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Eating History The Way to a Vikings Heart is Through hisStomach

Food history has always interested me. We can learn a lot about our present eating habits from what our ancestors ate. I've read up on the subject and I've even hosted a few parties serving period foods.

Today we'll talk about the Vikings. With the help of our friends the archaeologists, food finds have been made. The Scandinavian people of the 8th through 11th centuries were not as limited in terms of their diet as some might think. They were masters of the sea and ate everything from oysters to whales. They were much more than just avid anglers feasting on a variety of fresh and saltwater fish. They were farmers as well.

In the Danish settlement of Jorvik, now called York in Great Britain, finds of both wild and domestic meats were found. Among those were venison, beef, mutton/lamb, goat, pork, chicken, goose, duck, grouse, and wood pigeon. The Vikings cultivated grains such as barley, wheat, rye, and barley. They grew vegetables and fruit like carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, plums, apples, raspberries, elderberries, and much much more. To top that off, they were not opposed to using spices and herbs other than salt for a little extra flavor. Honey was the big sweetener in the Middle Ages.

The Vikings used a lot of it to make mead. You can read my article "The Stuff of Poetry Mead" (

php?ID=1038) for more information. The Vikings drank more than just mead. They had access to ale and even wines brought back from Italy and France.

Bread would have been a staple, since it is filling (it also keeps you pretty regular). I recall a class assignment back in elementary school where we had to prepare a food from our respective cultures. Being proud of my Scandinavian ancestors, I picked something Viking related. I found a recipe in an old issue of Skalk, ( an archaeological periodical published in Denmark.

It had a lot of different grains in it, and unlike some of the breads we are use to today, this stuff hit your stomach with a "thud". (One of the things I enjoy doing is making improvised dishes based on ingredients found in the Viking and Medieval ages.) Here is a recipe that translates pretty well even to modern times.

It will keep you going on the coldest of winter nights. Drink a couple horns of mead and you'll be really happy. Paul's Viking Stew A large piece of meat cut into cubes One large onion (chopped) One carrot (chopped) A few stalks of celery (chopped) One Parsnip (chopped) Some cabbage (chopped) Pearled barley Beef broth or stock, you can use chicken stock as well Oil for cooking Salt and Pepper Put your vegetables into a big pot and cook on low heat in a little oil.

If you want to stay authentic, do not use corn oil. Corn as we know it in the Americas was not used until much later. Olive oil might have been used if some Norwegian traveled to Italy and picked up some.

When the onions and cabbage look translucent, then add the meat and barley. Cover everything with your stock and bring it to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and stir it occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Cook until the barley is cooked and the meat is done all the way through.

You can also thicken this with a little flour in water. So there you have it, an interpretation that would probably be a little better than what the standard Viking would have. The point is that this is a dish that would have been made with ingredients that were available at the time. Stay tuned for more medieval recipes. Paul Rinehart is classically trained and is the founder of Online Cooking.


By: Paul Rinehart


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