Food and Cooking
Vikings for all occasions, no meat too tough!
Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry
On this page you will be able to find Viking recipes, sort of. Jamie Thorsson and Delia Halgerdsdotta didn’t leave their recipe books to posterity so what you will find are recipes using the available ingredients cooked to the taste of those eating the food today.
Hrothgar’s Simple Viking Meat Recipe
Cut meat into thin bight sized strips. Can be any meat, works well with beef and lamb but mutton, pork and chicken can be used; venison might be interesting to try.
Chop onion. Fine, course or just sliced to choice.
Chop garlic. Can be whole or crushed if preferred.
Fat or lard.
Quantities and proportions of the above ingredients used are to taste.
Melt a knob of fat or lard in a pot over a fire. Add the meat and stir until completely browned. Add garlic and onion and continue to stir until onion goes clear. Serve with vegetables or between two slices of buttered bread.
What the Vikings Ate
Below is a list of foodstuffs eaten by the Vikings. The list has been savagely cut from an excellent article by the Viking Answer Lady and can be found at www.vikinganswerlady.com. Any errors that you may detect below appeared during editing which was brutal!
Domestic Sources: Beef, mutton, lamb, goat, pork and horse meat were eaten throughout the Viking homelands and settlements.
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.
Methods of meat preservation were in use during the Viking Age, include 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.
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.
Deer, elk, reindeer and hare were the most important animals hunted for meat. 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.
The following wild poultry were used for food: golden plover, grey plover, black grouse, wood pigeon, lapwing, wild goose.
Nuts were also a source of protein. Hazelnuts were the only nut found wild in Scandinavia. Walnuts were imported in the Viking Age.
Food from the Sea, Rivers and Lakes: The fish resources in the Atlantic off the western coasts of Scandinavia were extremely rich, providing cod and coalfish, and freshwater would have been a source of salmon. Shrimp and herring were also eaten. Other saltwater fish known to have been eaten include haddock, flat-fish, ling, horse mackerel, smelt, and saithe. Freshwater fish included roach, rudd, and bream, with perch and pike. Estuarine fish consumed includes 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. Whales were also an important food resource during the Viking Age. Porpoises and seals were also hunted. The most important seal product was blubber, which was eaten in place of butter or used for frying. In addition, various sea birds and their eggs would have been consumed.
Sloes, plums, apples, blackberries, bilberries, 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.
The Viking peoples consumed a variety of vegetables, both grown in gardens and gathered in the wild and include carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, spinach, wild celery, cabbage, radishes, fava beans, peas beets, angelica, mushrooms, leeks, onions, and edible seaweeds. Vegetables were generally preserved by drying.
A variety of seeds were used to produce oils used in cooking; linseed oil, hempseed oil, and rapeseed oil.
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. In Iceland, the diet included very little in the way of cereals but instead relied primarily on protein sources, including milk and butter.
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).
Bread and Cereals
Barley was used to make ale, porridge and bread. Wheat, rye and oats were grown. Hulled barley was used for thin, flat bread, baked on an open fire. Oats seem to have been preferred for bread and porridge, rye became the main bread cereal in southern Scandinavia during the Viking Age.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs: dill, coriander, hops, poppy seed, black mustard, fennel, watercress, cumin, mustard, horseradish, lovage, parsley, mint, thyme, marjoram, wild caraway, juniper berries, and garlic.
Exotic spices obtained by trading: cumin, pepper, saffron, ginger, cardamom, grains of paradise, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, anise-seed, and bay leaves.
Vinegar was used as a flavouring in foods, as was honey.
Ale, mead, bjórr (a sweet alcohol). Fruit wines and imported grape wine, milk, buttermilk, whey, and plain water.
Quern made by Alric of Hrafnslith Herred.
Dr Bohn’s Pan-Fried Pork With Honey & Apple
Pork – thin slices of pork loin work best
Cider (or better yet, apple brandy, if you don’t mind being a bit inauthentic!)
Make a thick marinade of honey and cider (this is why apple brandy is better – you get the flavour without resulting in a very thin marinade – you want it to stick to the meat!). Soak your pork loin in this overnight.
Take your skillet and burn off any muck. Add a sliver of butter and fry your pork. You are aiming to flash-fry it – the honey will burn if you leave it too long, and for a thin-ish slice of meat you’re only talking about 1-2 minutes. You will need to keep the meat moving to avoid the honey sticking. Depending on how many slices you are cooking, you may need to add more butter, but once you have got started, the marinade and meat juices may well be enough to keep your skillet going.
If you want to add apple, peel, core and finely chop your apple just before cooking. Add the apple to the skillet and fry alongside the pork.
Serve, and be prepared to fend off the ravening hordes!
Oeif's 'Pork in Mead' - Use choice parts of pig (Usually from local Saxon farm - for free)
Dice coarsely, dry fry for 5 minutes on open fire, add to cauldron with local diced vegetables and local herbs, 1 bottle cheap Mead, extra Saxon Cider if required, simmer 1 hour - superb!
Ragnar's 'Fish on a Plank' - good for the backwoods when limited utensils available.
Take 1 fish (i.e. Trout), 1 plank, 3 nails, 1 fire.
Nail fish to plank, put plank next to fire for 45 min, cut fish off plank from tail. Serve cooked.
Eat fish with bread or whatever available out in the woods!
Very good with:
'Ragnar's Mead' - (2lb Honey, add to 2 Litre water and yeast into suitable container.
Leave for 2-3 years to ferment - eventually drinkable then if brave enough).
I’m not a Pheasant Plucker!
(And won’t be till at least 1067)
Re-enactors take pride in the accuracy and authenticity of their Living History Encampments (LHE), background research is essential to maintain this. There are lots of things that modern folk take for granted which are anachronisms for the Dark Age period.
Foodstuffs on display in an LHE are an excellent way to draw in visitors and engage them directly. They love to notice food they are familiar with or to turn their noses up at the less familiar or simply stand and stare whilst food is prepared. Though not long ago staples like sausages were produced at home, the tradition is discontinued and most of us buy them neatly packaged. A demonstration of making real sausages with genuine skins can generate instant interest & eyes grow large as people realise what sausages are really made of. A connection is restored. Not all of us have the resources, time or inclination to stuff intestines regularly, but there are other ways to invoke the appropriate feeling for the period. How about some hunted game? Plenty of that about in the early medieval England surely, but beware. Some of you might know that rabbits were not introduced until after the Norman conquest, initially they would have been bred on big estates by the ‘warreners’ employed to keep them. They didn’t escape into the wild and become poachers favourites immediately so would not have been present in a field kitchen at Hastings or before. Hare however are indigenous, as are Red Deer and Roe Deer. Fallow Deer are not, they were also brought to Britain by the Normans to be hunted in the Royal Forests. Muntjak though an ancient breed, arrived in England as recently as 1925.
Normans were responsible for introducing Pheasants too, in the late 11thC so like the rabbit certainly not a common mans fare. It was not until the 17thC that they were bred in great numbers and became available to more lowly folk. Partridges on the other hand were brought in by the Romans, and naturalised by the 4thC, so a brace of them hanging in LHE would be perfectly in period. Woodcock, Red Grouse and Quail are all natives too, though Quail are summer migrants and therefore not available during the lean winter months.
Brent geese, along with Grey lag and Pink footed geese are winter migrants, so they would have been around to supplement the stores. Mallard are the indigenous wild duck, domesticated types like the Aylesbury were not developed until the 18thC. (Unless of course you pluck your duck before display.) Other wild fowl introduced after the medieval period include now familiar Canada Geese, which were acquired for King James II’s waterfowl collection in Hyde Park in the late 1600’s. Other escapees from collections now common include the Mandarin and Ruddy duck, both arriving in the 19thC.
How come you’ll never see a Viking cooking orange carrots? This has been avidly debated, but it is now widely accepted that orange carrots were not common in Northern Europe until the 15thC and the illustrations of them in medieval medicinal manuscripts are copies of Dioscorides’ herbal manual written in Greece in 70AD. So, do not represent what was being grown for eating in the 10th C, even in a monastery.
It’s no surprise that tomatoes are late introductions, (they were thought to be poisonous and only grown for show until the 19thC) along with sweet corn and of course potatoes, 16thC for both of those, also swede and beetroot. Reference in A-S times is confined to beetroot leaves. For truly Dark Age veggies you can’t go wrong with broad or field beans, peas, turnips, parsnip, onion, watercress, broccoli and cabbage. The latter would be a dark green variety with a loose head not the tightly packed modern white variety.
Some trees have also been introduced as exotic specimens and are now naturalised. The Horse Chestnut for instance, not introduced until the 1650’s, so no playing conkers for Viking, Saxon or even Tudor children. The Sweet Chestnut however was brought by the Romans to be cultivated for eating, as were almonds and walnuts. (The name walnut derives from A-S ‘wealhhnutu’, literally ‘foreign nut’) Hazel or cob nuts are indigenous. The squirrel nibbling them now is also an interloper, unless you’re lucky enough to be in an area where our native Reds are holding out. Greys didn’t arrive till the late 19thC but have spread rapidly. Red squirrel was probably fair game in the Dark Ages, but as an endangered species you’re unlikely to find them featuring as food at re-enactments.
Hope this has whetted your appetite to find out more or at least made you aware that not everything is appropriate. If in doubt, research, look things up online or in books, visit a museum and never be afraid to ask.
Living History co-ordinator Ousekjarr
Silver Thegn of ‘The Vikings!’
Handy reference and further reading:-
‘Anglo Saxon Food and Drink’ by Ann Hagen. (Anglo-Saxon Books http://www.asbooks.co.uk/)
‘Medieval Cookbook’ by Maggie Black. (British Museum Press)
‘Prehistoric Cookery’ by Jacquie Wood. (NPI Media Group)
'Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England' by Debby Banham (Tempus 2004).