Speculative Viking Feasting (Part Three)

This is the last instalment of posts on last weekend’s Viking meal, including a very successful, if highly speculative dish and a delicious failure. You can find the other dishes here and here. And as I pointed out earlier: Since we have no surviving recipes, I decided to go with a number of dishes based speculatively on ingredients and kitchen tools available in tenth- and eleventh-century Denmark, with particular focus on the excavations at Haithabu. This is not a ‘Viking feast’. As far as we know, there was no unitary culinary culture in Early Medieval Scandinavia. What was eaten in Haithabu or Gotland was probably very different from the foods of the Lofoten Islands or the Faeroes. Neither would I consider it likely that these foods – though individually not implausible – would have appeared in this combination. We had a modern party buffet, not a feasting table. That said, it was a really interesting experiment and much of it worked pretty well.

Honey-Roasted Duck

Archeological evidence and literary sources throughout much of Late Antique and Early Medieval Europe suggest that honey was prized in cooking, and the pollen accumulations in Haithabu suggest that sweetness was something people there relished. I have tried out various methods of cooking meats with honey and found that basting combines economy with deliciousness. Again we need to remember that the very way in which honey (and mead) was prized clearly shows it cannot have been commonly used. Very likely it was a rare treat.

The preparation here was simple, not least simplified for want of an open fire: I took and spatchcocked a duck, laid it out flat on a grille with some onions underneath to minimise burning, and basted it with honey while slowly cooking it in the oven. The final grilling had some fresh dill added to it. The meat came out tender, the skin almost caramelised, and the mixture of honey, duck fat and meat juices it produced was good enough to sop up with bread. I have no idea whether this is how it would have been done .- they did it in the sixth century, but that is a world away. But it could have been done, at least.

Roasted Root Vegetables

I am almost completely certain that this interpretation is wrong. Parsnips (and orange carrots because supply chain issues are affecting a lot of places these days and there is no assurance your local shop will have neeps or parsley roots even if they usually do) would likely have been boiled and, I speculate, roasted in the ashes. They might also have been cooked in the dripping pan of a roasting spit. I do not think they would ever have been prepared as a roasted dish in their own right. but they did taste good, and next time they will go into the dripping pan.

Beans with Leeks

Beans are found all over the Elisenhof farmstead on the eider neat Haithabu where it has been suggested they were grown commercially. Dried for storage and cooked with water and just about any other ingredient, they would have made a filling and nutritious, if not necessarily satisfying meal. I wanted some as a side dish, and learned that it is not wise to rely on the word of supermarkets that they have fava beans if you have not made sure they know what fava beans are.

These are phaseolus beans. They were good – slowly cooked with leeks and garden herbs, just lightly salted and enriched with butter. But this is not what they would have been like at all. that will have to wait for when I have fava beans and, ideally, an earthenware cooking vessel.

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