The next day I realised that I had erred as I soaked the fish in cold instead of warm water. In the morning I changed the water in order to soak the fish in warm water for a few hours. As I returned to the fish six hours later it had more or less resumed the size and consistency of an undried fish. This means that at least after about sixteen hours in cold water, and six hours in warm water the fish had rehydrated enough to be cooked. I then proceed to boil the fish in the larger soapstone vessel. As the fish neared completion, I started a second pot in which I melted some butter together with the mustard seeds I had ground earlier. The choice of butter and mustard seeds as a condiment to the fish, does not only fit with the original medieval French recipe, but seem to have been a quite common condiment to fish at the time, and especially popular in the north of Europe. The Viking age connection is based on some finds of mustard from a few Scandinavian sites- Hedeby if I recall right.

After about an hour and a half to two hours, which would be consistent with the original recipe (see the previous post), I considered the fish to be more or less cooked and tried it with some of the butter.

When boiling the fish smelled a bit like the traditional swedish dish, lutfisk, but did not share that texture. Although similar to the fresh cod in taste, it also had some other qualities and was – despite falling apart- a bit more firm in the meat. Together with the salt from the butter it tasted quite nice, though I must admit that I lack the reference to regular ways of cooking stockfish.

Though the skin was almost coming of the fish I put it in the pot as a container for the meat, however after the rather long cooking time the skin was almost dissolved, so keeping it only proved it more difficult to serve a nice piece of fish. After cooking it I also noticed that the roe sack was remaining in the fish, why I probably should have removed it before cooking. All in all the fish could probably have done with a better cleaning than I did.

Anyway, after two hours of cooking much of the fish had fallen apart into smaller pieces, though some larger pieces could be taken out and served as one portion. That said, I would still consider this project somewhat successful, the medieval method of rehydrating and cooking the stockfish seem to work well. Still, I would need to try this a few more times before getting it nice enough to serve. Due to the strong stockfish traditions here, the experimentation with stockfish will probably continue.


I guess it was inevitable, sooner or later I had to relate to the stockfish. Most evidence seem to point towards the possibility that stockfish were produced in Lofoten already during the viking age. Some analyses of fishbones found in York seem to indicate that cod from northern Scandinavia was imported already in the 10th century. (J.Barrett

However, even though the dried cod may have an ancient background up here the cookingmethods may have changed considerably during the last ten centuries. Today the fish is generally soaked in water for seven or eight days. In order to keep the fish from going bad the water is needed to be kept at a low temperature ( <10º Celsius) Considering that a) there would perhaps be a problem to get hold of clean and cold water unless one lived by a spring or a mountain stream and b) methods of cooking are not set in stone and will change over time, I decided to look closer at older methods of rehydrating and cooking the stockfish.

In most medieval and renaissance sources the stockfish is closely connected with the act of beating it.

“I’ll turn my mercy out o’ doors, and make a stockfish of thee.”

(William Shakespeare, The Tempest )

Though the fish is still beaten in Lofoten – in order to get chewable flakes – the medieval sources seem to rather to referring to the beating as a method of softening it in order to be cooked. The first part of this experiment involved finding some sources that were a bit older than the traditions here at Lofoten. Though beating of stockfish is mentioned in the account given by Quirinus, it is not detailed enough to give us an idea on the way it should be cooked. A more detailed account could however be found in a French collection of recipes “Le ménagier de Paris” from the late 14th century.

Item, when this cod is caught at the edge of the sea and you want it to keep for ten or twelve years, you gut it, and take off its head, and dry it in the air and sun, and not with fire or smoke; and when this is done, it is called stockfish. And when it has been so kept and you want to eat it, you should beat it with a wooden mallet for a good hour, and then put it to soak in warm water for a good twelve hours or more, then cook and skim it well like beef; then eat with mustard or drenched in butter. And if anything is left in the evening, make it into tiny pieces like lint, fry and put powdered spices on it.

Le menagier de Paris, 1393

This recipe gave me a good, though somewhat dreaded, instruction on what to do. I had to beat the fish for an hour or more.

Before starting this project I had a simple wooden club made, the club was made of birch and was rounded at one side. As I was suspecting that the fish would flake considerably, I wrapped the whole stockfish in a piece of linen cloth – although it was just about a bit to small. Then I brought the fish to the cutting log, where upon I started to beat it with my wooden club. At first nothing seemed to happen and I realised that it would take well over an hour as I was constantly interrupted by tourists who were quite curious about both my activities and the stockfish. After a while, though the fish started to soften up and I was, despite the cunningly wrapped fish engulfed by a cloud of molecular sized dried fish. That said the fish did not really lose consistency and shape even though it started to flake somewhat. After about two hour of active beating, the fish was getting softer and I could bend it. It was broken at several places and the meat started to loosen from the skin.

As I deemed the fish ready to be soaked I placed it in a wooden vat with enough water to cover it – however a faulty memory made me use cold water instead of warm- and left it for the night.

Though the beating seemed to have been successful, I was reconsidering my method somewhat as I reflected upon the method I had used. In a 16th century English text a faulty interpretation of the name stockfish, may give us another clue to the way the fish was beaten. In a lexical text, the stockfish were supposed to have gotten its name from the stocks upon which it was beaten. This may however reflect that instead of placing the fish on the flat end of the log that I usually use for cutting wood, the fish should instead have been beaten over the rounded side of the log. This would perhaps provide a more efficient method.

Mortars II

June 24, 2010

In preparation for another experiment I needed some mustard seeds ground. The lack of proper mortars found from the Viking Age did however give me some problems and an opportunity to test out another hypothesis of mine. The use of soapstone vessels as mortars for grinding similar to the ancient Roman mortaria. For this cooking experience I used a simple stone, a soapstone vessel and some mustard seeds. The mustard seeds were poured in to the bowl and I commenced to crush/grind the seeds with a circular motion. It went quite well and it was nt long before I had managed to grind all of the seeds.

A prolonged use of this method may cause some wear on the soapstone though nothing was visible after this limited attempt. Though some further experiments and comparisons with original material is needed, I would say that it would be a possible way of getting seeds or vegetables ground up

After the previous attempt at recovering salt I ended up with salt that had the touch and feel of old beach sand, so in order to dry it I hung it up above the hearth. After letting it spend a few days there I hoped that it would be dry enough to be measured with out to many errors.

In the first batch of brine, which was a bit to much considering the amount of meat put in, I measured that we had used approximately 1,5 kg of salt. Now that I measured the remaining salt I found the weight to be 1,15 kg, considering the linen bag, the rust and that it possibly still contained some water I would say that I managed to recover about 1 kg or 2/3 of the original amount.

While not an excellent amount, still some could probably be recovered if the meat is soaked before cooking. And it would at least allow for a somewhat more economic use of salt.

Reusing salt

June 21, 2010

Due to the rather unlucky choice of using an iron cauldron for salt extraction, and then having the cauldron left outside, made the resulting extracted salt turn out somewhat impure to say the least. The resulting salt was somewhat greyish, looking and feeling almost like wet sand. As I today hanged the remaining tongues to be smoked, I had a new opportunity to extract salt from old brine.

This time I chose a smaller stone vessel that had a rather wide brim in order to get the best exchange, adding just some brine at the time in order to get a nicer and clearer resulting brine. As I was trying to cook it using this method I soon realised that while it worked well in order to get most of the salt gathered at the bottom of the pot it was not the best method for separating the proteins from the salt, Though I managed to skim of some of the proteins, it was soon containing quite abit of the salt I tried to save. Due to the mixture of salt and proteins, the liquid was also prone to form bubbles that would almost cause it to boil over the rim.

Recovering salt in a smaller vessel

The final salty moonscape

Weekend and no experiments or Viking cooking done in a few days, so I decided to make an early baroque recipe from the earliest printed Danish cookbook. A quite simple dish that did not require anything I could not get hold of in these parts.

LXX. Spinat paa Vngerske at koge.

Tag rød Løg/skær dem smaa/oc giff smaa Rusiner der iblant/oc giff vdi en Potte/leg der til denne Spinat/oc tryck den vel tet ned i Potten/giff saa der offuer helten Vand/oc helten Vijnedicke/oc lad det hastelig indsiude/at der icke bliffuer formegit Saad offuer/giør det vel til met sucker/at det ey bliffuer forsøt eller surt/oc giff saa dervdi Bomolie (eller smør) smag om det er til maade/oc salt det til pass. Naar du vilt rette det an/saa leg om Fadet sødne Negenøyen/steegt Lax/eller andre steegte Fiske.

LXX Spinach cooked the Hungarian way

Take red Onions/cut the finely/ and add small Raisins to it/and put it in a Pot/add some Spinach/and press it down into the Pott/add to it half Water/ and half Vinegar/ and boil it quickly/so that there will not remain to much sauce/ do it well with sugar/so that it will not be to sweet nor to sour/and do in there Oliveoil (or butter) taste to see if enough/and salt as is suitable. When you want to serve it/ place around the Plate simmered Lampreys/fried Salmon or other fried fishes.

I followed the recipe without giving much heed to the amounts. I took half an onion, chopped it, added some raisins to about half a package of defrosted frozen spinach. Added some water and vinegar…about 2/3 water and 1/3 vinegar as I assumed that fresh spinach will release more water. After it had boiled I added some butter two pinches of sugar and a bit of salt. Let it simmer some more then served it with a piece of really cheep fried salmon.

The result, a sort of sweet and sour spinach mix, that I found quite pleasing. The combination of the sweetness of raisins and acidic taste of vinegar goes really good together and gave the spinach a more filling character. Not to expensive and something I could do again. The acidity went quite well with the fat salmon dish.Danish-hungarian spinach

Did not look to professional though…


June 18, 2010

Since no mortars have been found from the time , I am at least looking for something that could have been used as a pestle. From the size of a pestle used to grind vegetables and crush mustard seeds to a larger pestle used to crush grains and malt.

Malt III

June 18, 2010

The hunt for something sweet continues, while malt can be considered a basic sweet in an early culture I was looking for a possible stronger sweetener. Though it may be unlikely that a society in which sweetness was something rare one would have such a sweet tooth as to seek out a potent sweetener, I still found it interesting to see what could be done. The plan was to see if I could extract the wort out of the uncrushed malt – not crushed because of the lack of an appropriate tool.

The first attempt failed miserably, as I was called of to another part of the museum to help with some serving just when the wort was boiling, once I returned most of it had boiled away or was absorbed by the remaining corns of malt. They were on the other a bit sugary.

The following attempt I monitored a bit more carefully. In order to extract as much malt as possible from the malt I made sure that the water never boiled but kept a temperature that felt hot enough. By keeping the pot at a reasonable distance from the fire I could maintain this balanced temperature for two hours or so, after which I had a liquid that looked somewhat brown in the pot or yellowish brown when in a glass.

The smell was distinctive and similar to the one one gets when making beer. The resultung liquid was sieved of in a can and brought back to a more modern kitchen. Although tempted to try to make beer of it I decided to continue the boiling instead, after some boiling in which the liquid was reduced to a fourth of its original volume I ended up with about a glass of a dark brown sweet liquid. Still not syrupy in consistency but still sticky and  sweet enough to be considered some kind of sugar extract.

The remaining question is what I ought to do with the concentrate and when I should start some real brewing.

Vänner och fränder

June 17, 2010

A few fellow bloggers seem to have found my experimental endeavours seem to have found their way to my blog, some of these bloggers may be of interest for those interested in food history and archaeology in general.

Food and arcaheology

Viking food guy – another blog that also investigates cooking techniques during the Viking Age. He has some interesting posts about food preservation and milk culture.

Food history – haven’t had time to explore this blog but it seems really interesting


Ossamenta – an osteologist that I have known for over ten years and whom I sometimes pester with questions about bones .

Ting och tankar – an archaeology blog in swedish with some interesting thoughts on archaeology in general.

I might add some more links to this post as times goes by.

Malt II

June 16, 2010

Another possible way of using the malt would be to use it for baking. A bread with some malt will gain some in flavour and sweetness I assume, but perhaps loose some in texture.

To start this experiment I ground a handful of malted barley, to my surprise it was extremely easy to grind, so easy that I in fact got something flourlike by only putting the malt through the hand quern once. I was a bit cautious at first as I though some old flour had been left behind mixing in with the malt. But the greyish colour and a distinct smell revealed it to be indeed malt. I then mixed 1/3 malt with 2/3 of regular barley flour, on this I poured some hot water in order to get even more sugar out of the malt. A very distinctive brewing smell arose from the dough making me think that I at least made something right. As I tried to form the bread I noticed that it was even more difficult than usual but still manageable. The bread was form into small cakes that was baked on the pans. The resulting bread, although a bit coarse due to the chaffs, was somewhat sweeter and more full in taste when compared to regular bread.

Although a possible bread from the time no such bread has been found, but the question is if it is possible to discern it from a regular bread.