Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What Did The Vikings Eat With Their Bread?

My husband and I had another meal of beef and barley stew, with more of the Viking flatbread. (The number of dough balls in the bag doesn't seem to have gone down any, and the quality remains undiminished since the last time I fried some.) Tonight, he had his with maple syrup (very unperiod) and I had mine with apple butter.

Apple butter, though consisting entirely of materials that were available in period, is itself also non-period. The Food Timeline claims that similar preparations go back only to the Middle Ages, and in its present form apple butters are traceable to the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 18th century or so.

That certainly explains how I know about them, since we live close enough to Pennsylvania Dutch country that Amish folk come out to sell their farm goods in our local markets. But it doesn't really answer the question of what the Vikings might have eaten on *their* flatbread.

My husband had one plausible idea; honey. That seems likely to me. The other possibility is skyr, a very soft cheese that was closer to yogurt in properties and flavor; it's mentioned in the sagas. Probably they sometimes combined the two, perhaps adding dried fruit.

EDIT: I take back my comment about the period ingredients in apple butter. Apple butter uses sugar, which likely would not have been available in Scandinavia in period. It sometimes also has spices, including cinnamon, which I don't believe the Viking age Scandinavians had either. Nor do I know whether the basic means of making apple butter--i.e., simmering down seasoned, sweetened apples until they form a paste--works if you use honey instead of sugar. (Though it might be interesting to find out.)

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine who's stuck with a dial-up connection asked me to post this comment for him, since he has not been able to do so:


    Hi, Cathy!

    Well, The New Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook (c) 1958, (Ruth Shepherd Hutchinson) says:

    "The great apple-butter kettle is brought out and set up in the yard. By the time the farmer comes back with the cider, the fire is burning brightly under the kettle and in goes the cider. A penny or peach pit is dropped on the bottom to prevent burning, the cider is brought to a boil, and the apples are poured in. Then the stirring begings, for apple butter must be stirred constantly, even if there is a penny in the kettle. But stirring can be an agreeable occupation, especially if the right young people stir in combination. It can be distracting too--and burned apple butter is a dead giveaway!"

    The recipe proportions:
    6 cups cider
    2 quarts "Schnitz" (dried apples)
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1/2 teaspoon allspice
    1/2 teaspoon cloves
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Problem, historically, besides the spices and sugar, is that before canning was developed, this would be a "make it and eat it up" dish, and, like cooking dried beans, it's one of those dishes as easy to make in large quantities as in small. Could see a dish something like apple butter as part of some late-winter Northern European feast ....

    Yours, John Desmond