Viking Cookbook Review: “An Early Meal”

An Early Meal a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey

As the author of The Strongbow Saga, a historical fiction series set in the 9th century world of the Vikings, I work hard to present the culture and period as historically accurately as possible, so I’m always on the lookout for sources about the little details of everyday life. This book is an excellent source of information about the types of foods Vikings ate, and how they were prepared.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first provides a general discussion of the types of foods the Viking peoples ate, what cooking methods were used, and specialized details such as seasonings used, methods of preservation, utensils used for cooking and eating, etc. The second section is subdivided into seven sites from across the Viking world which have been the subject of extensive archeological study, and provides general information about the location and recipes for dishes specific to that area during the period, based on foods that would have been available as gleaned from archeological evidence. Each recipe contains instructions on how to cook the dish in a manner authentic to the period, as well as alternative modern cooking directions. The third section of the book contains a detailed appendix with information about plant remains found at the various sites, birds, fish and plants mentioned in the book, cooking techniques and implements, and additional reference sources.

One thing I really value about the book is that the authors, Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg, make a point of explaining the combination of sources—typically a blend of archeological finds and saga descriptions—for their conclusions and recipes, so the reader will know what sort of evidence they’ve relied on. As a historical researcher, I was quite impressed with their thoroughness and documentation.

A few of the details I learned include that a common vegetable was kale—something that makes a lot of sense, given that it is a fairly cold-hardy and easy to grow green—and that the cooking fat used was typically butter. What particularly surprised me was how delicious many of the dishes were. This is not primitive, bland fare—although often made with simple ingredients, the results are very enjoyable. Among the dishes I’ve tried so far are a savory oatmeal cooked with leeks and kale and served with smoked herring, mussels cooked in ale, and stuffed roasted lamb heart. As time permits I’ll post on this site some of the recipes I’ve tried with details and photos on how Jeanette and I prepared them.

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