Viking and Iron Age food: the drinks

Let’s get back into the Iron Age culture! This time, I’ll write about the thing that maybe most people think about when they think about Viking culture; drinking. The Vikings have a reputation about them to be heavy drinkers and that they drank mead. But were they? We’ll see if we can find some answers in the excellent research done by food and drink historians!

As I mentioned in the previous post, sources of sweetness in northern Europe were dried or frost-bitten berries/fruit, malt and honey. Fruits and berries were probably not as sweet as they are today and might have been used more for cooking and brewing. Cider-like fruit wines were made and berries were added to the beers. Fruit juices that wasn’t fermented was also an option, but not very common because of the amount of fruits or berries needed.
Due to the cold temperatures in Scandinavia, bee-keeping was not common, so honey was expensive. It was mostly used for mead. Malt was cheaper to make and the sweetener was likely used to make beer.

But if we go back to the even more basic drinks, where you don’t have to do a lot of work first, there’s water and milk. But the cleanliness of the wells could be questionable and the Iron Age people seemed to have been aware of this, since they kept digging new wells every now and then, as well as latrines. So it was difficult to be sure that you didn’t dig a well close to an old latrine. So water being used for drinking and cooking was collected from rain and springs. There’s a quote saying “Ale if I have it, water if I have no ale”, so water seems to have been the last restort. And fresh milk was considered too sweet and too rich to be an everyday thing. Heated milk was provided to the old, sick or children. A soured byproduct after cheese- and butter-making was more likely to be consumed.

The more essential drink was of course beer. But in comparison to the modern variety, the Iron Age beer was both weaker in percentage and sourer! Maybe we think about ales when we imagine what the Vikings drank, but it was more like a Belgian Lambic, which makes me super happy since I’m a big fan of sour beer!
                             Spices used to make the beer more interesting were rose hips, gale, juniper, meadowsweet and yarrow. There are some sources mentioning hops, but it’s not sure it was used for beer in the Swedish area in the Iron Age. Hops weren’t common until the 13th-14th century. In the Denmark region, they certainly used hops for brewing in the Viking Age era.

Mead on the other hand was a very exclusive drink, popular for its sweetness, rather than the high alcohol percentage. Sweet things were special and reserves for festive occasions. The drink had the status of being the drink for kings and gods. A food historian once said during a lecture that mead was probably consumed in the Iron Age as often as we have dessert wine. A lot of people never drink it, some people when it’s a special occasion, and a smaller group of people drink it on a more regular basis.

Wine seems to have been the most desirable, so the least accessible. It was difficult to obtain and the most expensive. It was also associated with glass vessels, another pricy commodity. Anglo-Saxon England imported wine from France and the Rhineland. The latter also exported to Hedeby/Haithabu. But Hagen mentions nothing about wine in the more northern regions, such as Birka. Tunberg&Serra mentions wine in the appendix and says it was a prestigious import during the period. Mentions about wine in the Edda and high end drinking goods points to this being the case.
It does seem so rare though, so when people in the northern region did have some wealth, they rather imported honey for mead than imported readymade wine. If you had less money, you could make mead with the crushed honey comb refuse, after the honey had been removed and let them steep in water.

So to summon up, if you reenact super fancy people from Haithabu or Anglo-Saxons you can enjoy a glass of wine, if you’re more northern or less fancy, have a glass of mead. If you aim more for lower classes, drink a more sour beer with some kind of fruit! Or maybe a weak beer, low on hops, like an ale. But unless you go for a really weak beer, I’d suggest you to keep drinking water, even though it’s not very “correct”! We don’t want people to pass out on our events. So drink responsibly.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

My sources:
-Hagen, Ann, Anglo-Saxon food and drink, 2010
-Serra, Daniel & Tunberg, Hanna, An early meal: a viking age cookbook & culinary odyssey, 2013

Pictures from top to bottom:
– Sarah Moores-Viking Klan Zebitz
– Sofia Holmer – Instagram vikingspired

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Anxious reenactor girl

To celebrate the day when my Facebook page reached 500 likes I wanted to share something special. And I got lots of great input and good ideas for a special post, for a special day. And I will most likely use all of those ideas. But not today. Today I wanted to share a, perhaps, not as positive side of my crafts. But it’s still there and I suspect some of you might have similar thoughts.


My thoughts of myself and my crafting aren’t very high. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but the point of this blog is to show that you Can build a wardrobe for events, even if you’re not the best seamstress or pattern maker. Even if you don’t want or can’t put loads of time into making things. My sewing is okay, but my ability to try new things are very limited. It makes me anxious.


I really hate trying or learning new things in front of other people. I don’t want to show that there’s something I can’t do or won’t do perfectly the first time I try it. Apparently, this is a common trait with introverts. But it leads to me not trying new things or even asking for help. When I do try and it doesn’t work, I panic on the inside. And it makes me not wanting to try again for a long time.


The biggest hurdle right now in my development of my crafts are sleeves. If you look at my garb, my garments are either without sleeves, have loose sleeves or  have straight sleeves with gussets. Because the way I feel, as mentioned above, has hindred me from learning how to make fitted sleeves. But I really want to learn. I want to make lovely fitted kirtles, 14th and 15th century.


At some point I thought “what the heck? Let’s just do it!”. And I made an order of projects that I want to do in an sequence from cheap/not as important to not as cheap/important. Starting with a German 15th century kirtle in a wool blend fabric that cost me almost nothing per meter. I can use that to learn. Next one would be a pretty nice wool, but not in a accurate pattern for a simple 14th century kirtle. Hopefully I had learn enough from the previous one not to f*ck it up. And lastly on the list, a nice thin wool to make a fairly fitted underdress for my viking kit. That fabric cost me the most money, and I don’t want to ruin it. And the safest way no to ruin it, is not to try.


And. I know a lot of us have these kinds of feelings. We feel like we’re not good enough. Not skilled enough. And we step back from the projects we really want to do. But it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay not to be able to do something perfect the first time you try.


If there’s something holding you back that I can help with, please ask! And I will, in my turn, ask for help. Overcome and learn new skills. And I will not be perfect. And that’s okay.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

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The viking world: pictures from the exhibition

The day before yesterday was the big opening of the new Viking exhibition at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. Apparently it’s the world’s largest Viking exhibition and covers 1 000 square meters and shows 2,500 original objects. There’s plenty of interactive parts as well so I you can feel and smell parts of the viking world today.

All the objects, artefacts and texts in The Viking World can be accessed via mobile phone, tablet or computer, physically in the museum or at home, and that’s what I’ll be showing you guys here. I’ll show you some of my favourite pieces and link to the website of the museum, where you can read more about them and also find your own favourites.

The exhibition is built around a number of themes like; divine craftwork, waterways, boundless meetings and family and hierarchy. Under each theme there’s a descriptive text and also the different showcases. Each object has a discription, sometimes short, sometimes a bit longer. What it’s made of, how it’s made, the possible origin and where it was found.

There’s a great zooming tool so you can look at tiny details, and you can also click on to the more detailed page with dating and size. I do wish that information like that was included in the exhibition page. But at least it’s available. Click the link after “Object number” and you’ll get there. It’s in Swedish though. So yey! for Google translate.

First of all I’ll go for the cutlery! You know me, table ware is the thing. So I’ll show you 3 show cases that had some pretty objects. First case (The young were buried dressed as adults) had a very lovely iron knife with pommel in bronze coated leather sheath. Second case (Skiing finns – the northern people) had some gorgeous decorated antler spoons. Third case (A wooden spoon for the soup) had some really nice, simple spoons that inspired me even more to try to get me a better spoon for my Viking kit!

Next section to look at, is bling! Of course there was a lot of this in the exhibition and I’ve only selected a fraction of the pictures I took of beads, brooches, pendants and other shinies! The first picture is from the show case Many forms of payment and shows a selections of beads, pendants, brooches, silver hacks, lots of filigree work and coins. As usual, it’s the combination of rock crystals and carnelians that catches my eye. So pretty, but so expensive to recreate.
The second picture show a case from the theme Beads and slave trade. The first thought it my mind was “what a mess!”, because I’m so used to symmetric pieces of jewelry that most of us make. But I’m trying to go more asymmetric with my bead creations, and this is a good reminder to keep up that work. The beads made of carnelian and rock crystal, as well as several of the glass ones, come from south-eastern Europe or the Mediterranean region.

But my favourite piece of bling (from the same case) is the white one in the last picture. Not only is it beautiful, but is also teaches us something about the viking culture and how materials change. It’s a set made of rock crystal, glass and carnelian. But carnelian is red or orange, you say?! It is, but these ones were found in a cremation grave and the heat from the funeral pyre has discoloured the carnelian beads, leaving them bone white. Have a closer look at this beauty here!

Now we’re getting into the diffiult stuff. I want to show you table ware. Pottery. Glasses. But there’s so many lovely pieces, how do I choose!? Okay, I can’t. So I’ll just show you lots, and add the links and you can marvel at their beauty!

Top row from left to right:
Wooden bowl
Reticella beaker
Vessel

Bottom row from left to right:
Tatinger ware jug
Ceramics
Cone beakers

One of the best parts of the museum/exhibition was of course the huge portraits of viking reenactors in the courtyard! 4 excellent portraits photographed by Madeleine Bergman, Vikingventures, of 2 high class persons and 2 lower/middle class persons. Cheyenne to the left and Max to the right has Instagram with more pictures of their projects. Fredrik and Elisabet are of course equally cool!

I really recommend going to the exhibition if you have the possibility. If you don’t, (or if you do), you can enjoy the pieces online and learn a lot about the material culture of the Viking age. I’ll also try to do a blogpost connecting some of the exhibition pieces to the pieces in my personal kit!

/Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

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Feastgear: sources for information

Now we’re doing a short break in the cavalcade of viking food! Because a couple of months back I got a request from the principality chronicler to do a piece in the newsletter about finding sources for information about feastgear. Which of course, I couldn’t turn down. Since it get published only in Swedish, this weekend, I did a piece in English as well to put here on the blog. You guys also get a few extra links to check out for more information and inspiration!

Like many of things in our hobby, feastgear is a practical detail. You need something to eat from and drink out of, multiple times a day and most of the time these are objects we need to bring ourselves. But we need a spoon for that morning porridge!

When you find a favorite period, sometimes you want to dive deeply into it and get some feastgear to compliment your lovely garb. Then you, in the same way you look for ideas for garb, want to find sources that’ll point you in the right direction to find the correct look. Depending on which period and area you want to recreate, you will have to look for different sources. If you going to do iron age/Viking the sources are mostly archaeological finds but few images. With the later periods, 14th-16th century, the finds are supplemented with many images in the art. Portraiture really experiences a renaissance in the late middle ages and they’re a fantastic source for those of us wanting to know how glassware and plates looked during “our” period. Many of the group portraits were done as a meal or banquet-scene, and quite a few portraits set in home environments can show beautiful details in the backgrounds. Maybe it was a sign of wealth to show that you could eat and drink from the best. The later in our SCA period, the more detail we can see in the images. The portraits with home environments seem to be especially common during the 15th century.

So, how do we find these sources? It can take a bit of digging, depending on how many sources there are from the time and area you want to research. Helpfully, many museums have digitalized their collections and there is a lot to get from them. The Swedish History Museum has many finds from the Viking age in their online catalogue and the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in the Netherlands has many (42 000) pieces online, a lot of beautiful pottery from the 15th and 16th century. For example you can search for “jug” and the timeframe 1450-1600 and get hundreds of examples to look at. Some other museums and websites I can recommend are:

The Getty Museum (Lots of nice roman pieces)
The Met(tropolitan Museum of art)
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Portable Antiquities Scheme-database

Museum of London
The British Museum

A lot of my inspiration and knowledge comes from countless hours spent searching for stuff on Pinterest, a website or app where you “pin” pictures to different “boards”. There, you can find and save a big variety of paintings, broken pottery and museum artefacts from the whole world and from all times! But, you have to take a critical approach to it. A bunch of times, I’ve learned that the dating of paintings hasn’t been correct. But you will learn more after a while and then you will start to see your period more clearly. Sometimes you’ll have to click around a bit to find a reliable dating. But try to search for things like “16th century pottery” or maybe “15th century glass” and see what turns up. Sometimes you get surprised to see the number of sources. Just the other day, I found some new pictures of roman forks that I’d never seen before! You can find my Feastgear folder here.

Another source to acknowledge is the amazing craftspeople that make replicas today and other historically inspired pieces we can buy and use. Many of them have spent a huge amount of time researching and they’re great sources of knowledge. If you find a good potter or smith who shares their sources and gives useful background information on their pieces you can either follow that track to learn more or just trust that they know what they’re doing! A few potters, for example, refer to the Siegburg pottery as source for their work. Then you can easily go down that road and google “Siegburg pottery” to find more information about period, the different finds and shapes. So the next time you find a potter that makes nice pottery, but doesn’t give as much information, you can recognize the shapes and know if it’s a look you want to go for or not, depending on your focus period.

So the next time you search online for portraits to find a new cool outfit, take a look at the rest of the painting and think about what kind of other objects you can see around the person. Maybe they’re holding a glass? Then you have a great starting point when looking for new feastgear!

If you have any questions or want more examples of online museum catalogues or anything else, please feel free to contact me. Either on my Facebook page or through email; gele.pechplumin(a)outlook.com. Looking at feastgear and sources for the same is great fun for me.

/Gele Pechplumin

(Open source pictures from the Met; bowl, painting, glass.)

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Filed under 15th century, 16th century, Feastgear, Okategoriserade

Viking and Iron Age food: recipes

To continue on my last post about Viking/Iron Age food, the cooking post, I’ll now add a short in between posts-post with a few recipes. The last post did get rather long, and I didn’t want to add more to it and decided to break it up a bit. But I know that a lot of you want hands on recipes to try yourselves, so here we have two fairly easy ones with ingredients that are easy to find.

The recipes, and some of the information from previous posts, are from an excellent cookbook written by Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg, (who have given me their premission to post this recipes). It’s called An Early Meal – a viking age cookbook & culinary odyssey (2013) and is described as a culinary journey throught time. It’ll help you learn how to cook the Viking way, using period ingredients. You don’t get just recipes, but also a big section of the theoretical aspects, sectioned into three parts; what did they eat?, how did they prepare the food? and how did they eat? There’s also a generous appendix with archaeological finds of plant remains, an encyclopedia and a nice list of references for further reading! I highly recommend this book for all that are interested in Iron age food. Now, the recipes!

Salmon on turnip stew

150 g salted butter
250 g wild leek or scallion
500 g turnip
500 g salmon
5 dl fish stock (the water in which you boiled the fish)
4 egg yolks
1 sprig of dill
1 sprig of coriander

  1. Boil the salmon in big chunks with the bone and skin until ready.
  2. Save the water in which you boiled the fish – the stock.
  3. Chop the leek and turnip, and sauté them in the butter.
  4. Add 4 dl of the stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Mix the yolks with about 1 dl of the stock that you have allowed to cool off.
  6. Mix the yolk/stock mixture with the boiling stock, take off the heat and stir it.
  7. Fillet the fish and cut in into bite-size pieces.
  8. Put the fish in the pot with the lid on, to allow the salmn to get some warmth from the sauce.
  9. Sprinkle the green herbs over the dish, just prior to serving.

If cooking in a Viking Age setting, use an iron pot to cook the fish, and a soapstone kettle for finishing the dish.

Alu Laukar – a sauce for smoked meat

50 g wild leek or spring leek
0,5 dl chopped thyme
0,5 dl chopped dill
2 dl geuze, a Belgian spontaneously-fermented beer
2 tbsp malt vinegar
500 g salted and smoked fatty pork

  1. Chop all the greens together as fine as you can; you might even mortar or crush them.
  2. Mix the greens with geuze and malt vinegar.
  3. Cut the meat in thin slices and place on a serving dish.
  4. Pour the green sauce over the meat and serve it at room temperature.

There are 42 great recipes in the book, based on different geographical areas; Lofoten, Kaupang, Lejre, Hedeby, Jorvik, Uppåkra and Birka. Maybe you can find it, as I did, at your local library. Or you can support great projects like these and get a copy! Swedes and readers from most EU countries can get a copy here.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

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Viking and Iron Age food: cooking

Food is something we all can relate to and when it comes to living history and reenactment, it’s always present. We can’t go around it, so we might as well dive into it. So two weeks ago, I started a trilogy of Iron Age/Viking food blogposts! I started with a post about the ingredients in northern Europe during the Iron Age. This time I’ll write about cooking and processing food. Next time I’ll go over the traditions of eating and dining in the same area and period. Hopefully this will cover a chunk of the subject, but I’ll probably not be able to stay away from it for long, there’s so much information!

For most people in the Iron Age, the kitchen wasn’t a specific room in their home. Some wealthier people could have a separate kitchen house, like a baking house. Large scale production of food for bigger households was easier to do in a separate space. But for a smaller and not so wealthy household, the kitchen was part of the main room. A domestic hearth was used both for cooking and warming up the room and the people in it. The fire could be set directly on the floor or, more commonly, on a heart made of clay, tiles and stone. Early hearths were built in the middle of the room and later ones may have been built against a wall, backed with stone. The centre built ones could, with air vents and air channels in the ground, provided a smoke free environment.

A living history group in Ale, Sweden, has made a top 10 list of the essential tools for the Iron Age hearth/kitchen. They listed (slightly in categories); axe and saw, fire-steel, fire-shovel, tripods, tongs, roasting spits, pot hooks, griddles/pans, toasting stone, pots made of baked clay and iron, and the water barrel with a scoop. All of these are of course not necessary, it depends on the kind of cooking you want to do; cooking with direct or indirect application of heat.

But before the cooking even starts, food had to be processed to keep longer. Different methods of preservation were used and the most common were smoking, drying, boiling and pickling. These methods ensured that food would keep beyond the stage of fresh, regardless of being harvested or slaughtered. Salt was another way to preserve food, it might not be as common as the ways mentioned above, due to its exclusiveness.
Drying was the most common process as it was the simplest one. It could be done outdoors or in warm, dry place indoors. Drying could also be combined with smoking if you put the food near the hearth, a sauna or a malting room.
Foods such as fruit, will keep much longer if boiled, so the sugars in them are concentrated. Sometimes, honey could be added to boost the effect. Boiling the fruits into a mush and then storing it in jars has been done since antiquity. It may have been used as a condiment.
Pickling was also a controlled process to avoid the decomposition of the food. This could be done by adding salt or some lactic acid and keep the food under water to keep oxygen away from the product. In this mixture, no microbes could survive and spoil the food. The important thing was that the vessel was waterproof, so the product was kept under the surface. Pickling of course keeps the vitamins and nutrition in the vegetables.

Between the harvesting and slaughter there was a period of storing the food, short or long. Cereals were stored in barns for the wealthy, or in pits and in the homes of the commoners. Grains and flour had to be kept dry to avoid insect infestations and moulds. Flour was stored in chest or bins. These containers were often locked. Bread could also be stored this way, usually only for a few days, to be eaten fresh.
Different kinds of jars were used for storage, a narrow neck on them allowed for a greased cloth to be tied over the opening. Meat in jars got covered with a sealing layer of oil or clarified butter.
Two ways to keep food cold was the bog-method and the pithouses. Butter and cheese were treated the same way when it came to storage and putting them in sealed containers and lowered 1-2 meters down in bogs seem to have been one way to keep them cool. The pithouses, cellars or simple holes on the ground used the coldness from the ground. Root vegetables could keep all winter in one, even though they probably didn’t have a lot of taste by spring.

Boiling seems to have been the most common way of cooking. Boiling could retain the juices and fats better than other methods and it was essential. Cooking meats and vegetables in meat stock were probably done in an iron cauldron. Stews, porridge and sauces were likely made in clay or soapstone vessels. Boiled dishes had a place at all meals, even the fancier ones.

Ovens were quite rare in Iron Age Scandinavia, but there was still a wide range of ways to bake food. Roots vegetables were baked in the ashes in the hearth and meat could be baked in cooking pits. The bread was probably baked over hot stones or directly in the ashes, more often than in ovens. Most bread would’ve been unleavened, but there are finds of bread with gas bubbles. They were probably made as sourdoughs or with yeast from brewing.

For special occasions, meat could be cooked on fire spits. The taste was probably more enjoyable than when boiled, but it was wasteful in terms of juices and fats. But they likely gathered the drippings from the metre long meat skewers. Using spits like this was time-consuming and took a lot of work. There’s also one find that indicates that there might have been grills as well, to fry meat or fish on.

When it comes to the seasoning of the food, there were multiple ways to add flavour. Salt might not have been added in the cooking process but was still there through the preservation. Herbs were used, such as thyme, dill, coriander, caraway and mustard seeds. Alliums, such as onions, leeks, garlic and wild garlic was the most common way to add flavour to the dish. Even vegetables in general were used to provide variety in the diet. But there are no physical finds of “exotic” spices from the raids/journeys of the Vikings or from trading. Nor are there any written sources that such spices reached Scandinavia in the period.

Sources of sweetness in northern Europe were dried or frost-bitten berries/fruit, malt and honey. Fruits and berries were probably not as sweet as they are today and might have been used more for cooking and brewing. Cider-like fruit wines were made and berries were added to the beers.
Due to the cold temperatures in Scandinavia, bee-keeping was not common, so honey was expensive. It was mostly used for mead. Malt was cheaper to make and the sweetener was likely used to make beer.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

My sources:
-Hagen, Ann, Anglo-Saxon food and drink, 2010
-Serra, Daniel & Tunberg, Hanna, An early meal: a viking age cookbook & culinary odyssey, 2013
-Wickerts, Mari, Vikingatida köksredskap: köket under yngre järnålder: samlingsplats och kunskapsöverförare : råvaror & recept, 2013

(Photos with permission, top to bottom from:
Madeleine Bergman – Instagram _vikingventures_
Sarah Moores-Viking Klan Zebitz
Madeleine Bergman – Youtube Viking Ventures
Sofia Holmer – Instagram vikingspired
Sofia Holmer)

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Viking and Iron Age food: the ingredients

To add to my last post about my Viking/Iron Age feastgear set, I’ll this time write about food from the same period! When going through some of my sources and learning new things, I realized there was too much for one post, and I’ll add another one in two weeks about cooking, utensils, the kitchen and dining. This one will mostly be about the different kinds of food types available in Scandinavia and Viking settlements during the Iron Age. There are some great books about this area, and it would be a shame not to use it all. So I hope you’re ready for another culinary journey back in time!

On a farm during the Iron Age in Scandinavia, there would be a wide range of animals. Of course it differs between the beginning and the end of the period and also depending on where in Scandinavia, but everywhere there’s been a mix. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses were the common livestock. We know this because of the bone fragments found at excavations. Cattle and sheep were the most common. At settlements with a higher social status, there was a higher percentage of pigs. The horses were used both as draft animals, for riding and as food. But it seems like it was less common to eat horse in the bigger settlements that was Christianized.
Amongst the domesticated animals were also chickens, geese, dogs and cats. According to calculations made 1997 by Professor Lars Kardell, the average Iron Age farm had 1 ox, 3 cows (not including calves), 3 sheep, 5 lambs, 2 pigs, 5 chickens and 1 rooster.

With some of the livestock came milk. Milk from the cattle, sheep and goats were all used. It was mostly processed into other forms like butter and cheese. Fresh milk was difficult to keep fresh, so drinking it was quite a luxury and probably only done at special occasions.. But it could be soured to keep it longer. Butter was one of the main sources for fat in the Iron Age, not only used for cooking but also as a condiment in itself. Fish with butter seem to have been a common combination. But some sources also mention the use of butter together with bread, as we use it today. The sour milk could be drunk as it was but also made into skyr, a sour curdled product comparable to yoghurt. It is difficult to find archaeological sources for cheese, but hard cheese is mentioned in some sagas and fresh cheese have been made since at least the Bronze Age.

The most common grain in the Swedish area during the Iron Age was the six-row barley. One exception was the western part of “Sweden”, where oats were more common. Other crops were wheat, peas, beans, flax, onions, hops, mustard seed, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, celeriac and camelina sativa. The early varieties of carrots were red, purple and black. The orange variation didn’t grow in Europe until the 17th century, but the other colours aren’t always easy to find.
Food that got harvested from nature included wild garlic, wild celery, sea peas, honey and birch sap.

Together with the domesticated animals, crops and what you could harvest in nature, you had the food group “game and fish”. There are examples of finds from red deer, deer, boar, fox, bear, badger, beaver, elk, reindeer, hare, swan, geese, duck and marten. From the birds, you could also get the eggs if it was spring. The fish segment is more difficult to be sure about because of the lack of fish bones at the sites. What we know is that the amounts of fish found at settlements on Orkney and the Shetlands increased in the period of Norse settlement. They seem to have brought a tradition of eating more fish. The fish and seafood mentioned in Iron Age context are cod, hake, ling, whiting, herring, porbeagle, saithe, haddock, salmon, sturgeon, oysters and mussels. The fish you could eat fresh or boiled, fried, smoked, dried, dry salted, put in brine or fermented.

Salt was a very import and resource in the Iron Age. Salt got extracted from seawater by the Romans in England around year 0. They boiled the water in a salt pan made of lead and got salt crystals. Around the Mediterranean, the seawater was put in big plates or pools where it was left to evaporate. Left behind were the crystals, ready to be used or sold. In Poland, they mined salt from salt mines. In “Norway” by the sea they boiled the water slowly over open fire. This process used up a lot of wood and took a long time. The same seems to have been done on the “Danish” island Läsö. The theory is that the Vikings bought and brought the salt home from their journeys or traded the “Norwegian” salt. The salt got used in large quantities to preserve food when you couldn’t keep it cold.

Viking settlements in Jorvik/York has find of lentils, swede, leaks, peas, beans, onions, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, beets, sloes, plums, cherries, apple, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, hawthorn, hazelnuts, walnuts and honey. There are long lists of foods being sourced at different Iron Age settlement and some of my personal favourites are the parsley in Fyrkat and blueberries in Oseberg!

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

My sources:
-Hagen, Ann, Anglo-Saxon food and drink, 2010
-Serra, Daniel & Tunberg, Hanna, An early meal: a viking age cookbook & culinary odyssey, 2013
-Welinder, Stig, Pedersen, Ellen Anne & Widgren, Mats, Det svenska jordbrukets historia. [4000 f.Kr.-1000 e.Kr.], Jordbrukets första femtusen år, 2004
-Wickerts, Mari, Vikingatida köksredskap: köket under yngre järnålder: samlingsplats och kunskapsöverförare : råvaror & recept, 2013

(Photos with permission, top to bottom from:
Sarah Moores-Viking Klan Zebitz
Sarah Moores-Viking Klan Zebitz
Amanda Thomsson, theupsalaviking)

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SCA feastgear: viking/iron age

In my SCA game I spend a lot of time and energy on the items that I eat and drink with. What we call feastgear is, for me, accessories the same way shoes, hats and bags are! My goal is to have a full set of feastgear with all my garb sets. For me a set includes a glass, a mug, a bowl, a plate, a spoon, a knife and a pitcher. With them I can have breakfast, a banquet and also just lie on a blanket drinking wine and eating s with my friends!
But building up multiple sets like these takes time and also some money, so sometimes we have to compromise and maybe use things from the “wrong” period or area. But don’t forget that a lot of period areas traded with each other.

I focus my Viking age/iron age kit towards the central area, mostly Birka and Hedeby/Haithabu. But luckily when it comes to pottery there’s a big mix of where the wares came from. The 3 big production areas in Europe from late 8th century to mid-11th is Western European, West Slavic and Finno-Ugric. The Western European ware came from the Rhineland; Frisia, Badorf, Pingsdorf, Walberberg and Mayen. The West Slavic included cities like Wolin and Oldenburg in today’s northern Germany and Poland. Finno-Ugric pottery came from an area that today is Finland, Russia, Estonia and Latvia.
About 25% of the pottery found in Birka is believed to have been imported and it was mostly Slavic, some Reinland and some Finno-Ugric. There was also a local production that resembled the Slavic pottery.

My Viking set is the most complete one. I have all the separate parts that I want to have and even a few extra pieces so that I can vary my setups or loan to friends. The easiest item to find when it comes to Viking feastgear is different kinds of cups, so I think I have 4 more that are not in the picture. The hardest piece to find was a good, useable knife in a decent Viking style that also was in budget for me. But after a lot of looking and some help I got the one in the picture which is very stylish but a bit big, so I also have a smaller one that’s very simple.

The pitcher in yellow-isch clay is a Badorfer style, dated around 500-900AD. Other pitchers in the same style have a more precise dating, 800-900AD. The dark bowl is a replica from a Birka grave and it’s in a Finno-Ugric style. The matching plate isn’t a replica, but is made in the same style as the bowl.

The glass is a replica bell beaker from grave 750 in Birka. It’s dated to the 9th century and it has a great feel to it. I’m not sure how common it was to have glass ware, what kind of people who could afford using them. So I’ll try using them only when I have my most fancy outfits on!

The red cup and the bowl with three handles are market finds that I don’t have any information about. But I like how the red adds a pop of culture to the kit. The spoon made out of horn is more of “in a Viking style” but has no provenance. There are Iron Age spoons made out of horn and bone, but they look very different and I haven’t seen anyone who makes replicas. But when I find some, I’m sure that’ll be my next step to make my kit better.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

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Roman food: from poor to wealthy

To follow up on my last post about roman feastgear, this post will be about what to put on that feastgear, food! According to Jo-Ann Shelton (As the roman did: a sourcebook in Roman Social History, 1988) the romans had 3 meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the information we have on the two former are quite scarce. There is a source with an example of a school boy’s lunch which consisted of bread, olives, cheese, dried figs and nuts. This to me (except for the olives) sounds like a perfect snack lunch at an event!

Of course, most of the written sources tell us about the meal traditions of the upper class. The wealthy took a reclined position on couches while having dinner. Preferably outdoors in a garden, if the weather allowed it.

The diet for the poor romans consisted of wheat. Wheat was made, by law, very cheap or even free to feed the poor people. The poorest ate little other than wheat, either crushed and boiled with water as a porridge, or as puls which was a boiled wheat dish like cream of wheat. And if they were lucky and had access to an oven, they ground the wheat into flour and baked bread. Other types of food poor people might have eaten were beans, leeks and sheep lips. With this they drank cheap wine or vinegar, mixed with water. As a slave, it could not have been easy to cook and serve things like meats, cheeses, vegetables, and fruits to the wealthy.
        A story about an old peasant couple tells us that they served a guest some cabbage, boiled smoky pork, green and black olives, cornel-berries preserved in dregs of wine, radishes, endives, cheese and eggs. As dessert they served nuts, figs, dates, plums, apples and grapes. As the centerpiece, a honeycomb.
        A modest dinner had ingredients a poor roman could never afford. A meal like that could include lettuce, leeks, tuna with sliced eggs, fresh green cabbage, small sausages on white grits and pale beans with bacon. Dessert could consist of shriveled grapes, pears and roasted chestnuts. As a small snack after, you could have some olives, hot chickpeas and warm lupines. With all this, you drank wine, most likely mixed with water.

Other sources with dinner invitations name courses like; pickled young tuna, lizard fish, oysters, sow’s udder, stuffed wild fowl, barnyard hens, snails, barley soup, mead, snow, beets, cucumbers, onions, sow’s womb and sea urchins!

A staple in the roman kitchen was the fish sauce called garum or liquamen. There’s a rumor that Worcestershire sauce is a descendant of garum. The sauce was so popular that it was a major industry in the seaside towns. So you could buy a readymade jar from a garum factory, or you could make it yourself.
         The entrails of fish are placed in a vat and salted. You could also use whole small fish like smelts, tiny mullets, anchovies or sprats. You salt it some more and then put it in the sun. After it has aged in the heat for 2-3 months, you strain the mixture and retrieve the garum. Some also added old wine to the sauce.
          It is not certain that recipes that calls for liquamen means the pungent fish sauce or maybe a watered down version. Or if it’s a more general term for stock, broth or some other liquid.

Numidian chicken
Clean and poach the chicken and then remove it from the water. Sprinkle it with assafoetida (a spice used today in North African and Middle Eastern cooking), and pepper, and broil it. Grind together pepper, cumin, coriander seed, assafoetida root, rue, dates and nuts. Add vinegar, honey, liquamen and olive oil. Put over heat, stir and when it boils, add starch as a binder. Pour the mixture over the chicken, sprinkle with pepper and serve!

Rabbit with fruit sauce
Cook the rabbit in wine, liquament and water. Add a little bit of mustard, anise an a whole leek. Prepare a sauce with pepper, savory, onion ring, dates, two damson plums, wine, liquamen, caroenum (a reduced wine) and a small amount of olive oil. Then thicken with starch and let the mixture boil for a short time. Put the rabbit in a serving dish and pour the fruit sauce over it before serving.

Liver sausage
The sausage is made by grinding together pepper, rue and liquamen. Grill pork liver and cut into bits. Combine the liver and the spices and grind together. Stuff the mixture into casings and place one bay leaf in the center of each sausage. Hang them to smoke for as long as you wish and when you want to eat them, remove from the smoke and grill them.

Sweet and sour pork
Put olive oil, liquamen and wine in a pot. Chop a dried shallot, dice cooked pork shoulder and add them to the pot. When this mixture is well heated, grind together pepper, cumin, dried mint and anise. Pour over some honey, liquamen, passum (a sweet cooking wine or raisin wine), a little vinegar and some juice from the meat mixture. Combine the spices with the meat. Add some fruit without pits and seeds and heat it all thoroughly. Crumble some pastry over to bind it, sprinkle some pepper and serve!

Now you have a bunch of recipes and ideas for a wide variety of roman meals, from the simplest to the biggest feast. I’m not much of a cook, so please let me know if you try out some of the dishes and how it turned out. I’ll keep to the figs, cheeses and oysters!

A friend of mine, Anna Syveken in the SCA, is doing a bunch of roman dishes over on her Instagram, so I really recommend heading over there if you want to see some roman cooking!

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

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SCA feastgear: roman

In my SCA game I spend a lot of time and energy on the items that I eat and drink with. What we call feastgear is, for me, accessories the same way shoes, hats and bags are! My goal is to have a full set of feastgear with all my garb sets. For me a set includes a glass, a mug, a bowl, a plate, a spoon, a knife and a pitcher. With them I can have breakfast, a banquet and also just lie on a blanket drinking bubbly and eating cookies with my friends!

But building up multiple sets like these takes time and also some money, so sometimes we have to compromise and maybe use things from the “wrong” period or area. But don’t forget that a lot of period areas traded with each other, so an Italian glass could be used for Italian, German and English garb.

The roman period was quite long and the styles vary greatly. But since this is more of a “fun” period for me, more than a very serious one, I’m using a wider time span, around 2nd-4th century AD when I look at the fashion. So that’s the same time frame I use for my feastgear. The geographical area is also a lot bigger than normal and I accept items from a wide range of areas that have replicas in a roman fashion.
So far, all I have are light linen garb for warm summer days, so I’ve mostly focused on drinking vessels, but I now have a full set so I can choose to use just a glass or the full set for a banquet!

Usually I’m a beer person, but the romans in the late antiquity thought that beer was a drink for barbarians, so when I wear my roman garb I drink wine and use smaller and more delicate drinking vessels in glass. The pitchers in ceramic and glass is for pouring wine and water on hot days on a blanket. A small bowl for grapes is also handy and a small spoon for delicate snacks.

Roman feastgear isn’t very easy to come by in Sweden, since there isn’t really a market for it. So I’ve received a lot of help with shoppping in other areas, especially the UK. But there’s also a bunch of German online stores that sell roman things.

The bowl and the knife are bought at markets, so I don’t have more information about them apart from being roman. The ceramic pitcher is only described as a roman wine flask. The mug has a dating of AD 120-150.

The plate is being described as roman samian pottery. Samian is the word used by English-speaking archaeologists to catagorize pottery made in the Gaulish area. Gaul was a region of Western Europe first described by the Romans. It consisted of present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, and parts of Northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany.

The pieces made from glass has a bit more information to them since they’re made as replicas from specific pieces. Both the blue round flask and the clear glass is from the 2nd century. The flask is from the eastern part of the roman empire and the original for the glass was found in Sweden, Öremölla in Skåne. The blue glass is based on a piece found in Melby on Öland in Sweden and is dated 1st-6th century, so a model that was used over a long period of time.

Last, but not least, are the two silver spoons. They’re called The Corinium spoons, after a roman town in Britain. Corinium (today Cirencester), was the second largest city in it’s days. The spoons is said to have had many uses. The pointy end helped opening and eating shellfish, piercing eggshells to chase away evil spirits and also eating snails and oysters. The spoon is, according to Amanda Hart Museum Director at the Corinium museum, dated to the mid-2nd to 3rd century.

I’m very happy with my roman set, and I can’t wait to use it at an event to inaugurate it! Most of the pieces has been added under the age of the plague.

/Herrin Gele Pechplumin

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