Intermission in Lofoten

August 8, 2011

Up in the far north at the viking festival of Lofotr museum, I had a chance to revisit some of the dishes I made last year. During the workshops we made two varieties of of savoury porridges-

 

On day one we worked with the more mundane food, so I wanted to make some sort of porridge that could have been eaten at a regular farm or by a trade on the go.

 

The cereal chosen for both porridges were barley seeds, as it would have been the most common in this area. For the porridge of day one I used barley that had been steeped over night, while on the second day the barley was instead crushed. As a base for both porridges, I simmered the herbs used for seasoning together with generous amounts of butter – according to cooking methods one observe in Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms.

 

Preparation of porridge I

 

In one pot boil a nice piece of smoked pork (I chose pork as I was inspired by a medieval recipe and bacon gives a rather nice taste. In this area smoked beef or lamb may have been more appropriate though).

 

When it is almost finished, melt some butter in another pot, add the herbs (in this case I used victory leek) and let it simmer for a while so that it will give the butter some taste.

 

Add the barley and stir it through the butter.

 

Meanwhile remove the meat from the other cauldron, and pour enough broth over the barley. Also add a good portion of soured milk.

 

When the barley starts to get the right consistency chop up the meat finely and add to the porridge.

 

Serve

 

(or rather taste,adjust, simmer serve)

 

Porridge II

The second was a bit more of a last minute invention as I found out that there was going to be a few people needing an alternative at the cooking pit event on third day of the festival.

 

Somewhat inspired by the above dish and a porridge from a Danish cookbook from 1616, I decided to make a vegetarian porridge that was intended to be served with smoked fish.

 

Due to being composed in the last minute we lacked any soaked barley and instead used barley that was ground on the hand-mill until it had the size of crushed barley.

 

Just as I the above recipe I let the herbs(in this case Victory Leek and Angelica) were simmered in generous amounts of butter, to this I added the ground barley, sourmilk and enough water to cover the barley – adding more water as it boiled away.

 

Though both dishes worked quite well and should fit within a Viking Age context, I found that of the both the dish made from ground barley had the better texture.

Though this entry was perhaps the most recipe like so far a proper recipe will be published as I finishes my Viking cookbook by the end of this year.

Among the simpler dishes porridges of different kinds would stand out. It seems to have been an important dish already in the Viking age – and probably earlier – and was probably most important during the parts of the year or circumstances when one had to rely on only dried stored goods.

As an inspiration for this dish I have used a recipe from Liber Cure Cocorum (1400).

For gruel of fors.

Fyrst take porke, wele þou hit sethe
With otene grotes, þat ben so smethe;
Whenne hit begynnes wele to alye,
þou save of þe þynnest brothe þer by
To streyne þy gruel, alle and summe;
But furst take oute þy porke þou mun
And hak hit smal and grynde hit clene;
Cast hit to þo gruel þat streyned bene,
Colour hit with safroune and sethe hit wele;
For gruel of force serve hom at mele.

This recipe, or similar, can be found in several cookbooks from the 14th – 16th century. Though the inclusion of saffron makes it a rather exclusive dish, the idea of a porridge cooked with bacon or with pork could in some part reflects the ingredients what we find stated as the daily distributed foodwares in navy records of the 17th century.

Though the recipe states pork, it does not say in what form. In the cookbooks I both find reference to smoked meat and to fresh meat, but in this recipe nothing is stated. A hint towards fresh meat may be that the meat is supposed to be boiled before used in the dish, but I have found several references in which bacon is supposed to be boiled before used in dishes. As I simultaneously wanted to investigate both the exclusive dish and a more common porridge I opted for a smoked fatty side of pork. The meat I used was bought at Malmö kötthandel a very good deli that smokes the meat themselves.

Looking closer at the recipe one notices that it can be divided into a few steps; Boil the meat and remove it, cook the groats in the resulting stock, separate the liquid, mince the boiled meat, and to the liquid, add saffron & serve.

Though the recipe in itself is rather easy it did produce a rather large amount of making it possible for me to make both an exclusive soup and a more common porridge and thus making two dishes from one. As saffron was and is an exclusive spice it turns a rather simple dish into something very high society in its composition. Still to throw away all the porridge seems like an awful waste, when it easily could have been served to soldiers and servants at the keep.

I started by boiling some water with the smoked pork, rendering it soft and releasing oth some taste and salt into the water. I then removed the pork, added the crushed oats and started chopping the meat small. As the meat had been smoked with the rind it had to be cut of as well. Though smoked meat may dry out and getting hard if I keep it for a few weeks, boiling it makes it very soft again and easy to chop up. The recipe suggested that the meat should than be ground in a mortar. Though I only have a pounding mortar – as opposed to a grinding one – it was still turning the meat into something of a mush. When the oats had softened and the liquid started to get milky, I was supposed to strain of the liquids.

However, lacking a good strainer or a cloth through which to strain the liquid I proceeded by decanting the liquid from the pot. The problem using this method in the semi-dark cavern of my kitchen was that I only managed to get it separated that much, and some of the oats did remain in the liquid.

The liquid was mixed with some saffron and the main part of the porc. This was put back on the embers in a second earthenware pot. Into the first pot where the boiled oats remained I put in a small amount of smoked pork and the rind from the chunk of meat I originally used.

I let both simmer for a while after which I served both up in a bowl. The oat/saffron soup had really nice if a bit salty taste, and could certainly serve as a starter or side dish in a larger meal. The porridge on the other hand was far more timid in taste. Though the recipe for a porridge is a bit of a construction from my side it is a) still using an original recipe as a base, b) a plausible way of preparing a porridge in the early renaissance and c) as close as we get to an authentic recipe from the period. Personally I quite like the notion that with just the addition of some saffron and an extra step of preparation one may produce two dishes – one for the high seat and one for the workers.

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