod", very coarse grained and hearty wheat and rye bread
- two slices of gjetost cheese, a sweet cheese made from caramelized whey
- a hard boiled egg (I settled for chicken, not having any puffins around)
- a pile of home made sauerkraut
- two nice fat pieces of pickled herring with onions (sooooo good)
It made an excellent breakfast, and really got the day off to a fine (and fishy) start. Easy, portable, and very satisfying. I'll definitely be packing this stuff along to events this summer.
Wednesday, 04 April 2007
I'm heading for a small event this weekend that's billed as a "Norse Rendezvous", meaning we're roughing it with as little gear as we can manage, and trying to find out how much trouble we can get into.
In keeping with the theme, I'm trying to figure out what the Viking equivalent of traveling provisions (aka bachelor food) would be. In a Fur Trade (Mountain Man) context, that might mean some bacon and beans or dried corn, maybe some flour and salt for biscuits, jerky, etc.
So far I think I'm going to bring
- a loaf of Swedish dark rye bread (from a mix I got at IKEA over the weekend) which looks like a very black soda bread, coarse grained
- pickled herring ('cause you have to have some, and it's the bomb)
- sauerkraut (good winter vegetable, keeps well)
- cheese (something Scandinavian appropriate, maybe gjetost)
- hard boiled eggs (also good for traveling, keep well, calorie dense)
- maybe a spot of bacon, but I might be too lazy to cook it.
- some dried fruit, apples or prunes would be good
Hopefully by the end of the weekend I won't be too sick of eating that stuff. I'm thinking not.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Some friends hooked us up with some culture for piima last weekend, and I've been having a great time playing with it. Piima is a culture used in modern Scandinavia to create a buttermilk/yogurt like substance. The best part is that it works at room temperature, so you don't have to heat the milk, or worry about trying to keep it warm with a yogurt maker, etc.
You just stir the piima culture into milk or cream and let it stand at room temperature for 24 hours or so. Cultured in milk, I got something that was maybe a little thicker than cultured buttermilk, but not as firm as yogurt. I'm in the midst of culturing some cream, which is supposed to come out like thin sour cream, and is also supposed to be good for making cultured butter. Only time will tell...
There are a number of online sources for piima culture. Just google for "pima culture" and you'll find several sources.
One thing to note: once you get it going, it has to be "fed" like kefir grains or sourdough starter. The piima milk I made earlier in the week was sufficiently tasty (very mild, not sour) that I don't think it'll be a problem at my house.
Monday, 12 March 2007
Another new Viking recipe I've been working on...
Saute some leeks in butter, along with diced carrots and rutabegas. When just starting to soften, take off the heat. When they are cool, mix with some sour cream.
Very reminiscent of the modern Scandinavian beets in sour cream. The rutabegas come out very sweet, and stand in well for the beets, which aren't Viking period.
This was a big hit with pretty much everyone, including a number of avowed root-vegetable-haters. It went well with the barley bread.
I'm going to be experimenting with dairy products as the Viking Age Scandinavians would have made/used/consumed them over the coming months. I've been making a soft fresh cheese curdled with vinegar for years, but I think that's probably not the most accurate.
For the first experiment, I made my first batch of skyr this week. Skyr was once purportedly made all over the Viking world, but has only survived to the present day in Iceland, where it has remained daily fare. We don't know how closely modern Icelandic skyr resembles Viking skyr, but it's such a simple process that I don't imagine it's changed all that much.
To make skyr, you bring non-fat milk up to around 185 deg. and hold it there for 5-10 minutes, then let it cool down to slightly warmer than body temperature, around 108. Take your culture (I've seen references to using sour cream or buttermilk, or yogurt of various kinds. The Vikings would have used some skyr from the last batch. I read a couple of references to the use of s. thermophilus and l. bulgaricus, which happen to both be in "Greek" or "Bulgarian" style yogurt, so that's what I used. Greek Gods brand to be specific.) and mix it with a little of the warm milk, then add the result to the rest of the milk, along with some rennet. I used Junket brand from the grocery store, but will soon be trying cheese-making-grade rennet, and I'll report on the differences. Then let the milk sit for something between 6 and 24 hours. I've seen various suggestions. I let mine go about 24 hours.
The milk-mass should start to pull away from the sides of the container, and you'll see clear-yellowish whey around the sides and over the top of the curd. That's good. Scoop out the curd with a ladle or spoon into a sieve or colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth, or better still, a nice clean piece of muslin fabric. Let it sit until most of the whey has drained out, and it starts to firm up to somewhere between firm yogurt and soft-serve ice cream.
Store it in the fridge when it's done. The result I got was not very sour, and has a very pleasant texture. I've used it in crepes, and with granola so far with great success.
Save the whey, which you can use in soups of porridge. I have more whey experiments to try too. The 16th Century Icelanders let the whey ferment until quite sour, and then used it as a refreshing drink, and also as a medium for pickling meat, eggs, and vegetables for long storage.
Wednesday, 07 March 2007
Over the next few weeks I'll be (finally) coming back to the Viking food topic. I just finished entering a big competition with a research paper on reconstructing Viking cooking, and I've learned a lot over the last 6 months.
After getting feedback from the competition, the paper needs some serious editing, but once that's done I'm going to try and make it available.
In the meantime, I've been experimenting (as part of the research for the paper) with recreating some Viking bread, like those found in cremation graves in Birka and elsewhere. One of the finds from Birka clearly shows prick marks on the surface, which hints at them being intended to keep a long time. The prick marks are (I assert) similar to those on modern pilot bread. They are intended to increase the surface area so that the bread will dry out completely, thus keeping longer.
In recreating them, I looked at some chemical analysis of the bread remains that suggest that most of them were predominantly made from barley, although oats, rye, flax, green peas, and a little wheat also appear. They contain comparatively few fats, again suggesting that they were intended to keep.
I made mine with about half barley flour, and half a mixture of oat flour, ground flax seed, rye flour, and (in some) green pea flour.
The resulting mix should be about 2 cups. Then I added a bit of salt, and mixed in some liquid until a stiff dough comes together. I tried different combinations of water, honey, buttermilk, and goats milk. Personally, I liked the goats milk ones the best. I kneeded mine for a while to make sure everything was as together as it was going to get, then divided the dough into two pieces.
The pieces were then flattened into rounds. Most of the archeological evidence suggests 8 -12 cm. across, and 1-2 cm high.
Then I pricked the surface, and baked them at 300° for around 30 minutes. This results in a fairly soft bread good for eating fresh. You'd have to bake them either quite a bit longer, or at a higher temp to get the to dry out hard.
The resulting breads were very good with cheese or green pea spread.
Thursday, 01 June 2006
I decided to enter a cooking competition at an SCA event this weekend, the theme of which was “30 Viking raiders have shown up at your farm, and if they like your cooking they’ll leave in peace”. A worthy theme. The only thing I didn’t like was that the one sentence comprised the whole rules. Not very specific. I took second to a dish made with (canned) tomato sauce. Go figure.
Anyway, I decided to make a barley pilaf using only ingredients that appear in the archeological record in a Viking context, using techniques and equipment that they had available (again based on the archeological record). I set up my brazier and tripod with a nice charcoal (real, not briquettes) fire and over it hung a big cast iron pot. Into the pot went butter, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and apples. When those were starting to carmelize, I added probably 2 cups of pearl barley (hulless would have been better, but too expensive) and enough water to cook the barley.
When the barley was al dente, I added salt to taste, and some chopped watercress. The result was pretty good, and I think probably represents the kind of food that Vikings were eating day to day.
I had intended to serve it with some chicken cooked with strawberries, watercress, and horseradish, but sadly the chicken wasn’t done on time, and the strawberries went bad in the cooler overnight, so I just cooked the chicken with some apples, onions and watercress and served it up for the evenings pot-luck feast. Pretty tasty.
Thursday, 14 July 2005
Last night I finished up making the snacks for the party this weekend. I've read several times that there are numerous examples of the Vikings using pea flour in their bread, and I had to try it.
I used my hand-cranked grain mill to grind split peas into fairly fine flour, then mixed it with barley and oat flours and proceeded as I described for the other breads. The result is quite tasty, and the pea flavor is not really evident, which is interesting.
The last thing I made was some root vegetables in sour cream. Beets with sour cream is a common modern Scandinavian dish, but I didn't have any evidence for beets in a Viking context, so I used diced carrots and parsnips. I sauteed them until semi-soft, then added sour cream, salt, cumin, and mustard seed (whole). Pretty good on the crackers.
I'll post some info on sources soon, I don't have them on my just now.
Wednesday, 13 July 2005
More snacks to add to the pile. I made two sets of flatbread so far, which basically come out like big crackers. These can be used to spread things on, such as the already made cheese, pea spread, etc. Or herring, since who doesn’t like a good pickled herring?
There have been a few oven-like hearths found in the Viking context. See Thora’s excellent summary for more info. I think that bread, however, was probably more often cooked on the “frying pan”. There are several examples from the archaeological record of long handled frying pans, which are essentially flat, sideless disks of metal attached to a long handle. Flat, crackerlike bread would be very easy to cook on such a pan, by placing it over the open fire until the bread had dried. Another possibility is the flat soapstone hearth. Modern Finns still use (in some places) flat soapstones that sit next to the open fire. You lay out your “cracker” dough, thinly rolled, on the soapstone until it starts to set, then take of off and prop it up next to the fire, with the top side facing the heat, until it’s dried hard. Traditionally these breads were made round with a hole in the middle so that you could hang then on a string or pole in the rafters over the fire, where heat and smoke would keep the bugs off them making them last nearly indefinitely.
I cheated, and made mine in the oven, since I didn’t have time to set everything up over a fire. I modified a modern Swedish flatbread recipe. I don’t think they’ve changed all that much, and it jives with the ingredients and techniques that were available in period. I used 2–3 cups of mixed flour, part dark rye, part oat flour, part barley flour. Wheat doesn’t grow well in Scandinavia, so rye, oats, and barley are much more commonly found. There are also several instances from the archaeological record that include green pea flour. I really want to try that out, and may tonight, but haven’t so far. Anyway, I mixed the flours with about 1/2 cup of melted butter, maybe 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda, and enough buttermilk to make a very stiff dough. In period, baking soda (calcium bicarbonate) as we know it wasn’t available, but they would have used hartshorn, which behaves quite similarly. Hartshorn is ammonium bicarbonate, which is derived from burning deer antlers (hart’s horn). It is still available from specialty stores, and is still used in baking in Scandinavia. Supposedly (I’ve never tried it) it produces lighter bread/cookies than baking soda, and produces a very strong ammonia smell during baking, which isn’t present in the finished goods.
I let the dough rest for 20 minutes or so, then rolled it out on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 375° for 20–25 minutes. After they were cooled, I left them out overnight to continue drying, since they should be crisp. Putting them in a very low (200°) oven for a while would probably also help. To roll them out, I used a modern Scandinavian rolling pin that is studded, so the resulting bread is textured on top. I’m guessing in period they’d have probably rolled them out using a smooth stick, then pricked them with something fork-like to get the desired texture.
I was asked a while ago to make some “Viking snacks” for a vigil party (it’s an SCA thing) that’s coming up this weekend. The goal is stuff that can be eaten with fingers, and can be roundly divided into bite-sized thingies. I started on the cooking last night, and wanted to share both the thought process and “recipes”.
On the thought process side, it goes something like this:
- the Vikings didn’t use “recipes” as we understand them today, or if they did, they didn’t write them down, since most of them couldn’t write anyway.
- We do know from the archaeological record what cooking tools (and hence techniques) then had at their disposal
- we do know from the archaeological record what ingredients they cooked with, since there’s physical evidence
- nobody likes to eat food that’s gross
- we do know from the Sagas and from later written sources that the Vikings were fond of certain tastes (sour being big).
So what I made last night was:
- Some pea spread for putting on crackers/flat bread. Split peas (which are common from Viking digs) cooked until pasty, tempered with some walnut oil (walnuts also prevalent) and spiced with salt, fresh dill and horseradish. Essentially all the ingredients mentioned hereafter were common in the Viking context. For a great summary, see Thora Sharptooth’s Viking Age Foodstuffs. Most Viking hearth finds have been relatively large, open fire-pit style affairs, using pottery or the occasional metal pot that can be hung over the fire. This dish lends itself to that style.
- Two batches of soft cheese. There are a number of finds of cheese strainers from Viking digs. These basically look like flattish colanders, sometimes with the inclusion of a loosely nalbound “net” of horse hair or other coarse material. I used 1 gallon of milk, brought up to 185°, then mixed with 1/4 – 1/3 cup of vinegar. You can use just about any acid you want. I’m guessing they’d have used cider or malt vinegar, since those would most likely have been available. I used red wine vinegar, since it’s what I had. The resulting curds get placed in cheese cloth to drain until it’s as hard as you need. One batch I made for spreading on bread/crackers, and seasoned it (after cheese cloth but before draining) with salt, cumin and fresh dill. The other batch I mixed with a little sour cream and honey, to use in the following dish
- Stuffed prunes. I got some pitted prunes, and stuffed them with the honeyed cheese from above and some toasted hazelnuts. Prunes were very prevalent in the Viking context, both local and continental species, which suggests that they were importing prunes to meet demand. Hazelnuts are also very common. In some places hazelnut shells make up the largest component of food remains found. I could probably find the reference if anyone is interested.
More to follow as I continue to cook.
Friday, 25 February 2005
There’s a perennial debate in the SCA about what is “authentic” or “period” cooking. In the SCA context, “period” means “correct for the time period under study” which in my personal case is 10th Century Scandinavian. For the SCA in general that tends to mean “anything prior to 1625”. That’s a lot of food to choose from. Added to that is that fact that outside a very few documentary examples, we don’t have hardly any recipes. Particularly for “dark age” periods like mine. If only a small percentage of the population can write, they probably aren’t writing recipes.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can create “period” food from two things, 1) studying the archaeological record, and 2) knowing how to cook. We have a very rich archaeological record available which for many times/places allows us to know exactly what foods were being eaten, how they were preserved, and what equipment was used to cook them. Add to those facts an understanding of food and cooking, and hey presto! you’ve got what I argue is “documentable” food. I gave a class on this subject at Estrella last week, and it seemed to be pretty well received. I had some very interesting people in my class including two practicing archaeologists, which was pretty cool.
On a (slightly) different note, there’s a debate currently raging on one of the SCA cooking lists about serving people food that they are “comfortable” with. There seem to be two broad areas of thought. One says that as an educational organization, it’s more valuable for us to introduce people to foods that they are probably unfamiliar with and thus broaden their horizons and educate them about the way our thinking about what is food have changed. The other says that what is really important is making people happy and “comfortable” and that is best achieved by picking “period” recipes that are most like familiar modern foods. This includes things like “macrows” which is essentially macaroni and cheese. While I have nothing against macaroni and cheese, I think serving only that kind of food at SCA feasts or other food gatherings is missing an educational opportunity. The education aspect of macrows is basically “the more things change
”. I’d rather make food that challenges our modern assumptions and opens people up to new possibilities.
On the other hand, what I certainly don’t advocate and wouldn’t tolerate is someone coming up with a whole menu of deliberately “challenging” foods. As in, “let’s see how weird we can be and freak everybody out”. That’s just egotistical and exclusivist. I don’t like that for the same reason that I never liked nouvelle cuisine back in the bad old 80’s. It makes people feel as if they are being left out if they don’t like it and that’s not what it should be about.
So, to try to bring that rant to some sort of reasonable conclusion, I’d advocate shooting for the middle way. Introduce people to new ideas, but don’t scare them away with stuff that’s deliberately outrageous. To pick an example from Ancient Roman cuisine, you’ll get much further with vinegared cucumbers with mint (not something many modern people would be familiar with) than you will with stuffed doormice. If you could find doormice anyway. Or stuff them.
Monday, 13 September 2004
I did a stint as the Viking Chef at an SCA demo this weekend. Pretty fun. Lots of people wandered by asking questions and trying the snacks. It wasn't quite as organized as I had thought it was going to be, so I skipped the "they didn't have recipes" spiel and just answered questions. My contributions to the snacky bits were some "Viking porridge" which consisted of bacon, onions, apples, and oatmeal, and some barley cakes (just barley flour, salt, milk and eggs) with strawberry jam. The porridge was better-received than I would have thought, although several people reflexively recoiled as soon as they hear oatmeal and onions in the same sentence.
My son, on the other hand, came back for seconds.
Tuesday, 07 September 2004
This Saturday (9/11), there's going to be an historic cooking demo/exposition at the Beaverton Farmer's Market. There are a whole series of 1/2 hour demos planned on various styles/periods/etc. I'll be playing the part of "Viking Chef" at around 9:30 I think. Come on down. There will be foods to try, cooking to watch, plus all the benefits of what I've heard is a pretty great Farmer's Market.
Monday, 26 April 2004
A while back I posted some quick thoughts on what to consider when trying to recreate the cuisine of the past (Viking in particular). I've since had some additional revalations, and thought I'd jot them down while I'm thinking about it. They all center around resource availability.
When we try to recreate the food of the past, one thing we tend not to think of right off hand is the effect of resource availability on cooking. We're so used to being able to hop right down to the local grocery store and buy pretty much whatever we want to eat, regardless of what time of year it is, the agricultural potential of where we live, etc.
However, when recreating historic cooking, take it into account. In the Viking case, for example, resource availability varied pretty widely depending on where in the Viking world you lived. Denmark has much more arable and grazing land than does Norway. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind if you say "Viking food" is some huge roast beast. However, for the average farmer in the Trondheim in Norway, that's simply not a possibility. There's not enough grazing land to support many cows on the fjords, and the ones that could be supported are much more useful for diary products than for meat. Plus, beef is comparatively hard to preserve (pork is much easier, but pigs like warmer weather). Taking that into account, we have to think more in terms of meat as a condiment, rather than as a central part of a meal. Things like corned beef, salt beef, salt pork, bacon, smoked fish, all lend themselves well to being used in other dished like soup, porridge (oat, barley, or peas), or vegetable dishes. On the other hand, when living on the fjord fish is probably pretty available for much of the year.
Preservation techniques make a big difference in terms of resource availability. In the south of Europe, salt is readily available, so things like salami, bacon, hard cheese etc. are pretty common, as are salted herring, salmon, and other oily fish. However, in Northern Europe, salt is much harder to come by and expensive, so many foods were more likely to be preserved with lactic acid fermentation (saurkraut, pickled herring, sour milk products) are much more practical.
So, to sum up, when recreating historic cooking in the absense of "recipes" it's important to consider the availability of foods, seasonally or in preserved form, rather than just considering whether of not X ingredient was ever eaten.
Tuesday, 10 February 2004
going to post a bunch more on this particular topic over the next month or
so. I’m teaching a class on Viking cooking in late April, and I’ll
be organizing my thoughts and opinions as I write the class, which should
result in some interesting stuff. Watch this space.
As just a
quick note, though, basically my thoughts about Viking cooking run like this:
Vikings didn’t use recipes
- So we
aren’t going to find any
- We know
what ingredients they ate from the archeological record
- We know
what tools they used for cooking from same
- We have
some idea about their tastes from contemporary literature (know your
- We know
what modern Scandinavian food is like
the above, we can recreate Viking food with a fair amount of confidence
foremost barrier to recreating Viking food is that many modern people
think it sounds gross
happen to like oatmeal and onions, but many don’t
this topic hopefully soon.
Sunday, 25 January 2004
Some good web resources on Viking food
Monday, 19 January 2004
I've got PDF versions of a couple of food history classes I've taught at SCA events.
The first is on “Cooking for Cultures with No Extant Recipes”. Many cultures throughout history haven't used written recipes, but I don't think that should stop us from being able to recreate their cooking. For example, we don't have an Viking “recipes”, but we do know from the archeological record what ingredients they used, and what equipment they had for cooking. We can also refer to literature to get a feel for their tastes.
The second is on the “Evolution of Food Processing Techniques”. I looked at how food processing techniques have evolved over time, and what impact they have had on daily life.
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