June 5, 2010
While drying of course can be a viable option in order to preserve food such as meat, some salt may have been used in the Viking age cuisine around Lofoten. Salt is generally used for preserving meat, to preserve dairy products and in order to give your food taste. In this area I would assume that the order of importance would be go from dairy products as the most important to the use of salt as a taste enhancer as the least important.
Though salt generally plays an important role in order to preserve meat, it could be possible that the strong winds and smoke could be used to dry the meat. In order to preserve any dairyproducts that are not supposed to be soured, however, there are no real option but to use salt.
Though the sagas generally are uncertain as a source material the story on how Torarin puts is opponents head in salt, at the very least shows that salt for dry curing was available in the 12th century and possibly – since the salted head have a central role in that story – even earlier.
For both cheese and butter I would think that salt has played an important role, even though one may store butter in bogs and cheese in smoke or piles of manure (Olaus Magnus). A soft cheese may be given a slightly longer longer life by subjecting it to smoke. However, in order to prolong the life of both cheese and butter salt would have been a quite important resource.
Although many medieval stories, sayings and recipes point towards the importance of salt as a taste enhancer, this may indeed be the least of the uses of salt as a resource. A salty taste may be obtained indirectly by the salt that may have been present in meat, fish or dairy products.
While it would be next to impossible to find any hard evidence for any salt being used in Lofoten, the importance of salt for curing and storing would make it an attractive commodity, and I would certainly have been an appreciated addition to the economy of a greater farm even at this latitude.
Though three main sources of salt can be considered, only two of them seem to be viable at the tme and place of my experiments. The production of salt from saltwater requires either weather conditions in which rain is scarce, or an unseemly amount of fuel which would soon have deforested the islands around here even if they were covered by forests at the time. Another possible source of salt would have been the extraction of salt from dried seaweed, though that may have been a possible source, that salt was generally considered to be of inferior quality and may even not be good enough for use as a curing agent – need to check my sources on that. The third possible source of salt would of course have to be from trade. Though there are no written accounts from the time or archaeological sources that indicate any salt trade here, it may still be possible that salt could have come from trade exchange that the dried cod, walrus ivory and reindeer skins would provide. Though the sources for an early trade of dried codfish are rather scarce, some archaeological material seem to indicate that Norwegian codfish somehow ended up in present day England (Barett, ) If one were to assume that codfish were traded with the British isle salt may have been one of the more attractive commodities for which the cod could have been traded. According to Hagen England seem to have been rather rich, or at least self sufficient in salt (Hagen, 2002, p. 45 – 47). A certain amount of salt-trade could perhaps provide the salt needed
Barett, James 2008, Detecting the medieval cod trade: a new method and first results Journal of Archaeological Science 35:4
Hagen, Ann 2002, A handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food – Processing and Consumption