Experimental weekend: cooking pits
July 19, 2012
At an event at Ekehagen next week I am going to conduct two experiments in an Iron Age/Viking Age context. So in preparation for those I’d guess I try to write down some of my thoughts for the blog.
Experiment I Cooking pits.
Cookingpits have most likely been used in Scandinavia, from the Stone Age up until the Viking Age. What has been interpreted as possible cooking pits has be found at several Viking Age sites, these pits are about 1-2 metres across and are usually filled with fire cracked stones. Cooking pits are mentioned the Edda by Snorri so it is likely that the idea of them where present during the Viking Age. However, the interpretations do differ on how the pits where used and how the meat in them was prepared.
Trial I: Packaging the meat.
In the open air museums in Scandinavia most displays of cooking pits are made with inspiration from the cooking pits used in the Pacific ocean and pieces of meat are clad in leaves and birch bark, or one adopt to the regulations of the health department and use tin foil instead.
As the pits have a diameter from one to two metres across, I would suggest that the pits were not mainly used for chunks of meat but for whole animals. In order to keep them from burning and drying out, the animals were cooked with their skin still on. This practice was, according to some sources, used in the Balkans in the 19th century.
The experiment: To see if we can get a good result of the meat using just the skin to protect the meat from the heated stones. Is it a doable method and will this method still provide a good and juicy meat?
Trial II: Norwegian vs south Scandinavian cookingpits.
The basic principle of the cooking pit is that stones are heated and then the food that should be cooked is buried with the stones which will retain the heat for a long time. Though the prinicple is rather simple differing methods has been suggested based on the observations of cooking pits in Northern Norway and in the South of Scandinavia.
In the north the pits are suggested to first be packed with wood and on top of that a layer of stones are packed. As the wood burns under the stones they will be heated and when the wood is all burnt away the pit should be ready to cook the food. The advantage of this method is that there will be no carbonised wood on top of the stones that might cause cold spots when cooking.
In the south, instead, it has been suggested that the stones are packed in the bottom of the it and the wood burnt on top of the stones. The great advantage of this method is that t is easier to reuse, and that the readier access to oxygen will make this fire buring more fiercly.
The experiment: I will make two pits, one with each method, and as the wood has burnt out compare the temperature and the time it would take for the pit to reach an acceptable temperature.
In each pit a piece of meat that is packed the same way will be added and the pit closed. When the mat is believed to be finished it will be taken out and temperatures compared between the meat that has been cooked in each pit. If possible both pits ought to be excavated at a later point in order to compare them to the looks pits assumed to be cooking pits from a Viking Age context.