For the 2008 Tourney of Ymir, I was asked to do a “Viking Themed” feast. While I was enthused about the feast itself, I knew this would be a challenge as there are no existant cookbooks from the area and time in question, so the recipes would have to be conjectural reconstructions based on available foods and recipes from other times and areas.
I chose to focus on the Danelaw in approximately 1,000 AD, though my sources varied widely from this focus due to the unavailability of cooking sources from this time and place. I first looked at literature and archaeological finds from the time, and then conjectured as to how these foods might have been cooked, based on the kitchen facilities and cooking techniques available. One thing to note is that apparently chickens were not commonly kept, thus the noted absence of poultry in the menu. I did use eggs, as sea fowl eggs were collected, though more were used in this feast than probably featured in the Norse diet.
I did make a variety of compromises from historical correctness in order to create a feast that would please a variety of guests; Ymir is the Barony’s biggest event and the challenges of creating a feast for 240 people with varied palates (from “carnivores” to vegetarians, with many picky eaters) sometimes required making choices that were not strictly accurate, as did the limitations of kitchen, budget and the “sideboard” format of the feast requested by the autocrat. These are detailed with each recipe.
Breads and Dairy:
Matbröd: Freshly baked wheat bread.
Barley, rye, oats and wheat were all found at Birka, Jorvik, Oseburg and Dublin. Based on finds at Birka, it appears that most breads were flat and unleavened, cooked on griddles over the fire. However, I wanted to bake at least one leavened bread, as many people feel that they haven’t had a meal unless they’ve had bread (a very medieval attitude, really). So I chose to bake one plain wheat bread – barley breads were more common, but I was using barley in other dishes in the feast and wanted to vary the grains a little. For more information on medieval bread, see here or here.
Knäckebröd: Rye Crispbread
For the “crispbread”, I wanted a savory cracker-like bread to complement the cheese I was making. Breads like these are still eaten in Scandinavia today, and this one is based on one of these modern recipes..
Ny Smör: Homemade Butter.
Butter was an essential storage tool for keeping milk – heavily salted, it could be kept for years and in fact was used to pay taxes. The process is simple – cream is agitated until the fat clumps and sticks together, while the buttermilk drains out. The flavor can be improved by allowing the cream to sour slightly, either naturally or by culturing the cream with yogurt or sour cream to introduce desired bacteria.
Skyr med Vitlök: Fresh cheese with garlic.
Skyr is a fresh cheese still eaten in Iceland today – while I have no evidence this precise recipe was used by the Vikings, dairy products including cheese were a key part of their diet.
Brotchan Folchep: Leek soup with oatmeal
This porridge is based on available ingredients and a reference to porridge in the Poetic Edda, rather than a specific medieval dish.
Klättra och Mussla Småkoka: Scallop, mussel and clam stew with fennel
Seafood was a huge part of the Norse diet, including shellfish. Evidence at the Norse settlement in Dublin indicates that oysters, cockles, mussels, winkles, smelt, eels, salmon, and scallops were eaten. We don’t know how they might have been prepared, so this is a conjecture.
Steka Nötkött: Roast beef.
I needed a “plain” meat dish for this feast, and the sagas make reference to oxen being eaten, though they were boiled:
Then of the steers | did they bring in three;The Lay of Hymir, The Poetic Edda
Their flesh to boil | did the giant bid.
The site’s kitchen had more oven availability than stove space, and luckily cold roast beef is more appetizing than cold boiled beef on a sideboard. The beef was roasted with salt, mustard, rosemary, and garlic rubbed on the outside, all spices available to the Norse and sliced.
Älgstek Ffläta med Röd Vin och Svampen: Venison braised with red wine and mushrooms.
Venison was part of the Norse diet, though how important a part varied based on what part of Scandinavia is discussed – the farther north, the more game was eaten, and deer was the most commonly hunted animal.
Griskött Korv inne om Titulera om Lucan: Pork sausage in the style of the Lucanians.
Rather than looking forward to medieval sources, this sausage is based on a Roman sausage recipe with ingredients available to the Norse.
Sylt fisk med Rödlöken: Pickled fish with onions
Vegetables are amongst the hardest things to find recipes for – as Taillevent said, “Other Lesser Pottages, such as stewed chard, cabbage, turnip greens, leeks, veal in Yellow Sauce, and plain shallot pottage, peas, frenched beans, mashed beans, sieved beans or beans in their shell, pork offal, brewet of pork tripe — women are experts with these and anyone knows how to do them.”
However, that being said, I still needed to provide some vegetarian options for the diners at this feast. The bean dish was chosen specifically to provide a vegetarian protein option, especially as the feast was served during Lent and the Baron was keeping the fast.
Bönan med Öl: Beans cooked with beer and spices.
The flavors of this dish are inspired by a recipe from Ein Buch von guter spise:
Boil green beans until they become soft. So take then fine bread and a little pepper. (Take) three times as much caraway with vinegar and with beer. Grind that together and add saffron thereto. And strain the broth and pour the color thereon and salt it to mass and let it boil in the condiment and give out.
Red chickpeas (which were apparently preferred over the more common yellow chickpeas) were soaked overnight, then boiled in beer until tender, and drained. They were dressed with vinegar, pepper and caraway.
Moroten Ugnen med Ingefära: Carrots cooked with ginger
Steket Kålen: Sautéed cabbage
These two recipes are fairly modern, especially the cabbage. Cabbage was eaten by the Vikings, but would probably have been boiled rather than sautéed, and would have been cooked more thoroughly, as would the carrots (which wouldn’t have been orange, nor would they have had ginger). However, very few modern diners prefer their vegetables cooked until “mushy”, and as it was many of the vegetables returned to the kitchen uneaten.
Both recipes are simple. The carrots were boiled until tender, and then tossed with honey and ginger. The cabbage was lightly stir-fried with butter and caraway seeds/
Söt Havrekaka: Sweet oatcakes.
Although flatbreads have been found in grave finds, a sweet version with eggs and honey may be
Bakat Äpplesås: Baked applesauce.
Pureed apple recipes, often with almond milk, are fairly common – this one from A Noble Boke of Cookery is not unusual: To mak an appillinose, tak appelles and sethe them and lett them kelle, then fret them throughe an heryn syff on fisshe dais take almonde mylk and oile olyf ther to. and on flesshe days tak freche brothe and whit grece and sugur and put them in a pot and boile it and colour it with saffron and cast on pouders and serue it. I do not think this recipe was entirely meant to be sweet, though it would depend on the apples – I took tart apples and added honey, butter and cinnamon and baked them (again, due to a limited quantity of stove space). Cinnamon would not have been available to the Norse, but it’s a familiar taste combination that was enjoyed by the feast goers.
Note: All recipe-name translations are from www.tranexp.com and are meant only to give the meal character, not as references to any period source.