October 18th, 2008
As the seasons turns cooler, we look to celebrate Veturnætur (otherwise known as Winter Nights), the Norse harvest festival. Join us for a day of All Things Viking and enjoy the last games before retiring to your longhouse for the cold months ahead. We'll be culling our herds and devouring the crops that won't keep, so join us for a scrumptious feast prepared by myself, Reyni-Hrefna. If you plan on joining us and have any dietary concerns, please let me know. My e-mail is karstyl at gmail.com (replace the at with @ )
This is an attempt at an authentic viking feast. Historical notes are at the end of this document, or will be as I add them.
I will soon have more information up here, for now here is a document that I made by combining information from several good web sources, which are listed in the bibliography. It is not formatted all that well, I mostly use it for my personal reference. Much of what I write about below was found in the pages listed it this document.
There are a few things I hope to accomplish with this feast. One thing is for it to be as documented as I can with a feast from the viking era. This is not easy, as they did not leave us any cookbooks. So I am looking at areachological and written sources, including the sagas. Also, I want people to have good food to eat, and food that they are willing to eat. I would like the feasters to have several tastes of things that they might not otherwise try. So with that in mind, here is a dish-by-dish/course-by-course review of the evidence an my thought process.
For starters, the names of the meals. Dagmal=day meal, Nattmal=night meal. Dagmal is being served a bit later in the day then it might have been in viking times, but that is a nod towards the modern, it is hard to change peoples eating patterens, and modern people get hungry at noon.
The menu for Dagmal is not all that authentic. The food on it is mostly available in viking times, the cheeses are going to be different, the combinations are definately so. This is about a combination of price, peoples expectations, amount of effort I can put out, kitchen space and time budgeting.
The swedish venison is based on a swedish meatball recipe and is not intended to be period. I am using chunked meat instead of meatballs, as ground meat in peroid was different, it was more of a chopped meat. And boiling was a common way for the vikings to prepare meat. Did they add sour dairly to boiled meat? I don't know. They had both, and I am going to say that is good enough for the level of authenticity I am looking for in this meal. This same principal applies to the vegatable soup.
An interesting aside to the above, about boiling of food and why it was done. I have a few ideas. It is easy. Hang a pot over a fire, put stuff in. Done. It uses less fuel, the fire can be very concentrated under the pot, the heat only need to get up to water boiling temp, not roasting temp. It is a good way to spread flavor of the expensive/rare meat throughout the cheaper and more available grains and vegetables, think beef stew. It has no loss of calories, like the fat dripping off a roast. It does not need an oven to be built. It tastes good, and tenderizes tough cuts of meat and hard root vegetables, again think beef stew. It is not time-dependant, roasts can go from undone, to perfect, to overdone quickly. Especially if you consider that a fire was often kept going in the viking long house, boiing food makes a lot of sense.
Now on to Nattmal
First course. The viking flat bread might be one of the most documentable parts of the meal. There were finds of breads, with the composition know. There were finds of flat griddles, and some indication that they might have been cooked on hot rocks or the like. I will be using a combination of grains, and cooking them on a griddle. Whether or not they have a hole in the center you will have to wait and see. It seems like the period breads were flat, crispy and dry, all the better for storage or travel. Mine will be flat and crispy, and hopefully warm when they are served. The small mead is another very documentable item, it is hard to read the sagas without running into a reference for mead. Serving mead at the start of a celebratory feast is both in the sagas and something that we think of as quintesentially viking. Of course it is not possible, with our modern laws, to serve alcohol, so I am making it a soda. There is a very small amount of alcohol produced in the carbonation, but under 1%. The butter and dips coming out with the bread are a sampler of different things that were eaten in the viking age. I encourage you to try them, and what is in each will be announced at the feast. The flavors might be surprisingly different from what you think, or surprisingly familiar. I don't know if the viking had dips and spreads, there is some indication that butter was spread on bread, or dried fish when bread was not available.
Second course. For the spitted game hens, look at the bayeux tapestry picture above. I am not using small wild birds as I want to keep the feast affordable, but I am trying to get the atmosphere of the viking world. The spinach recipe is one I developed from the archological food list that I refered to above. Would they have eaten it? Who knows. Barley porridge is something that is often cited as being common in the viking age, and one web page indicates that milk went into it for celebrations (Viking Answer Lady, Viking foods). There was a find on Gotland (p180 of the pdf, the reference to dairy in it is not in english, and I can not find it at this time, it is also talked about on Stefan's Florilegium) of a pan, in a womans grave. It contained barley, peas and some type of dairy, probably sheep. So why am I using cheese instead of the more common milk that is listed in the frummenty recipies commonly found? One is taste, I like cheese, two is that cheese is a form or preserved milk. Viking cheese was made from adding acid to milk, draining it, then salting it. Would they have used cheese or milk in this barley gruel? I don't know. If the sheep were not producing much milk they would have had to use something else, and sheeps milk is seasonal, they produce best for about 6 months after they give birth, fall, when this feast is being served, is a hard time to get milk from a ewe. Of course sheep's butter is equally plausable, but I had to choose something.
Third course. There is not too much to add. Smoking was a common preservation tool, the blueberrie recipe is my own, developed from the ingredient/technique list. And root vegetables were also widley available. This course is foods that would be available later in the year, the second course is more of an early fall course, this one more of a late fall/winter course. The foods in this course are either preserved (smoked) or store well, the root veggies.
Fourth course. Berries were commonly found in viking areas and in the archeological record. The insperation for the dish comes from an old family recipe of mine, combined with what is known about available ingredients and techniques. It is prepared on the stovetop, boiled as was so common. The biscuts are more like dumplings, cooked in the boiling berrie juice. I am making them with oat flour, which will both go with the flavor of the dish, and with the known data of availability of various grains. The sweetend cream is to be poured cold on top of the hot berries and biscuts, and is not whipped.