Monday, September 19, 2011

Salmon Balls Penthalon entry May 2009

Culinary: Tourney Dish

This is a dish that could have been eaten in Jorvik (York) during the Dane-law.    I wanted something to take to events that required very little on-site preparation, but was something my persona might have eaten.  I preferred something I could share with others that was different, but would not require bravery to try.  I decided to make fish and herb meatballs.

There are no Viking or Anglo-Saxon cookbooks that we know of.  Attempts to recreate the food they might have eaten rely on archaeological remains, Leechdoms (medical texts), and the sagas.  We also have descriptions by visiting Romans and recipes from Rome that could have influenced the Anglo-Saxons during the Roman Conquest.

I looked through the records of meats that the people of Jorvik were known to have had available.  I chose to use salmon as many of my friends like it, and I thought it would be a welcome change from the usual foods I see at events.  Although much of their fish would have been smoked or dried, they also ate fresh fish.  I am not that fond of smoked salmon, and am unsure if the smoked salmon available today would be comparable to their smoked fish, so I used fresh.

According to my sources, the primary method of cooking meat would have been boiling.  In the past, when I have boiled fish, it had a tendency to fall apart.  Because of this, I looked for ways to prepare fish that was no longer a solid slab.  I ruled out soups and stews because I wanted a dish that I would be comfortable eating cold.  I also wanted to keep needed utensils to a minimum, hoping for something that could be eaten as a finger food.  In “Apicius” I found several recipes that involved grinding meat with a mortar and pestle.  These all included putting the meat into a casing or into a patty or ball.  I did not want to fry it, as fried food is often best served hot, but some of these patty recipes were also boiled.  Minced meat of all kinds were commonly used in sausages and puddings, and there are references to both having been boiled.

Dill and cumin have been found in the digs at Jorvik.  Neither of these herbs originated in Great Britain and would likely have been obtained through trade.  With this thought in mind, I used dried herbs, grinding each to a powder using a mortar and pestle.

I obtained a side of wild caught Atlantic salmon with skin on but without bones.  I cut the salmon into chunks about the size of my hand, and boiled them in a saucepan for about 20 minutes.  I did not want too strong an herb flavor so the only thing I added to the water was a pinch of salt.  Because I left the skin on while boiling, the salmon did not fall apart in the water.  They may or may not have left the skin on the salmon in Jorvik , as minced meat usually included offal.  Because I do not like the skin, I chose to remove it after the pieces had been boiled.  This also fits with the Roman recipes I found.  I ground all of the salmon using the mortar and pestle.  Taking 1/3 cup of salmon, I ground it with 1/8 tsp of cumin and 1/8 tsp of dill.  Because these would be refrigerated, and the flavors might intensify, I wanted to be careful not to over spice them.  Spices were expensive and would probably have been used sparingly.

For a binder, I used water and barley flour.  Barley was the predominate grain used to make bread in Jorvik.  Mills were well established, so I purchased pre-milled flour rather than grind my own.  Into the fish and herb mixture, I added 1 tsp of barley flour and 1 tsp of water.  Once again, I ground the mixture into a homogenous paste.  Taking a teaspoon full, I rolled small balls using the palms of my hands.  This resulted in five balls per third of a cup of salmon.  Using the spoon, I gently lowered these into water that was at a low rolling boil.  After boiling for 5 minutes, each floated to the top of the water.  They were then removed and placed on a plate to rest.

Barley bread and butter would have been a part of every meal.  I also added blackberries, as they would have been available in Jorvik, and my modern brain wanted a more balanced meal.


Cockayne, Oswald “Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England Volume III”.  “A Glossary of Names of Plants of the Cathedral, Durham” pp 302 (346) & “Saxon Names of Plants” pp 321 (365). London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1866. ( ) is the page number if accessed through Google Books.

Giacosa, Ilaria Gozzini “A Taste of Ancient Rome” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp 12-13, 122, 131-137,182-183.

Hagen, Ann “A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption” Wiltshire: Anthony Rowe Ltd, 1993.

Hagen, Ann “A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink: Production & Distribution” Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn “Archaeological Finds of 9th and 10th Century Viking Foodstuffs”:

Regia Anglorum “Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England”:

Tannahill, Reay “Food in History” London: Penguin Books, 1988 pp 82, 247.

Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne “History of Food” New York: Barnes and Nobel Books, 1992, pp 125-143, 296-306. 532.

Vehling, Joseph Dommers “Apicus : Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome”  New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1977.  pp 61-70.

The Viking Answer Lady “Viking Food”:

********This was my least favorite entry, probably because I did not figure out what I was entering until the Monday before Pentathlon weekend.  It was weird making up a recipe rather than redacting one.  They came out blander than I liked, and dried out easily in the open air.  I'll be doing this one again with smoked salmon, mashing the salmon before boiling, decreasing the flour, and increasing the spices.  Considering that I did not manage to do a test run of this recipe, I am not displeased with how they came out.

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