Viking Foods 3 – Vikings Ate Their Veges by Rob Shackleford
|Vikings at Home|
The Vikings ate a fairly healthy diet that consisted of meat, fish and vegetables. However, the harsh Scandinavian weather made it difficult for Vikings to raise animals and grow crops in the winter months, limiting their winter meals to predominantly pickled meat and vegetables.
The kitchen garden seems to have focused on both vegetables and herbs. Kale and gale were the most common vegetables in these gardens but also sage and possibly the opium poppy, both most likely used for medicinal or ritualistic purposes (sage was thought, and still is, a potent herb in cleansing a home of bad spirits).
The Viking peoples consumed a variety of vegetables, both grown in gardens and gathered in the wild. Vegetables known from Jorvík or Dublin include carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, spinach, wild celery, cabbage, radishes, fava beans, and peas.
These garden crops were sowed in spring and harvested in late summer and fall. Women and children gathered wild plants and herbs, mostly greens.
Vikings did not have potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes or sweet corn; these did not arrive into Europe until after the I5th century, with the Spanish settlement of the Americas.
The Vikings were fond of meat , especially beef , mutton and pork , although in truth the wealthier would have eaten more meat, as this was a popular ingredient of Viking diet.
The most common foods were:
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, curds, whey)
- Grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats)
- Fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, crabapples, apples)
- Nuts (hazelnuts and imported walnuts)
- Vegetables (peas, beans, onions, cabbage, leeks, turnips)
- Fish (as well as eels, squid, seals, and whales)
- Meat (cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, chickens, ducks, seabirds)
- Cows were kept for their milk; and the cheese, curds, and whey that could be made from that milk. The most common Scandinavian dish included or was solely skyr, a kind of yogurt which is still produced and consumed today, especially in Iceland. Skyr would be flavoured with berries, apples, or other fruits as well as with grains which were also easily preserved.
The foods most commonly stored were dairy products sealed in barrels or ceramic jars especially skyr, dried fruit and vegetables, and grains.
Skyr may have been popular but does not seem to have been one’s preferred meal if there were other options and was thought a paltry offering to a guest. In a number of Icelandic sagas, skyr features as a telling detail in the character of a host. In the Bjarnar Saga, for example, Bjorn is traveling through Iceland and stops to ask for shelter for the night from a farmer. He is served dinner and, while eating, asks the farmer, “How do men call such provisions in your district?” When the farmer says it is called skyr and cheese, Bjorn responds, “In ours, we call such provisions enemies’ joy”.
Still, skyr was a staple of the Scandinavian – especially Icelandic – diet.
Here are a few authentic Viking recipes that centre around Viking vegetables and dairy.:
Find out more
Viking Life by John Guy and Richard Hall (Ticktock, 1998)
Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood (Thames &Hudson, 2000)
Cultural Atlas of the Viking Age edited by Graham-Campbell et al (Andromeda, 1994)
Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood (Penguin, 1996). Detailed maps of Viking settlements in Scotland, Ireland, England, Iceland and Normandy.
About the author:
Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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