Most of our information on the diet of the Norse comes from the sagas or from archeological sources. We know they ate whole-meal breads made from rye and oats, and porridges made from oatmeal and barley. Dairy products such as butter, curds, milk buttermilk and cheese were staples. They drank weak barley beer, imported wine and mead as well as dairy beverages.
"The tables were laid, and bread and butter and large bowls of curds were set out. They were very thirsty and drank the curds in great draughts. Then Bard had buttermilk brought in, and they drank that too."
Domestic meats included mutton, goat, horse, beef, pork and chicken. Farther north reindeer, polar bears, whales and seals were hunted and eaten. Sea-foods included herring, haddock, cod and eel. Salmon and trout were fished from fresh water streams. To preserve it, meat and fish were smoked, salted or dried. This meat was often spread with butter and eaten without further cooking. Fresh meat was boiled, the most popular cooking method, but could also be roasted or fried. Even when other cooking methods were used, meat was usually boiled first, probably to tenderize it. Valhalla heroes ate the boiled flesh of the hog Saehrimni, which shows the popularity of this method.
The most popular vegetables were cabbages, wild greens, peas and onions. Fruits included apples, berries and hazelnuts.
Although bread and oatcakes could be baked on stones or in small ovens beside the hearth at any time, some bread was baked only once a year. It was hard, rather like hardtack, and was baked outside in large ovens. Shaped like a flat doughnut, it could be strung on poles and hung in the rafters of the house until needed. It may have been crumbled and mixed with water to form a porridge or simply dipped in a hot broth. At any rate, to eat it without some sort of softening would have been difficult.
The Norse ate two meals a day, dagvberthr in the morning and nattverthr in the evening.
"The lady of the house spread an embroidered cloth of white linen on the table and placed loaves of white wheaten bread on it. Then she set out many dishes of fine ham and roasted fowls as well as silver jugs containing wine. They ate, drank and talked until the day was done."
Pea Soup |
Boiled Chicken with Leeks and Prunes
Kale with Salt Pork
Wheat and Hazelnut Pudding
|The recipes below use chicken bullion cubes and water instead of stock. Feel free to omit the cubes and substitute chicken or pork stock for the water if you prefer.
Soak 8 ounces of dried split peas in water overnight. Rinse and drain. Place in a pot with 8 cups of water, 6 chicken bullion cubes, garlic to taste, and 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Cook over medium heat until the peas are soft. They may be pressed through a strainer to make a puree or served as is. You can garnish the soup with some crisp bacon bits or small cubes of browned salt pork if you wish.
Trim the fat from 6 to 8 pounds of fresh pork. Use legs, spareribs, or pork loin. If the pieces are large, cut into 1 ½" thick slices. Place in a LARGE pot (you will want plenty of room to spare if you are trying the recipe below) with 6 chicken bullion cubes, 1 teaspoon of dried garlic and enough water to cover. You may substitute beer for water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Skim the top occasionally. Simmer about 30 minutes per pound or until tender and cooked through.
Cook four cups of whole barley (try to get whole barley, not pearl) in 8 cups of water until it begins to become tender. Rinse and drain. Add ½ cup dried mushrooms*. Place the mixture in the middle of a 4-ply cheesecloth square, bring the four corners together and tie tightly. Place the bag in the pork cooking liquid while the pork cooks. To serve, remove it from the bag. The pudding should be a semi-solid mass. Serve with any remaining cooking liquid.
*Dried mushrooms: You can buy these, but I make my own by slicing fresh mushrooms and placing them in a single layer on a paper towel -covered cookie sheet. Turn them from time to time. When completely dried, place in plastic bags and freeze.
Boiled Chicken with Leeks and Prunes
Skin and disjoint 7 pounds of chicken legs and thighs. Remove any excess fat. Brown lightly in 2 tablespoons of bacon fat or other shortening. Clean and quarter 6 leeks, making sure you get all the sand out. Place chicken, leeks, garlic to taste, 20 prunes with pits and 8 bullion cubes in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the meat and cook until the chicken is tender. You could substitute apples for prunes, but the prunes are great!
Kale and Salt Pork
Wash and trim two bunches of kale and steam until tender or cook in a small amount of water. I put mine in a large covered glass bowl and microwave it for 10 minutes on high. Meanwhile, finely mine 4 ounces of salt pork and fry until brown. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the accumulated fat. Toss the hot kale with the browned salt pork, fat and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Serve immediately.
Wheat and Hazelnut Pudding
Cook 8 ounces of bulgur wheat according to package directions. Crush 8 ounces of shelled hazelnuts by placing them in a tea towel and pounding with a hammer. Toast in a medium oven until they start to brown. Beat three eggs with ½ cup sour cream and 2 cups milk. Add the bulgur wheat, hazelnuts and 1 cup of honey. Place in a large baking dish. Slice 3 ounces of butter and place on top of the mixture. Bake in a medium oven for about 1 hour. If it begins to look dry at any time, add more milk. For a richer dish, replace one cup of milk with heavy cream.
This makes a great breakfast the next day if reheated and served with more honey & butter. Andras liked cinnamon and raisins in his, so if you are viking and find some cinnamon, use it!
Mix 2¾ cups of flour (use at least ½ white flour & make up the rest with whole grain flours of your choice) with ¼ cup sugar (or honey), ½ tablespoon each of soda and salt, ½ cup of butter and 1 cup of buttermilk. Blend dry ingredients, cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly and then add the buttermilk. Stir with a fork until the mixture holds together. Shape into a ball and then pinch off small pieces to make balls 1" in diameter. Roll out each ball on a floured surface until it is 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheets and bake in a 400° oven for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 6 dozen. Store in an airtight container.
In a large bowl soften 2 packages of dried yeast in ½ cup of warm water. Add 2 tablespoons of honey and 1½ teaspoons of salt. Add 2 cups of beer, 3 cups of rye flour and 2 tablespoons of melted butter; mix to make a smooth batter. Add 3¾ cups of all-purpose flour and stir to make a soft dough. Sprinkle ½ cup of all-purpose flour on a flat surface and knead the dough on it until smooth (about 5 minutes). Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Punch down and knead lightly for 1 minute. Divide in half and shape into rounded loaves. Cover and let rise again until doubled. Slash the top of each loaf with a razor blade and brush with a beaten egg. Bake in a 350° oven for 50 minutes or until well-browned.
Brondsted, Johannes The Vikings. Pelican Books, 1965.
Gibson, Michael The Vikings. Wayland, 1972.
Simpson, Jacqueline Everyday Life in the Viking Age. Dorsett Press, 1967.
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