I just filled my new salt shaker. When I was done, I looked at the pile of salt—about 1 ounce—in my sink. I turned on the water and washed it down the drain. Down the drain. I felt sick to my stomach.
Six months ago, I had finished researching the history on spices in Medieval Europe. Salt was a precious commodity and was very rare. Only kings had access to salt. It was so precious that little ornamented boxes were kept at each place setting to contain this edible gold. Salt cellars. Salted pork, fish and meats…Think again. These were luxuries no peasant every touched. Royals had to carefully guard their salt from thieving servants and the punishment, if they were caught, was severe.
Silver, not gold was the prized metal in 10th century Scandinavia. Gold was only valued by the Anglos in England and by the Holy Roman Empire. The price of salt? Wikipedia says:
Moorish merchants in the 6th century traded salt for gold, weight for weight.
And here I was washing my stock down the drain. When did we get so spoiled? Pepper was no different. I read where an ounce of pepper was equivalent to a pound of gold. Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and cloves…One thousand years ago, these were rare gems from the East. Chocolate hadn’t arrived in Europe yet…not for another five hundred years.
So if they didn’t have salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon, what did they have? Herbs. Common herbs they found in the forest like sage and thyme. Basil…Sugar was used a lot, but not sugar cane, like I thought. Beet sugar grown locally. They sugared everything to preserve it. Beet sugar not salt. Sugared pears and candied fruits were common desserts and were taken on voyages. Dried, unsalted meats were also taken.
Berries were cooked down with beet sugar. Meats and fish—They ate a lot of fish—were killed and eaten on the spot or boiled down in stews. Stews. Stews were cooked down into a mush peasants would eat for days on end. Lunch and dinner only. Breakfast was a luxury. Okay, I won’t lie. I went happy crazy researching the food of Ancient Scandinavia. Dark Age cooking…I learned so much. I watched a YouTube video where a man drinks the fresh blood by the cup full right out of a reindeer, an ancient tradition that goes back to early man.
It was salty…very salty and meaty. I can definitely taste the meat. It feels lumpy. From where the blood had already begun to coagulate.
I pulled out my pen and took notes. I will never drink blood. I’m glad YouTube did the research for me. *Phew*
On to one of my favorite websites. The Food Timeline. Oh! Information poured from the internet.
I learned about Gruit and mead. The ale, beer, and mead of the Viking era was not overly sweet, nor was it strong (alcoholic) either. There was just enough alcohol to make it safe for drinking. Prior to the 10th century, they used gruit to flavor the beer and not hops. Gruit was a mildly sweet spice mixture made from local berries and honey. I have only been able to find gruit for sale in Europe, which saddens me because I really want to try it (I live in New York).
With every new food I learned and each Norwegian dish, I wrote it into the book. I filled in Kallan’s culture with food and trade, spice and economy…Oh! I had so much fun with this! I managed to find a local brewery that sold mead and had a lot of fun taste testing mead made from black currant. I also found Norwegian water (tastes like pure mountain ice) and Norwegian salmon (delicious!).
But why go so far to learn so much about 10th century food? Ah! That…that is another article for another day. In the meantime, I’ll try to not wash any more precious salt down the drain.