Thursday, May 17, 2012

Viking and Slavic Cuisine: Recipes Included

Last Saturday, I finally received my copy of the other "Viking" age cookbook I ordered:
Małgorzata Krasna-Korycińska, Viking and Slavic Cuisine: Recipes Included. Triglav (2011).
Having read through it, I wanted to comment on it here in case my non-Eastern European readers  might be interested in making the effort  needed to obtain a copy.

Viking and Slavic Cuisine: Recipes Included takes the opposite approach to A Culinary Journey Through Time.  A Culinary Journey Through Time contained a small bit of information about the known food preparation practices of the various time periods under discussion, but consisted mostly of recipes.  Viking and Slavic Cuisine, on the other hand, consists mostly of a discussion of our knowledge of period-available foods and food preparation practices, with only about a third of the book consisting of recipes that were crafted by the author, based upon existing knowledge of period-available foods and cooking practices.

Like the authors of A Culinary Journey Through Time,  Ms. Krasna-Korycińska has aimed her book at a popular audience, so she does not go into much detail about the location and attributes of the various archaeological finds upon which she bases her conclusions--a decision which I regret, since I am very interested in such details.

Ms. Krasna-Korycińska's book is also more narrowly limited in temporal and geographic scope than is A Culinary Journey Through Time. She only discusses the cuisine of the area of Europe that is now western Poland, primarily during the 10th-13th centuries CE.  Because Viking age Scandinavians visited and to some degree settled in this area, she can legitimately claim that some of the culinary influences and items are "Viking"; hence, her title.

However, the actual foods and practices Ms. Krasna-Korycińska describes are different from the foods western European writers have characterized as "Viking".A modern reader will likely see them as characteristic of the Slavic cultures of Europe even today. For example:
  • Recipes featuring sour cream and other sour tastes.
  • Heavy use of grains other than wheat, such as rye, barley and millet.
  • Heavy use of cabbage and horseradish in dishes.
Because Ms. Krasna-Korycińska is cautious about extrapolating from limited knowledge (and possibly also because she has crafted her own recipes based on that knowledge and is not borrowing plausible recipes from other sources) the recipes in this book are more primitive, and at first glance somewhat less appetizing, than the recipes featured in A Culinary Journey Through Time.  That makes these recipes more interesting to me, since I am less interested in obtaining a peak culinary experience and more interested in trying to discern what the Vikings and Slavs might have eaten and how they prepared what they ate. 

Techniques that feature significantly among the recipes in Viking and Slavic Cuisine include:
  • Cooking fowl by covering the raw bird in clay (usually after stuffing it) and placing it in or near a fire pit.  The author suggests this may have been done before the bird was plucked (in which case removal of the clay after the bird was done would accomplish the plucking at the expense of making the skin inedible) or afterward (in which case the bird would be wrapped in leaves, often aromatic leaves, before the clay coating was applied).
  • Preserving meats and cheeses of all kinds by smoking them.
  • Dishes that combined multiple food groups into one dish; stews, porridges flavored with meats, vegetables or fruits.
  • Use of drying to preserve fruits, vegetables and meats.
  • The use of sourdough techniques (i.e., leaving flour and water mixes alone to acquire wild yeasts) to leaven bread.
I was surprised by the evidence for significant use of the smoking process as a preservative.  That's not one I'm going to try, however. On a trip to Iceland a decade ago, a resident offered me and my husband pieces of lamb that had been preserved solely by smoking.  The meat was tasty, but I quickly came down with food poisoning and was sick for the next 24 hours!  (My husband, as luck would have it, was unaffected.)

Ms. Krasna-Korycińska is clearly a reenactor herself and she makes an offer, early in the book, to answer any questions the reader might have and listen to all reader feedback via e-mail.  That is an attractive offer to me, since these recipes all contemplate the use of period techniques (roasting spits, firepits) and equipment (clay pots) and I do not have an easy way of comparing the results I hope to achieve in my kitchen to her results, obtained in a reenactor camp.

Unfortunately, I doubt I'll have much to discuss with her, because I expect to have a difficult time finding recipes from this book to experiment with.  In part, that's because I'm reluctant to cook them only for myself and most of the recipes contain ingredients, or involve textures or flavors, that my husband actively dislikes.

I made one modest attempt to experiment this evening. One of the suggested recipes consists solely of raw cucumbers, cut into pieces and placed in a shallow dish containing a little honey. So I tried eating a few cucumber pieces drizzled with honey this evening and found it unexpectedly pleasant. (My husband ate a piece, and remarked, "It tastes like a very primitive dessert.") Perhaps I can find another recipe or two to experiment with and write about if I give the subject a bit more thought.

This is a fascinating little book.  Its biggest flaw (other than the lack of specifics about the archaeological finds supporting Ms. Krasna-Korycińska's theories) is a little roughness and vagueness here and there in the English translation; occasionally I was not certain what the author meant because of it.  But I enjoyed the book overall and learned some things I didn't previously know, and that was what I had hoped for when I ordered it.


  1. Very interesting! I also use a lot of sour tastes, grains other than wheat, and cabbage & horseradish in a lot of my recreations.

    I haven't had a chance to try the fowl in clay, but I've been dying to for ages...

    1. Thank you for the compliment.

      I like sour tastes in general (though my husband doesn't). Possibly that's because most of my ancestors come from Eastern Europe; who knows?

      Interestingly, after I wrote my post, I found a chicken-in-clay recipe on So I guess cooking a bird covered in clay isn't just for reenactors anymore!

  2. Hi Cathy,
    very interesting read, I am Slovak and was looking for information on traditional slavic (western) food. Unfortunately I was not able to find much information in my own language on this subject, but fortunately came across your blog and found this post about the Viking and Slavic Cuisine.

    Would you know by any chance about some other sources regarding original Slavic Cuisine?

    1. What area and time period are you interested in? If you're interested in early period, you might want to check out some of the other books sold by Triglav,

  3. The author of the Viking and Slavic Cuisine book might also be willing to help. She is willing to entertain e-correspondence about the subject area of that book at least. She can be reached at archeoconcept at vp dot pl. Good luck!