Beer IIb

July 6, 2010

I checked on the beer a few days later, Nothing had really happened with the the first batch except that it looked quite cloudy by the added yeast, but no real activity. The second batch on the other hand displayed some bubbles on the surface – mould or budding fermentation? I’ll leave it for a few more days to see what way it goes. In order to make any eventual yeast feel more comfortable I moved both jugs into the guide room, where it always is far to warm and cosy for me. However, a tourist made a comment the other day, about yeast in some of the plants we display at the museum that may be connected to beer brewing- yarrow and meadowsweet. He or she said something about them carrying yeast. Is there anyone of my readers who have some more ideas on yeast-carrying plants, which plants would be more suited to hold enough yeast? This ought to be looked into with some more care.



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.


June 16, 2010

Of the five tastes, sweetness plays an important role today, but should this be the case even in earlier cuisines. One may argue that a food culture that has only scarce access to sweet resources would not feel the need nor want for anything sweet. While this may be true in some areas, I would assume that the sweet taste actually played a role already during the Viking Age. In southern Scandinavia honey was used already in the Bronze Age and even earlier one seem to have roasted nuts, which will bring out the sweetness of them. So although one were not exposed to the amount of sweetness and sugar as we are today, one would have recognised the sweet taste and appreciated it. In the sagas and myths honey and mead is mentioned from time to time – which may indicate a fondness for anything sweet. In later culinary literature, the sweet taste is increasingly important, but even the earliest cookbooks would include sweet dishes.

However, the sources that can provide sweetness are fairly limited, especially here. So far I can only think of five principal sources that can provide some kind of sugary sweet; honey, dried berries, malt, lactose and birch sap.

Honey which should have been the most obvious source, was rather rare up here, and perhaps even in the whole of Scandinavia due to the lack of bee cultivation. There are some indications in the sagas that honey would have been imported. A possible source for the imported honey could perhaps been the Slavonic areas along the Baltic coast.

Dried berries, especially blue berries, could of course provide a good source of sweetness though that would have been a rather limited resource, and would require people that would have tme to go out in the forests or heath to pick them. This would however have to be considered.

Malt was probably the most accessible source of sugar. Although mainly used in order to make beer, it is probable that malt also could have been used to sweeten some of the food. The drawback would of course be that as they retain the chaffs, using them might give the food a rather coarse taste.

Lactose would in a sense have been readily available in any dairying food culture. However, even though milk was quite abundant up here obtaining a sweet liquid would have required to reduce the milk considerably, a somewhat wasteful method, that still may have been used for festive occasions

Finally birch sap may have been used a source of sugar, today it is used for  birch sap wine and maple  sap could be used for making maple s As this area mainly consisted of birch it is another probable source of sugar. However, in order to not damage the tree, one has to monitor how deep the draining pipes are drilled into the tree and if not plugged the tree will bleed to death.

Of the above sugar sources I would assume that malt is by far the most common, and will commence the sweet experiments by exploring this source.


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

Milling II

May 29, 2010

Today I attempted to clock my proficiency at milling. I had done some minor milling exercises using the hand quern here, but despite claiming that milling with a hand quern was hard work that would only produce a limited amount of flour, I had no real experience of that myself. In order to get some more experience of this activity I decided to make a simple time observation exercise. I intended to mill 500 grams of barley seeds without hull.

Since the flour was nowhere near being fine enough to be baked after a single visit to the hand quern the grains had to be milled several times. This gave me the opportunity to make a sort of statistical observation of the time used to to mill this amount of barley. All in all I managed to mill all the grains in about 4 minutes, the first round taking about five minutes and the last one three.

(1st :5 min, 2nd : 4 min, 3rd : 4 min, 4th:3 min, 5th:6 min and 6th:3 min)

In order to get the grains fine enough to be possible to be baked into a bread I had to mill it six times and I was still thinking that it should could need another go in the quern. Still if I were to maintain this speed I should have been able to mill about 12 kg of barley on a 10-hour day, quite possibly enough to feed a rather large household. A person skilled at this craft and with the efficiency of a large-scale production could probably even double that amount. However, even for someone trained at this task and with a less frail body than mine such a long work session would prove rather cumbersome and difficult to maintain. And while 10 -20 kg of flour can seem as rather much, I would still maintain that this method cannot provide enough flour to support a food economy in which flour is milled rarely and the bread is stored for a rather long time. Such a strategy would not appear until the emergence of watermills and similar constructions.

Marrow IV

May 24, 2010

As I was emptying the pot of yesterdays marrowextracting trials I noticed that the fat that was floating on the surface had a somewhat different consistancy than the fat I usually get when boiling stock. Could it be the marrow that had reconstituated itself? As I noticed this when I was pouring out the water it was a bit to late to really study the fat. Perhaps the last attempt should be redone.

Back home I managed to find an article on the web that mentions the Faeroean bones

S Hamilton-Dyer
“Skriðuklaustur Monastery, Iceland”

Not the one I originally read, but at least it had a reference to the bones I was thinking of. Interesting to note that those bones would have been drilled in the “short end”


May 23, 2010

Doing a subjective control of the pea flour.

During the experiments I have come to realise that my means of measures are rather limited, though I can hide away my cellphone for measuring time and bring out a camera every now and then, the museal part of my cooking experience will make a pile of measuring equipment somewhat difficult to handle. The measuring and documenting will have to be somewhat subjective, and be based more on my experiences and observations than quantifiable values.

Continued experiments

May 22, 2010

From this point I’ll change the pace of the entries I make somewhat, as they will no longer be accounted for in a day by day basis, if it ever was, but rather following the different experiments and food techniques. Knowing myself this will probably be changed yet again in the future, but for the moment it sort of works.

On marrow and in time

May 20, 2010

The drilled marrowbone being heated by embers.

The marrowbone after it has been lying in the embers.

The simmered bone after I've extracted the marrow

Finally, and probably for a short while, I seem to have caught up with time in this blog. Today the plan was to continue doing some slow boiling and to do a experiment with extracting the marrow out of bones. In medieval recipes the instructions are rather clear…simmer and break the bones. “Man skal siuthæ hiortæ been oc sla them syndær thawær the æræ kaldæ. “ However, a find on the Faeroe islands consisted of a lamb bone dating back to the Viking age with a hole drilled into it. After some initial confusion a parallel was found in ethological accounts from Iceland where it was considered bad luck to break a bone. So my plan was to drill a small hole in the bone and then pour out the marrow. In this experiment I used both the method of simmer and break and extracting through the hole

One marrowbone were put in the fire and the other was left to simmer in the pot. The one in the fire were soon smelling like a barbecue gone bad, while the one in the pot kept simmering away. I removed the marrowbone from the fire which had been quite heavily burnt on one side and some of the marrow could be seen bubbling almost carbonised through the hole.

Though some marrow seemed to drip out when I lifted it from the fire none seemed left as I tried to have it pour out of the leg. When breaking the bone I could see that about half the marrow was lost and the other were still clinging to the half of the bone that had not been in the fire. The conclusion must be that it would have needed to lie a bit away from the fire.

The one that had been simmering were taken out after a rather a long time, and given a through whack with the back of an axe. At first it did not appear to break, but I soon realised that the marrow was pouring out on the backside. Though I managed to save the most of it, this could be the reason why the Danish recipe suggested to break them when cold.

The attempt at extracting marrow from a drilled marrowbone will have to continue using a lower temperature next time.

The site of my experiments

The first experiment of my Lofoten trials are mainly an exploration of cooking techniques and cooking strategies, at this stage I aim to look at how the cauldrons and kettles of the Viking Age were used. Were they specialised cooking equipment, or more generalised object? By cooking strategies I mean if there was a certain and preferred way in which the vessels and kitchen implements were used together. In medieval cooking, both written sources and imagery seem to indicate that different vessels were used for simmering and boiling, is the same interaction of pots and vessels probable in the Viking age cuisine?