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Thread: Viking Foods

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    Viking Foods

    As you would expect, the Vikings ate a wide variety of foods. While Scandinavia is cold, many foods are available there, and what was not obtainable via agriculture and husbandry was available by trade with more temperate countries. Unfortunately, the Vikings did not write cookbooks. The earliest cookbooks from Scandinavia come from the Scandinavian Middle Ages, ca. 1300 and 1350:

    Kristensen, M. Harpestrang, Gamle danske Urtebřger, Stenbřger, og Kogebřger (Old Danish Urte-books, Stone-books, and Cookbooks).Copenhagen: Thiele. 1908-1920.

    Also see:

    Rudolf Grewe. "An Early XIII Century Northern-European Cookbook," in Proceedings of A Conference on Current Research in Culinary History: Sources, Topics, and Methods. Published by the Culinary Historians of Boston. 1986.

    These books are based solidly in Continental culinary tradition, sharing a common French origin. They contain recipes for sauces, milk and egg dishes, and chicken. The recipes almost always utilize and extremely elaborate preparation,with ingredients being processed to the point where they could not readily be recognized by being cut up small, ground, or hidden inside pastry.

    Another post-Viking Age Scandinavian source would be a list of meals served during the course of a year to the Swedish bishop Hans Brask around 1520:

    Hildebrand, H., ed. "Matordningen i Biskop Hans Brask Hus." Kongl. Vitterhets och Antiqvitets Akademiens Mĺnadsblad January. February-March 1885. pp. 1-21, 141-142.

    More information may be determined through archaeological investigation. Pollen analyses from bogs and lake bottoms gives us data as to what types of plants were growing in Viking Age Scandinavia. Midden archaeology, the investigation of kitchen refuse and garbage piles from the Viking Age, provides even more specific clues. Some data may even be gleaned from the Eddas and sagas, although this information is scarce and only occurs in passing, as for example in this passage from Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:

    Skallagrim was also a great shipwright. There was plenty of driftwood to be had west of Myrar, so he built and ran another farm at Alftaness and from there his men went out fishing and seal-hunting, and collecting the eggs of wild fowl, for there was plenty of everything. They also fetched in his driftwood. Whales often got stranded, and you could shoot anything you wanted, for none of the wildlife was used to man and just stood around quietly. His third farm he built by the sea in the west part of Myrar. From there it was even easier to get the driftwood. He started sowing there and called the place Akrar (cornfields). There are some islands lying offshore where a whale had been washed up, so they called them the Hvals Isles (whale islands). Skallagrim also had his men go up the rivers looking for salmon, and settled Odd the Lone-dweller at the Gljufur River to look after the salmon-fishing.
    (Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, Chapter 29)

    While these sources may tell us what foods were eaten, they do not tell us how they were prepared.

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    General Information


    Daily Meals


    The Vikings customarily ate two meals each day. The first, dagmál or "day-meal" was eaten in the morning, approximately two hours after the day's work was started (7 AM to 8 AM or so), while the second, náttmál or "night meal" was consumed at the end of the day's labor (7 PM to 8 PM or so). These times would vary seasonally, depending on the hours of daylight.


    Types of Food


    The foods listed here were known to the Vikings, as evidenced by mention in the literary sources, or documented by archaeological finds (i.e., grave sites, etc.). Additional foods were probably consumed as well, including but not limited to wild herbs and fruits known to grow in Scandinavia, additional game animals not listed below, and any foodstuffs that may have been imported from other countries.


    Protein


    Domestic Sources: Beef, mutton, lamb, goat and pork were eaten throughout the Viking homelands and settlements. Horse meat was also consumed, and by the Christian Middle Ages the consumtion of horseflesh had become identified as a specifically heathen practice.

    Cattle were the most important type of livestock. Evidence for this is found in investigations of osteological finds and settlement remains, and archaeological traces of stall partitions gives investigators indications of how many animals were kept. In Viking Age farms, byres with room for 80-100 animals have been found.

    In Denmark, about one half of the cattle were slaughtered before the age of 3.5 years, allowing most cows to produce at least one calf and making both meat and milk production possible. Archaeological evidence also shows a number of cows that lived around ten years, evidence that they were in use as dairy cattle. In Western Jutland, oxen were were renowned for their high-quality meat and were produced for export as meat animals by individual farmers, then later sold to a larger estate. When they were 4-5 years old, the oxen were walked down the peninsula about two weeks' distance and sold, then re-fattened for three weeks on the marshes before they were slaughtered. This trade in oxen supported some of the nutritional needs of the towns.

    Meat was a seasonal product, as slaughtering was mainly done at the end of the grazing season. Farmers had to make a careful assessment of their hay supplies, and decide how many animals could be overwintered, with the strongest and most productive animals being retained and others slaughtered for meat. Slaughtering time for cattle and sheep was in October, pigs in November-December. Meat was not as highly valued a food as it is today in places such as America - milk products were the most highly valued, and cattle were essential to producing dairy goods. There is also the consideration that the very word for "riches" or "money" in Old Norse, fé, has a root meaning of "cattle", so for each cow that the farmer could not successfully support over the winter, they sustained an economic loss, thus meat as a food was in some ways an admission of failure, not success, which probably contributed to the value of meat as a foodstuff in Viking Age society.

    Pigs were kept for meat, and were usually sent off into the forest to feed on mast (fallen nuts, for instance those of beech), especially in the southern areas of Scandinavia where pigs could be forest-grazed year-round. Pigs were an efficient means of recycling food waste and turning it into consumable meat. Pigs were also valuable food animals for town-dwellers and those in dense settlements where they could be kept penned and fed household scraps, a practice which began in Scandinavia in the Viking Age, particularly at magnate farms and in early towns.

    In Iceland animal husbandry was the major source of food and the principal occupation of the inhabitants. Cattle appear to have been the main farm animal until the 12th century, when deterioration in the climate made it difficult to maintain large herds of cattle and sheep farming took the forefront. This would directly affect diet as well. In general, in farming areas of the Viking world, pork and beef were being consumed in roughly equal amounts. In urban and monastic contexts, cattle represent up to 60% of the meat consumed, with pork and mutton providing each about 20% of the meat in the diet.

    The Viking Age people also kept chicken, geese, and ducks both for eggs and meat. Hens, geese, and ducks were used to provide fresh meat throughout the year.

    Preservation of meat was quite important, and various methods for preservation were in use during the Viking Age, including drying, smoking, salting, fermentation, pickling in whey, or in northern Scandinavia, freezing. Drying was perhaps the most common method, and since properly dried meat could keep for years.

    Fermentation of meat for preservation is a fairly alien concept to a modern Westerner, but was used in the Viking Age and continues to be used even today in certain traditional Scandinavian foods, such as hakikarl (fermented shark) in Iceland, or surströmning (sour herring) in northern Sweden. In general, the unopened animal was covered, often in a pit, and left to ferment in the absence of air and sometimes utilizing salt.

    The far northern parts of Norway were so cold and dry that drying and smoking were the preferred methods of meat preservation. Some salt preservation was done, mostly in the more southerly areas of Scandinavia such as Denmark.

    Hunting/Gathering: While people in the Viking Age did hunt and eat game, the amount of wild meat consumed was very low in comparison to that from domestic sources, as determined by bone finds in kitchen and midden excavations in most of Scandinavia. However, in the farthest northern areas, such as Norrland in Sweden, Troms in Finnmark and Nordland in Norway, game meats were much more important and represented a much larger, or even the greatest part of the meat consumed.

    Deer, elk, reindeer and hare were the most important animals hunted for meat. Red deer has been shown to have been eaten in Jorvík and the Danelaw, and there is evidence that venison was consumed at Jarlshöf in the Shetlands. Bear, boar, and squirrel were all hunted at times as well. Squirrel was the most important animal hunted for furs, and so may have been eaten fairly often.

    In Jorvík and the Danelaw in England, wild poultry used for food included golden plover, grey plover, black grouse, wood pigeon, lapwing. Wild goose has been identified as a foodstuff in Dublin.

    Nuts were also a source of protein. Hazelnuts were the only nut found wild in Scandinavia and were consumed throught Scandinavia and the Viking settlements. Walnuts were imported, even in the Viking Age, and medieval Scandinavian cooks imported almonds and chestnuts as well.

    Food from the Sea, Rivers and Lakes: It is estimated by scholars that up to 25% of the calories in the diet of coastal Norwegians would have come from fish in normal years. The fish resources in the Atlantic off the western coasts of Scandinavia were (and continue to be) extremely rich, providing cod and coalfish, and freshwater would have been a source of salmon. Even Norwegians who lived in the interior had access to high proportions of fish in their diets, since coastal people would have traded fish for timber and other goods. Shrimp were also eaten.

    In Eastern Scandinavia as well fish was an important part of the diet, with herring being caught in Bohuslän, off Denmark, and in the Baltic, and salmon in the rivers and lakes. Other saltwater fish known to have been eaten include haddock, flat-fish, ling, horse mackerel, smelt, and saithe.

    There is also evidence that a variety of freshwater and estuarine fish and shellfish were eaten. Most of the evidence for freshwater fish consumption comes from Jorvík (modern York) and the Danelaw. Freshwater fish included roach, rudd, and bream, with perch and pike being the most commonly found freshwater fish at archaeological sites. We have evidence for estuarine fish from both England and the Viking holdings in Dublin, including oysters, cockles, mussels, winkles, smelt, eels, salmon, and scallops.

    In northern Scandinavia, the dry, cold conditions allowed fish to be preserved almost indefinitely by drying. The fish (mostly cod) was strung up and hung it from a rod or "stock" and allowed to dry. This produced "stockfish", called skreiđ ("sharp-fish") in Old Norse. During the Viking Age, the rock-hard skreiđ was prepared for eating by being beaten and pounded to break up the fibers, and served with butter. Skreiđ or stockfish became important in another legendary Scandinavian food, which is, however, not documentable until 1553, long after the close of the Viking Age: this is the (in)famous lutefisk, or "lye fish."

    The earliest recipe for lutefisk comes from a German cookbook, Das Kochbuch von Sabina Welserin:

    To prepare dried cod, from the gracious Lord of Lindau, who was Bishop in Constance. First take river water and ashes and add caustic lime [lye], which should be rather strong, and soak the dried cod therein. Allow it to soak for a day and a night, afterwards drain it off and pour on it again the previously described caustic lime solution. Let it soak again for a day and a night, put it afterwards in a pot and wash it off two or three times in water, so that the fish no longer tastes like lye. Put it then in a pot and put water therein and let it slowly simmer so that it does not boil over. Allow it to only simmer slowly, otherwise it becomes hard. Let it cook approximately one hour, after which, dress and salt it and pour salted butter over it and serve it. Also put good mustard on the outside in about three places. One must also beat dried cod well before it is soaked (Armstrong, 33).
    Like the Viking preparation for skreiđ, lutefisk was a technique for allowing the board-like stockfish to be consumed by humans, with the lye acting to partially dissolve and thus soften the fish. Accordingly, lutefisk is not a Viking Age food, but became important in the Middle Ages as Christian fasting requirements led to greater needs for preserved fish which could easily be stored and shipped.

    Whales were also an important food resource during the Viking Age. The sagas frequently mention complex conflicts that arose because of disputes over the legal rights of a landowner to the meat, blubber, and bone from beached whales. It was probably extremely rare that ships went out and harpooned whales, and probably only Iceland and the Faroe Islands used this method of whaling. Whales were also trapped in inlets and bays with narrow openings, where they were frightened and driven aground from boats, or shot with poisoned arrows. The Old English Orosius tells how the chieftain Óttar (Ohthere, in Old English) of northern Norway hunted whales:

    Ac on his agnum lande is se betsta hwćlhuntađ: ţa beođ eahta and feowertiges elna lange, & ţa mćstan fiftiges elna lange. Ţara he sćde ţćt he syxa sum ofsloge syxtig on twam dagum. (The Old English Orosius, 39-41)

    (And in his own land is the best whale-hunting: they are 48 ells long (180 feet), and the largest are 50 ells long. There he said that he and five others slew sixty in two days.) If the number of whales killed here is correct, then Óttar and his five men must have driven a pod of small whales such as pilot whales onto shore, and there killed them using knives and spears.

    Porpoises and seals were also hunted. The most important seal product was blubber, which was eaten in place of butter or used for frying. Apparently seal meat was not a particularly prized food, but was eaten by peasants because other meat was scarce. In addition, various sea birds and their eggs would have been consumed.


    Fruits


    Sloes, plums, apples and blackberries were consumed throughout Scandinavia and the Viking settlements. Bilberries were another common fruit, and unfortunately since the Icelandic word for bilberry is bláber (literally, "blue berry") many sources list these as "blueberries". Other fruits eaten included raspberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries, cherries, sour cherries, bullaces, cloudberries, strawberries, crabapple, rose hips, and rowan berries.

    Fruits were preserved by drying during the Viking Age, and by the Middle Ages in Scandinavia fruit was also preserved in honey or in sugar. Some fruit was imported in the medieval period, and there are archaeological finds in medieval contexts of fig seeds and grape pips.


    Vegetables


    The Viking peoples consumed a variety of vegetables, both grown in gardens and gathered in the wild. Vegetables known from Jorvík or Dublin include carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, spinach, wild celery, cabbage, radishes, fava beans, and peas. Endive has been found at Svenborg on the Isle of Funden. Other vegetables would have included beets, angelica, mushrooms, leeks, onions, and edible seaweeds. Sandwort and acorns were used sometimes as starvation foods, but were only eaten in extremity as they were fairly unpalatable.

    Vegetables were generally preserved by drying. A variety of seeds were used to produce oils used in cooking as well in both Jorvík and Dublin. These included linseed oil, hempseed oil, and rapeseed oil.


    Dairy

    Dairy farming was very important in northern Sweden, Finland, and Norway, with cows being the primary dairy animal, although goat's milk was also used. During the Middle Ages, bread and other cereal food types only slowly replaced milk products as the staple food of the general population, and in some parts of Scandinavia milk products have remained the most important foodstuff up through the nineteenth century.

    In Iceland, the diet included very little in the way of cereals but instead relied primarily on protein sources, including milk and butter: "In Iceland, dairy food nevertheless enjoyed higher prestige than meat..." (Jochens, p. 128).

    Milk was not usually consumed, but rather used to create other dairy foods which could be stored for winter consumption, such as butter, buttermilk, whey, skyr, curds, and cheese (which was usually heavily salted to help preserve it). Fresh milk was seen primarily as a raw material that had to be treated, coagulated into skyr, which could be stored for months, or fresh cheese, and the whey produced as a by-product was used as a preservative for meat or butter. Salted butter could actually be kept for years:

    ... large stores were accumulated, like gold, by wealthy landowners. By the time of the reformation the bishropic in Hólar possessed a mountain of butter [from tithes] calculated to weigh twenty-five tons (Jochens, p. 128). Whey was retained and used either as a beverage or as a preservative to pickle meats and fish. The lactic acid in whey acted to slow or halt bacterial growth, allowing foods to be stored longer just as pickling in vinegar (acetic acid) does.


    Bread and Cereals


    Occasionally archaeologists find the remains of cereal grains or bread survive from Viking Age sites, such as the bread from Birka shown here. Mostly cereals which have been burnt and carbonized survive in the archaeological record, to be discovered a millennium later. Barley was the most commonly grown grain in Sweden in Denmark. Rye began being grown in Finland, eastern Sweden and parts of Denmark around 1000-1200, although rye production did not become widely established until the late Middle Ages. In Norway oats and barley were extensively cultivated. Iceland had some cultivation or barley and oats until around 1150, made possible by the favorable climate during the first part of the Middle Ages. Wheat has also been found at Jorvík, Birka, Oseberg, and Dublin. Some rice was imported from Italy in the Middle Ages, and millet and buckwheat were eaten occasionally as well.

    At the beginning of the Viking Age, evidence of autumn-sown rye indicates that crop rotation systems were introduced in southern Scandinavia. A three-field system would be used, with the field planting order requiring rye being planted the first year, barley planted the second year, and the third year the field being left fallow, with the fields being worked and manured before the next crop of rye was sown. This cycle allowed optimal use of the manure resources, since each field was manured only one year out of three, and rye does well with fresh dung, while barley favors decomposed manure.

    Hulled barley was used for thin, flat bread, baked on an open fire. Oats seem to have been preferred for bread and porridge in parts of western Sweden. In Denmark, barley was primarily used for porridge and beer, while oats were fodder for the animals. It is thought that rye became the main bread cereal in southern Scandinavia during the Viking Age, but it took another 500 years or so for rye bread to reach Central Sweden, and it never replaced barley bread in the north.

    Most of the barley grown would have been used to make ale. The remainder was used for bread and other dishes. Porridge or gruel made from whole or cracked grains was an important everyday food for the Viking farm family and it is believed that it was the staple food of the Viking Age. During the week the grain for the porridge would be simply cooked in water and then eaten. At celebrations porridge would be cooked with milk and eaten with butter.

    In Iceland particularly it was very difficult to grow grain, becoming more difficult due to climactic changes with the beginning of the Middle Ages:

    Scarcity of grain meant that in Iceland, unlike in continental Europe, bread never became a staple. It was in fact so rare that people dreamt about it, and one man received his nickname "Butter-Ring" (smjör-hringr) from his favorite food of bread and butter. Scarcity of grain and ovens made flat bread the preferred form in most of the north, but even in this form it never became important in the Icelandic diet. Grain was instead diluted in gruel and in porridge, probably the most important food on ocean travel and a preferred dish for elderly (toothless) people (Jochens, p. 127).
    Bread has been found at several Viking Age sites, most in Sweden (particularly Birka and Helgö in Central Sweden) but also some in Denmark. These breads are small, thin and biscuit-like; some have holes in the center, allowing them to be hung on wires or rods of iron or bronze. They are generally made from at least two different cereals, one of them almost always barley. The proportion of cereals used for the breads corresponds roughly to the proportion in which they were cultivated. The Birka loaves are believed to have been baked on a baking slab or an iron pan. Apparently ovens for bread-baking were not widespread, and some investigators believe that leavened, oven- baked bread was developed as an effect of the increasing cultivation of rye in southern Scandinavia.

    Finds at Birka suggest that the most common types of bread there were made with a mixture of barley and some type of wheat, although bread might also contain other grains, such as spelt, oats, linseed, or even sprouted peas. Rye was used mostly for baking bread as well. Written sources would indicate that oats were considered animal fodder, but a find from Hamar, Norway, shows that oats were also used on occasion for oatmeal bread, and oats were probably used in porridge as well.

    Grain had to be ground before being made into either bread or porridge. The hand-mill used in Viking Age Scandinavia consisted of a flat, stationary stone with another on top, the top stone being turned by a handle fixed at the edge and pierced through in the middle where the raw material to be ground was introduced. Turning such a mill was heavy, laborious work, and almost always reserved for thralls or slaves. The grinding of grain, however, is never mentioned in the sagas or historical documents of the Viking Age, though there are legends involving grinding being relegated to lower-class women, such as in the Eddaic poem Grottasöngr (Jochens, p. 127):

    Nv erv komnar til konvngs hvsa
    framvisar tvćr Fenia oc Menia;
    ţćr 'ro at Froţa Friţleifs sonar
    máttkar meyiar at mani hafţar.
    Ţćr at lvđri leiddar vorv
    oc griotz gria gangs of beiddv;
    het hann hvarigri hvild ne yndi,
    ađr hann heyrţi hliom ambatta.

    [Now then are come to the king's high hall
    the foreknowing twain, Fenja and Menja;
    in bondage by Frodi, Fridleif's son,
    these sisters mighty as slaves are held.
    To moil at the mill the maids were bid,
    to turn the grey stone as their task was set;
    lag in their toil he would let them never,
    the slaves' song he unceasing would hear.


    Herbs and Spices

    Dill, coriander and hops are known from Jorvík and the Danelaw. There is evidence from Dublin for poppyseed, black mustard, and fennel. The Oseberg burial included watercress, cumin, mustard, and horseradish. Other spices included lovage, parsley, mint, thyme, marjoram, wild caraway, juniper berries, and garlic.

    By the Middle Ages, Scandinavia had access to exotic spices obtained by trading. These included cumin, pepper, saffron, ginger, cardamom, grains of paradise, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, anise-seed, and bay leaves. Vinegar was used as a flavoring in foods, as was honey.


    Beverages


    Alcoholic drinks were heartily consumed, this being one way to preserve carbohydrate calories for winter consumption, and consisted usually of ale. Hops and bog myrtle were used to flavor ale. Mead was also consumed: honey was cultivated in southern Scandinavia, and imported by those in regions where bees cannot thrive. A drink which was both very alcoholic and which is described as being sweet was bjórr. Fruit wines were occasionally made, being used for sacramental purposes late in the period, and grape wine imported from the Rhine region by the wealthy.

    Other beverages included milk, buttermilk, whey, and plain water. To learn more about Old Norse alcoholic beverages and drinking customs see my article, Northern European Drinking Traditions.


    Food Preparation Methods

    Cooking was the province of women. As Hallgerđr states in Brennu-Njáls saga, chapter 48:

    ... enda er ţađ ekki karla ađ annast um matreiđu. [...it is not for men to get mixed up in the preparation of food.]

    Cooking Equipment: Utensils for cooking were surprisingly like cooking tools in the Middle Ages and even those of today:

    Cooking followed techniques and employed utensils that changed little over time. A comparison between the kitchen equipment buried with the woman entombed in the Oseberg burial in Norway in August or September 834 and the household recommendations of 1585 by the Swedish Count Per Brahe for his wife shows remarkable little change over a span of seven centuries (Jochens, p. 129).

    The Hearth: The Vikings used a special fireplace or hearth for cooking. The fire itself was called the máleldr or "meal-fire". The máleldr was smaller than the long fires which heated the house, and a fire was built there near suppertime, and sometimes was located in a different room than the long fires (Jochens, p. 130).

    Some liquids such as milk were heated by being placed in a suspended animal hide, clay pot, or soapstone pot and then dropping heated stones into the liquid. Cooking stones for this type of use are mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga chapters 52 and 54, in the haunting scenes where the ghosts drive the inhabitants of the farm at Fröđá away from the fire (Jochens, p. 130):

    Ađ Fróđá var eldaskáli mikill og lokrekkja innar af eldaskálanum sem ţá var siđur. Utar af eldaskálanum voru klefar tveir, sinn á hönd hvorri. Var hlađiđ skreiđ í annan en mjölvi í annan. Ţar voru gervir máleldar hvert kveld í eldaskála sem siđur var til. Sátu menn löngum viđ eldana áđur menn gengu til matar.... Heimamenn stukku úr eldhúsinu sem von var ađ og höfđu hvorki á ţví kveldi ljós né steina og enga ţá hluti ađ ţeir hefđu neina veru af eldinum.

    [At Frodis-water was there a great fire-hall, and lock-beds in therefrom, as the wont then was. Out from the hall there were two butteries, one on either hand, with stockfish stored in one, and meal in the other. There were meal-fires made every evening in the fire-hall, as the wont was, and men mostly sat thereby or ever they went to meat. ... [And when the ghosts came in...] Then the home-men fled away from the fire-hall, as might be looked for, and had neither light nor warm stones nor any matter wherewith they had any avail of the fire.]

    Preparation of Meats: Viking Age men were responsible for the slaughtering and hunting of animals for meat, however women were responsible for preparation and preservation or cooking of the meat so obtained. The sagas mention that sometimes women had to stay up all night to finish cutting up meat after slaughtering (Jochens, p. 129).

    Especially during slaughtering time, a special cooking house or sođhús was used, where the meat was cooked in a pot called a sođketill (Jochens, p. 130).

    Meat was usually boiled, often being cooked in clay or soapstone pots. Although there are scenes of spit-roasting birds in the Bayeaux Tapestry, among the Norse boiling seems to have been the preferred method of cooking meat. This was so much so that in Sturlunga saga, when brigands roasted a cow on a spit over a fire, the saga author felt it necessary to explain that this was because there was no kettle available (Jochens, p. 131).

    Boiling meat required large cauldrons, and meat forks or skewers to spear and lift the boiled meat from the vat.

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    Recipes

    The following recipes are reconstructions of what Viking cooking may have been. We do not have any actual recipes surviving from the Viking Age.

    Kornmjölsgröt (Barley Porridge)
    Osyrat Kornbröd (Barley Flatbread)
    Green Soup
    Nässelsoppa (Nettle Soup)
    Rökt Fisk (Smoked Fish)
    Chicken Stew With Beer
    Honey Glazed Root Vegetables
    Kokt Svinmĺlla (Boiled Lambsquarters)
    Pancake with Berries
    Färskost (Skyr)


    Source: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/food.shtml


    Die Sonne scheint noch.

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    Thank you, very interesting.

    Sad to read that they didn't eat much wild game, but of course it's smarter to keep your meat close to you than go hunting for it.
    But I still want to belive they did some hunting for hide and fur.

    I was surprised that the article does not mention lingonberries. I eat quite a lot of it and I can't see why the Vikings wouldn't. I know they did not have sugar so they could not preserve the berries by making lingonberry jam, but there must be some other way you can keep lingonberries.

    I was also surprised to find that the article list strawberries. I always thought the strawberry was imported from America, much later.

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    Thanks for this very informative. This basically how my diet is, although I don't eat much bread or grain based products at all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Liemannen View Post
    Thank you, very interesting.

    Sad to read that they didn't eat much wild game, but of course it's smarter to keep your meat close to you than go hunting for it.
    But I still want to belive they did some hunting for hide and fur.

    I was surprised that the article does not mention lingonberries. I eat quite a lot of it and I can't see why the Vikings wouldn't. I know they did not have sugar so they could not preserve the berries by making lingonberry jam, but there must be some other way you can keep lingonberries.

    I was also surprised to find that the article list strawberries. I always thought the strawberry was imported from America, much later.
    I think the viking answer lady is an American. i can't imagine the Vikings not eating a lot of those and other berries that are indigenous to that region. There are woodsman in the sagas and odds are they lived off of game. Not only that but hunters are mentioned regularly. I doubt they went hunting in farmer's cattle fields.

    Methinks people are a bit overly critical of the sources and don't realize the wealth of stuff that we find. We know they ate blood sausages, cheeses, a variety of meats etc. It doesn't seem like the vikings to get too fancy with cuisines like the French.

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    Food Through the Ages

    Food of the Vikings

    The first words that come to mind when one thinks of Vikings are "raid", "barbarian" "bombardment", or something similar. Literally, the word Viking means raider. One theory why the Vikings started to attack and gain their notoriety was food. Scandinavia clearly could not provide enough food for the Vikings. The focus of this page is not to show how evil the Vikings were, but rather to explain what their food was like.

    The Vikings enjoyed many different foods and drinks, despite the harsh climate in their home in northern Europe. They were also very frugal with their food, since there was not much available. For example, any fish that was not eaten was immediately preserved.

    Fish was an important part of the diet. For the Vikings who lived on the coast, freshwater fish was the main source of protein. Cod, herring, and haddock bones have been found to prove this. Fish could be preserved by drying it in the wind or smoking it. They also pickled the fish in salt water, thus preserving it. This job, however important, was boring and was given to slaves.

    Much of a Viking woman's time was spent cooking. A stove was placed in the middle of the one-room house. Although they had a hole in the roof, Viking houses were always smoky. The actual stove was constructed of metal. Dishes were made of wood, mainly beech wood. Storage jars were made of ceramics. Viking children were kept occupied with a multitude of chores around the farmyard. Such work included feeding the livestock, weeding the garden, and chasing pesky birds away from the crops. After a meal, Viking women would sew.

    The typical meal for a Viking contained any number of foods. Living off the sea, of course fish were an essential part of the Viking diet. But they also consumed many other products from the sea: seaweed, shellfish, seals, and whales. Vikings also ate something like a sandwich: thick slices of bread toppinged with butter, meat of the Wild Boar, red deer, elk, or possibly bear. Honey was often used to sweeten many of these foods; they loved sweet things. In soups, they might add garlic for extra flavor.

    With the meal, the Vikings drank skim milk, buttermilk, whey, beer, or mead (a strong drink made from honey). They drank not out of cups but out of a drinking horn. The drinking horns were made of many different natural materials. Some horns were made up of real horns, which were hollowed out and polished, others were made from wood or different kinds of metal.Some fancy ones were crafted out of precious metals. Special stands were made for these horns. The poor could not afford horns and had to drink from wood mugs. Eyewitness accounts of that time period reported that the Vikings loved to drink. It was not uncommon to see drunk Vikings on the streets. Sometimes a Viking even died from being too drunk.

    The Vikings loved celebrations and parties. Tri-annually, the Vikings had big feasts or holidays. The first feast was called the Sigrblot. This feast took place in early summer and signified the beginning of the warm season. The second feast was called the Vetrarblot, which took place after the harvest. At that time lots of food was available. The third feast was named Jolablot. This feast took place in midwinter. Each major feast was filled with two weeks of eating, drinking, singing, dancing, and storytelling. During a feast, Vikings wore their best clothes. These clothes were bright and cheerful. The rich drank from a silver horn. During a feast, Vikings visited each other's houses and sat by a fire at a long table.

    The Vikings were excellent hunters and fishermen. They hunted during the summer and winter months. The Vikings learned to use animal tracks to find the prey, and sometimes they used skis to keep up with the animals. Animals that were hunted for meat included boar, seabirds, moose, polar bear, or hare. Vikings ate a lot of meat. Not all meats were hunted though. The Vikings used domesticated animals in most of daily cooking. Meat from their hunting excursions served only as an alternative food source.

    Farming proved to be difficult in Scandinavia. There was a shortage of fertile land, and this might have been a problem that forced the Vikings to attack neighboring tribes. Viking farms were small. Soil was poor, and needed a great deal of care. The Vikings' main crops were onions, leeks, peas, and cabbages. Their work started in early spring, as soon as the snow was gone. The Vikings, or possibly slaves, had to break up the hard soil. They used oxen and plows to help with this difficult job. Then they sowed seeds into the soil by hand. To make hayfields more productive they spread manure on them. To cut the grass Vikings would use a scythe, which looked a lot like a small curved sword.

    During summer, Vikings herded cattle and sheep up a mountain to graze. This became the animals' new home until harvest time. The other animals stayed on the farmstead. Weak animals were killed and eaten because there never was enough food to go around. Compared to animals today, the animals of the Vikings were smaller and skinnier. The pigs looked more like boars. They were dark dkinned and had a lot of hair. Sheep (Manx Loghtan sheep) had two to six horns. They shed naturally and never needed to be sheared. These sheep could live on scarce vegetation, which made them a popular livestock in the freezing areas of Scandinavia.

    Vikings may have been a feared force in Medieval Europe, but the real cause of their berserk nature was food, which also influenced countless other events in history.
    http://library.thinkquest.org/C005446/frame.html
    Es irrt der Mensch, solang er strebt. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Faust I)

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    andrea.

    Based on bones from burial sites, Viking age Scandinavian had a better diet than in the periods after The Viking age. Researchers conclude the diet was more based on pastoral agriculture, fish and wildlife. The period after Viking age (called middle-age, in Scandinavia) the quality of teeth got worse due to an increase in grain in the diet. Males grow to be shorter.

    This Archeology (Osteologi) is made difficult by the fact that Corpses were generally (not always) burnt in pre Christian Scandinavia. Teeth and bone fragments can often survive the funeral pyre though.

    Some good news with the coming of the middle-age is that Women tended to live longer be course the age of first child bearing rose and thus reducing death in labor.

    The Vikings did not cook on Irion stoves. Irion stove cooking is ca 150 years old in Scandinavia.

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    Viking Age Foods

    This is a link to a list of Viking Age foods used and adapted today for reenactment. Until recently (having to quit due to work getting in the way ) I was a member of a UK reenactment group here in Orkney, which gave Living History Exhibits about the Viking Age. We learn to cook over an open fire (though due to insurance issues, aren`t allowed to share food with the audience) and discover that heathen Viking Age foods were far from bland.
    The audience are often surprised at how varied the meals were. Of course now we have to adapt some things for modern tastes or useage, or simply because some ingredients are no longer available.
    One aspect of Norse heritage lingering here in Orkney is in the cuisine, with a great deal of dried and pickled fish being eaten, many oat and barley dishes too.
    A gorgeous, rich and creamy fish pie is often made here using dried salt cod or ling and lots of local butter and tatties

    http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/vikfood.html

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    Ah, dried cod is wonderful. Nice to have as a snack alongside beer too Thanks for the link, most interesting.

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    A very helpful link, especially right now since I'm currently getting ready for the summer re-enactment season by living off of porrige and authentic stews.

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    A good post, thanks.
    I'm surprised to find that I eat like 70% of these things anyway (before knowing a thing about these people). Its a good diet, healthy and energy filled though I must admit Italian is something I still love a lot.

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