Food in Iron Age Finland - Summary

This article was created to be part of a cookbook many years ago. This dream is now about to come true. I got a few stipends, and during winter and spring 2011 I am writing my book about Viking and Medieval food in Finland. Got to know a publisher? Please let me know...

No part of this text is allowed to be cited or published without my permission. Please note that methods of research get better all the time, and new interpretations may appear.

Drinks

Everyday drinks were fermented by leaven of bread (Uusivirta). Sour milk was also a normal everyday drink (Uusivirta, Genrup). According to Finnish folk tradition there is two different ways to make it. Some plants can turn the milk sour (Israelsson, Rautavaara). From Kalevala we know that at feast fine drinks were drank. There were mead, flavoured by certain herbs known from Swedish finds (Thunaeus). Some kind of berry wines were sure fermented, because they are so simple to make. From England we know many different mixtures of drinks (Hagen, Bergen). Beer and drinks were spiced with many herbs (Rautavaara). Hop grew here, but it was maybe made mostly into textiles (Swahn) or young plants were eaten in stew.

Eggs

Eggs of wild birds were taken. Birds were encouraged to lay eggs by building places for birds to lay eggs (Uusivirta). Israelsson writes that people grew poultry in Sweden, also in England (Hagen).

Fruits and berries

The only fruit was wild apple, which was more common than nowadays. A variety of fruits we eat often nowadays were grown in roman and southern European gardens, but they were unlikely seen here, maybe heard of. We had this huge variety of wild berries in the forest as we have nowadays. Sure we used it. Wild currant also grew in Finland in that time. We also had wild roses and raspberries to collect (Rousi).

Vegetables

In iron-age Finland people harvested only turnip, peas and broad bean, which is an ancient variety of green bean. No cabbage was known here, though it was the basic food of Scandinavian Vikings. Why Finns did not know cabbage, is mysterious, but it is supposed to be so.

People cooked vegetables by stewing in a hole, cooking in ashes or by cooking. Preservation was made either drying or - a surprise - by souring. They may have eaten vegetables raw. The leaves of a turnip are also edible. These were probably a wanted adding to soups and stews.

Wild spices

Salt was made on Ice sea in the Middle-Ages. I suppose it was a luxury item in Iron-Age and people used herbs from nature to replace it or / and increase preservation. Whether people wanted to use herbs to taste, as spices, we do not know. Some personalities liked variety already on those days for sure. Luxury imported spices were not known here. Very few living here used them, if any. Folk tradition tells about the spicy taste of some herbs (Rautavaara etc.). For example mustard taste can be made from wild herbs. The only onion that grows wild in Finland is, and was, Allium schoenoprasum.

Dairy products

All the milk was made into cheese or sour milk Uusivirta writes that people in ancient times ate cheeses cooked from sour milk as their everyday food. For feast they cooked cheeses using eggs. To sour milk for to make cheese there are several ways; wild plants (for example nettle) and the stomach of certain animals (Uusivirta, Rautavaara, Israelsson). Traditional sour product is also quark, spaghanum. Butter was made by processing the milk by hand in Iron Age, since we did have no churns in Iron-Age Finland.

Sweets

Whether the mouth and taste of iron-age person wanted sweets, we do not know. Already from stone-age is known that people ate gum of trees (Rautavaara, Uusivirta etc.), also honey combs are some kind of chewing-gum. Honey was used a lot, at least in drinks. Whether people cooked syrups in Finland, we do not know. Ann Hagen writes that there is some information of cooking syrup from England. Syrup can be made for example from the sap of many trees, roots of some wild plants and the tops of twigs in the spring.

Wild plants and roots

People ate everything possible nature could get for sure. I have written in my article of bread about some edible plants, which grew in Finland’s nature that time, and their use for food.

Bibliography

Aaltonen, Turkka & Arkko, Matti: Yrttiopas, luonnonkasvit ravintona. Suomen matkailuliitto, 1986
Berger, Christian & DuboË- Laurence. Philippe: Oluen ystävän opas.Otava
Birkebaek: Oldtiden I, Vikingatiden.
Blamey, Marjorie & Grey-Wilson, Christopher: Otavan kasvitieto. Skotlanti, 1994
Dembinska, Maria: Food and Drink in Medieval Poland. University of Pennysylvania press, 1999
Genrup, Kurt: Mat som Kultur; Etnologiska kosthållstudier. Tidskrift för nordskandinavisk etnologi vol 5, Umeå Universitet 1988
Hagen, Ann: a Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food, Processing and Consumption. Anglo-Saxon books, 1994
Hagen, Ann: a Handbook of Anglo-Saxon food, Production & Distribution. Anglo-Saxon books, 1995
Hess, Karen: Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Columbia University Press, 1981
Israelsson, Isse: Mat på forntida vis, ide och receptsamling; Malmö museer (also published in Forntida teknik 2/89-1/90 as Forntida mat)
Johansson, Tomas: Att ätä som en stenåldersjägare; Forntida Teknik
Jäntti & Olkinuora: Tähkäpää, luomuleipojan käsikirja
Kulturhistorisk lexikon för nordisk medeltid; Akademiska bokhandeln 1976
Kytövuori, Pirjo & Hopsu-Neuvonen, Arja: Kanankaalista karpaloon, luonnonruokaa keväästä syksyyn. Marttaliitto ry 1995
Lampinen: Ruokaleipä ja sen valmistus
Moberg; Min svenska historia, det dagliga barkbrödet
Namez, Milton: Searching for a Structure in the Late Iron Age Settlement of the Åland Islands, Finland, Karhunhammas 15/1993
Rautavaara, Tapio; Mihin kasvimme kelpaavat, ruokaa, ryytiä ja rohtoa luonnosta, WSOY 1976
Retkeilykasvio. Suomen luonnonsuojelun tuki oy. Helsinki, 1984
Rousi, Arne: Auringonkukasta viiniköynnökseen, ravintokasvit, WSOY 1997
Sass, Lorna: Christmas Feasts from History.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981
Schöneck, Annelies: Leipä, Hermes Oy, 1983
Seppä-Heikka, Merja: Esihistoriallisia siemeniä ja kasvipainanteita Paimion Sievolan myöhäisrautakautiselta asuinpaikalta.
Simonetti, Gualtiero: Makujen maailma, yrtit ja mausteet. Kolibri, 1990
Stead, Bourke ja Brothwell: Lindow Man the Body in the Bog; British Museum Publications, 1986
Storck, John & Teague, Walter Dorwin: Flour For Man’s Bread; A History of milling. Oxford University Press, 1952
Suominen, Juha & Hämet-Ahti, Leena: Kasvistomme muinaistulokkaat, tulkintaa ja perusteluja, Vammala 1993
Thunaeus, Harald: Mjödet genom tiderna. Daedalus 1954
Tolonen, Mirjami: Cereal Cultivation with Particular Reference to Rye: Some Aspects on Pollen-analytical Records from Sw.
Finland; Fennoscandia Archaelogica II, Suomen arkeologinen seura, 1985
Uusivirta, Hilkka: Suomalaisen ruokaperinteen keittokirja, WSOY 1982
Vehviläinen, Olli: Hiivan tarina
Viklund, Karin: Bröd, gröt och öl i forntiden; Aktuellt 93, Forntida teknik 1/93
Wilson, Anne C.: Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to recent times.Penquin Books, 1084

Articles: Bengtsson, Niklas: Elämän ja kuoleman eliksiirejä. HS 3.4.1997
Mannerkorpi, Jukka: Hunajaleipuri johtaa onneen; HS 3
Masonen, Jaakko: Maistui olut ennenkin. Tiede 2000 4/1992
Mausteet ehkäisevät homehtumista, Pirkka 1-2/96
Pakarinen, Aila: Kaalin hapattaminen sujuu aloittelijalta. HS
Skaarup, Bi: Sources of Medieval Cuisine in Denmark. In: Du manuscrit à la table, direct. Carole Lambert. Canada, 1992
Suomalaisille tarjotaan jälleen nälkämaan leipää; Itä-Helsingin Uutiset 27.3.1993
Tahkolahti, Jaakko: Pettu onkin terveellistä ja torjuu myös UV-säteilyn; HS 11.2.1997
Toiviainen, Lauri: Oluenpanosta todisteita jo 5000 vuoden takaa. HS 5.12.1992
Uudelleen keksitty pellava maustaa lakritsin ja sämpylän; HS 17.11.1994
HS= Helsingin Sanomat

Classes: Vilkuna, Anna-Maija: Ruokatalous Hämeen linnassa 1500-luvulla. (Food Consumption in 16th century Häme castle) Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys 4.12.1997

Conversations:
Linturi, Elsa. Archaeologist, University of Helsinki 1998

Bread and porridge in Iron-Age Finland

This article was created to be part of a cookbook many years ago. This dream is now about to come true. I got a few stipends, and during winter and spring 2011 I am writing my book about Viking and Medieval food in Finland. Got to know a publisher? Please let me know...

No part of this text is allowed to be cited or published without my permission. Please note that methods of research get better all the time, and new interpretations may appear.


The Iron-Age woman was so handy that his master did not need to chew cold, tough and nondescriptical bread with grinning. A good baker could make well leavened and tasty food even far past in the Iron Age.

Bread yeast

Plinius the older tells that in Gallia and Spain people raised bread with the foam of beer. This technique was used when very fine bread was baked. An ordinary bread in Finland was made leavened (Vehviläinen).

The bakers of the Middle Age Europe are known to order their yeast from alehouses (Lampinen). In Scandinavia beer yeast is supposed to be used only after 18-19th centuries (Lampinen). Does it mean that in the North bread was raised with different leavens, not with yeast? I think it is possible that bread was sometimes baked into ale yeast also in the Iron Age North, in the families who favor middle European fashion, but most likely the leftover ales were used in household in some other way.

Sour taste in Scandinavia

The familiar taste of the Nordic people was sour. Sour taste can be made with different leavens, and special yeast is not needed. Possible leavens, which are at least sometimes used nowadays in Finland and could have been used more frequently before are: rye leaven, oat leaven, honey leaven and a method of souring by salt and honey.

It is still common in Finland to eat sour rye bread, especially in the eastern part of Finland, where people make their bread more sour than those living in the west (recipe on the end of the article). According to Hilkka Uusivirta sour taste has during Iron-age appreciated whole Finland (p.168). Karin Viklund has investigated some archeological bread in Sweden. She assumes that sour taste came with rye to the North. Also Hilkka Uusivirta mentions that (p. 168). Before the coming of the sour taste, people ate unleavened bread.

Moberg writes in his book that still in the Middle-Ages people in South- and east Sweden ate sour bread, while in the people in western Sweden already ate bread, which had no sour taste. It seems like the fashion of eating unsour bread came from the Middle-Europe during the Middle-Ages. How soon, if at all during the Middle-Ages, that fashion came to Finland, is unknown. Finland has always been further from the Middle-Europe than the other North.

On my opinion the entire North has been an area of sour bread during Iron- and Viking-ages. No recipes, though, has survived from the Viking-Age Scandinavia, either from Finland. A handbook for a good servant from tsar Ivans time mentions rye bread to be given to the servants every day.

In Iron age people also made their daily porridge by souring the flour before cooking. Isse Israelsson has forgotten this in his cookbook ’Mat på forntida vis’ and gives only unsour porridges in his recipes

The fact that bread and porridge was sour makes sense because less fine flour is needed; the milling can left undoing or done poorly. The corn became soft, tasty and eatable during souring process: no teeth will be broken when the bread or porridge is eaten. Leavened food has also better digestibility, bake ability and preservability. The latter would be an important thing in a society which had no freezers. Leavened bread stays fresh longer and the taste becomes even better from time. The taste is good though made only from water and flour. It is healthy.

Bread in England

Already in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) the London bakers of white bread were making light bread known as French bread, also called Puffe and Pouf. No bread leavened with sour dough would have been called a puffe.(David) Yeast and barm appear in Saxon manuscripts around 1000. Karen Hess believes (p. 114) that the ancient Celts and Gauls were using it in antiquity. She thinks that these puffe-breads were brought to English court from France. Wilson thinks that these puffes were then a kind of milk bread, confected with butter and eggs. Hess does not agree with her. She writes (P. 113), that though many persons write that the use of yeast came to France only in the 17th century, Hess believes that in the court they have always eaten yeast leavened bread.

The Assizes of bread from 1266 took upon itself overseeing and policing of the bakers The price of the loaf was fixed. The finest regular loaf was the penny white, then the penny wheaten, then household penny. The latest was (nearly) 100% whole wheat and about twice the weight of white bread. (Hess, p.17-18)

The wealthy ate white bread even in times of famine. The finest part of the wheat flour was reserved for the rich and the religious houses. The barn was mixed with flour made from beans or peas. (Hess, p. 18)

Bread in Denmark in the Middle Ages

Skaarup has studied the account books of Queen Christine from 1496 to 1521.The grain most commonly cultivated for bread in medieval Denmark was rye. It seems that the queen ate mostly purchased bread, made from wheat. (Skaarup, p.41)

Bread in Europe in the Middle Ages

Hagen writes about bread from the Anglo-Saxon England, that wheaten loaves were regarded as superior, white bread being preferred for the Eucharist. Those who chose to eat barley bread did so from ascetic motives. On feast days, at least in religious contexts, the ordinary bread was replaced by a finer kind, or by spiced cakes. Feast-day bread may have been made from enriched dough mixtures. There are instructions for making a cake of finely sifted flour into which cumin and march seed was to be kneaded, so perhaps seeds were incorporated in the dough. Such enriched loaves could have been kneaded with milk instead of water, or cream, and had eggs, butter or other fats incorporated in the dough. They may have been sweetened with honey, or contained fruits, preserved in honey or dried. (Hagen, p. 19-20)

Yeast was potentially available to the Anglo-Saxons from three sources. Wild east are present in the air, and a mixture of meal and water left to stand will begin to ferment, and can be used as yeast. Fermenting liquor from brewing produced lighter bread had evidently been made on the continent before the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxons may have also used the sediment from bottom-fermenting yeasts – produced by the fermentation at a low temperature of light beers. The yeasty sediment was slow-acting, and resulted in heavy, damp, sour bread. (Hagen, p. 15)

There are some receipts survived from the Middle Ages. Different kinds of bread are mentioned in medieval cookbooks, for example: Pain de Maine, Pandemain, Wastel Bread: Paynman or Manged brede in Harleian MS, 4016 about 1450, Paynemayns or Elles of tendre brede in Douce MS.55, about 1440, Floure of pandemayn in Liber Cure Cororum about 1420. (Hess, p. 118) Bread was made of the most delicate flour obtainable, two or three times sieved through woollen and linen bolting cloths. Bakers often stamped their pandemain loaves with the figure of Christ. (Wilson, p. 217)

Manchet: Manchet was a small, tender loaf made of the finest whitest flour, leavened with yeast or barm, not of sour dough. A recipe from 1615 in the end of the article. (Hess, p. 118-119)

Cheate bread (Markham) was made with about 85 per cent flour: the ’sowre leaven… saved from a former batch’ is broken into bits in warm water, strained, mixed with flour into a sponge as thicke as pancake batter, let sit all night, mixed with a little more water, barme, salt to season it enough flout to make it stiffe and firme, then kneaded and turned into loaves. The same method may be used for any compound graine as wheat and rie, or wheat, rie and barley, as well as for wheat alone, as here. (Hess, p. 18)

Yeoman’ s bread from Emmison’s Tudor foods and Past times. (Hess, p. 18)

Carter’s bread was agreeable enough for labourers, says Emmison in Tudor foods and Past times (Hess, p.18). Browne bread or bread for your hinde servants, which is the coarsest bread for mans use (Markham), includes barley, peas, wheat or rye, malt and sour dough. (Hess, p.18)

Breads baked to coarse flour were usually leavened with sour dough, alone or in conjunction with ale yeast (Hess, p. 18).

Bread in medieval Poland

Different kinds of bread flour were available in Poland during the Middle Ages. There were two types of rye flour, one coarse and one finely ground, as well as common and speciality wheat flours. According to king Wladyslaw Jagiello’s accounts common wheat flour was used for loaf or trencher bread, while the white flour was used for baking manchet rolls, cakes and better quality baked goods. The third kind, the best grade of wheat flour was the most delicate of all and was used for only the highest quality cakes, cookies and pastries. From the listings of bread in the royal registers we know that there were nine broad categories of bread. Common rye bread, black rye bread, common white bread, wheat or manchet rolls, bagels or ring pretzels, crescent rolls, flat cakes and tortae. Common rye bread would equate roughly to a modern whole meal rye bread. This type of bread was commonly used for trenchers. Black rye bread was a fine-grained bread very dark in color. When baked down-hearth in kettles, as was often done in rural farmhouses, this bread resembled a dense pudding like German pumpernickel. One kinds of bread are first baked, then sliced and finally dried at a low temperature in the oven. They are not necessarily made of fine quality. The earliest references to this sort of bread comes from the early medieval accounts of requisitions for soldier’s rations. It was called Soldier’s bread and anise seeds was normally added not so much for the flavor as for health reasons. Large quantities of this kind of bread were consumed also in the royal court, perhaps as a servant’s food. Trencher bread and white wheat rolls were the most popular. (Dembinska, p. 114-115)

Porridge made with finely ground millet or millet grits was the staff of life for all Poles, princes and commoners alike.

Ovens were excavated from 10th century sites. They were all essentially the same beehive type. In medieval Latin texts there are breads baked under ash, in hot coals opt between two hot stones. . During periods of famine, the peasantry made ash cakes from knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare). The seeds were gathered and ground into flour, while the greens were used in pottages. The early use of yeast was widespread in Poland. (Dembinska, p. 119-120)

Bread in archaeology

Using archeological methods it is impossible to find out the sourness of the bread. But these methods are great when we want to investigate the ingredients of Iron Age bread.

In Finland there has been found bread in later Iron-Age grave in Åland. Its size was 10 cm and it was baked from barley. (Numez)

Karin Viklund writes about the Iron-Age bread finds from Sweden. She describes of different bread finds from the different parts of Sweden, but writes that because some breads were found from graves and some from living places, the conclusions of the construction of the everyday bread cannot be made for sure.

One big bread was found made wholly from oat and Viklund wonders how it was possible to bake such a mellow and big bread. I think that in this case the bread was probably leavened by sour oat, which is based on fermented oat porridge. Fermentation makes the porridge sour, which gives the bread a better bake ability. Normally a bread baked wholly from oat would fall apart when cut, but souring helps that problem. The method is so simple that people have sure used it as long as they baked bread.

Unleavened bread

Archaeologists have also found some kind of baking pans. They think they were used to bake unleavened bread in fire. Many possible receipts for these can be read from the modern Viking- and open fire-cookbooks. It is also possible that some sort of cakes were baked on the hot stones of a fire. Obviously more important was the leavened bread when unleavened bread and cakes were so called fast food.

According to Hilkka Uusivirta towards the end of the Iron- and vi king-age people living in Western Finland had already moved their ovens from inside house out. That means they heated them more seldom and baked more at time than people in the eastern part of Finland; where the ovens stayed inside the house long after. Maybe a fashion again originally started from the south, from the warmer areas in the Middle Europe? It might be possible that unleavened bread was baked more often in the western Finland where the oven was not heated so often and the seldom-baked leavened bread was dried or preserved in corn.

Grain

In Iron Age Finland all the species of grain that are nowadays common were used. The youngest was rye, which came here with Teutons (Uusivirta, p.)

Cultivated Durum and Turgidum are derived from wild emmer wheat. From durum all bread wheats derived: Triticum vulgare, T. compactum, T. sphaerococcum, T. spelt. Spelt appeared in south-central Europe from Roman times. The Romans used for most of their breads durum and turgidum. The Roman bread was so heavy that it sank into the water. The best of the Roman breads were made from T. compactum and T. vulgare. T. compactum probably originated in Iran in in the 4th millennium B.C.. T. spaerococcum is primarily in Indian wheat. The bread wheats T. compactum and T. vulgare spread over Europe from South Russia beginning about 2100B.C.. (Storck & Teague, p. 33, 34, 87)

Wheat

According to Rousi the oldest archeological finds of bread wheat in Finland are found in Paimio and Salo from about 300 AC. Some of these wheat is Triticum aestivum subsp. compactum, which is primitive autumn grain with better winter durability but weaker fertility. According to Rousi emmer wheat (Triticum turgidum) were used in Finland half a millennium earlier. Emmer wheat was common in Europe until Middle-Ages. From Finland there are no traces of its use anymore in the Middle-Ages. (Rousi, p. 73)

Spelt - wheat (Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta) is known from Hildegard Bingen’s writings from the 12th century Germany. I have not found evidence of its use in Finland in Iron Age.

Bread baked from wheat stays well together and does not differ apart when cut.

Rye

The oldest archeological find from the baking of rye is from Paimio, western Finland, from 100 AC, but it is supposed that rye came from east (Tolonen), where it was the main grain already a very long time ago (Rousi, p.79). Rye was cultivated in burnt-over clearing.

Because rye does not stay together well, it is baked by souring. Rye is scientifically testified recently and it is said for example to prevent heart diseases (Helsingin Sanomat). Rye needs to be baked in high temperature, so it cannot be made into quickly cooked fire cakes.

Barley

Barley is the oldest raised grain in Finland. From Niskala, Turku, in the very west, grain has been found from 1500 BC. This so-called many-facited barley was still in 16th century Finland the only barley type. Barley was a main grain in Finland until 19th century. (Rousi, p. 61)

Barley can change into starch and sugar, that is why it was used, besides bread, in beer making. The choir of barley stays well together when baked. Barley is extremely badly preserved, so it is mostly used to unleavened bread eaten warm. If you want to bake leavened barley bread which also preserves, use honey leavening. When the grain is souring, the bread stays together better and preserves better.

It is possible, that the bad perseverance is the cause for the bad reputation of barley bread. In the Häme castle 16th-century servants ate mixed barley-rye bread while the better people ate rye bread (Vilkuna, lesson).

Oat

The oldest find of oat grain from Finland is dated to about 300 BC from Salo, western Finland. Oat came to Finland from east, that means that in the eastern part of Finland it was used earlier. (Rousi, p.88)

Oat stays together very badly and unsteam oat flour goes soon badly. Oat includes a lot of fat, for example linol fat, which lowers blood cholesterol (Luomuleipojan käsikirja, s.19). Oat also needs a pretty high baking temperature.

Flour

Flour in Iron-Age was mostly whole-meal flour, and included all the nutrients that are today separated into brans and others. Today they are sold separately for an expensive price. Grain crust has many minerals, trace elements, magnesium, phosphor and silicide acid. The grain pith includes mostly starch and protein, which have good baking possibilities but less nutrition.

Ground grain is rarely recoverable from archaeological contexts. Evidence for flour comes from York where quantities of bran were recovered together with parasite ova, indicating that elements of that population probably ate 100% flour; flour from which nothing had been removed by sieving. (Hagen, p. 15)

The writers of Luomuleipojan käsikirja (p.40) write that after it became normal to separate the grain parts, after steel mills became common in 1950’s, the amount of heart- and intestinal disorders increased rapidly. Today the flour is milled to be too fine, and the bread is not the best to bake. The modern bakeries are ordering the flour they use milled to more coarser form than the one sold in markets. At least so it is in Finland.

Preservation of grain

The grain was trashed and some was smoked, dried or melted. The grain was preserved in whole. Israelsson writes that in Sweden some tall pots were found that were used in grain preservation.

Heating increases the preservation ability. The grain is easier to be crushed after heating, but heated grain can not leaven any more. Every time flour was needed the needed amount was crushed, not more. It ensured the freshness of the flour. The whole-meal flour cannot be preserved longer than one week in a time. The good taste disappears very quickly. (Luomuleipojan käsikirja, p. 41).

Anneli Schöneck gives a receipt for heating the grain (p. 23): A damper full of watered rye are put into an oven for an hour, temperature 80-100 Celsius. That after the rye are to be crushed. This makes tasty porridge. The method can be used also with wheat and barley. Oat is prepared the same way as rye, but the temperature is higher, 125 Celsius: Put about 1 kilogram oat into a damper; sprinkle some water so that the grain becomes moist but not wet (if wet, the taste would not be good). Put the damper into an oven but do not close the door. Mix the grain now and then. In time it starts to smell and gets a beautiful, golden color. The grain cannot be toasted. Put the temperature in 100 Celsius, close the door and leave the dumper into oven for 30 minutes. Put the grain that after into tight boxes, where no air can pass through. This flour does not get old and loose its taste as easily as an ordinary flour. When baking, only some of the flour that will be used is to be heated this way.

Milling

The Romans had water mills (Jacob, p.124) and they brought them with them every place they conquered. Water mills were built in Viking-Age Denmark (Birkebaek). Anglo-Saxon England had them (Hagen) but not yet Iron-Age Finland (Uusivirta). Not even milling stones were common. The grain was milled between two stones by chaving or flattening (Uusivirta). This kind of stones were found also from the graves of late Iron Age graveyard of Luistari, Finland (Lehtosalo-Hilander).

The earliest Celtic querns in Britain, dating from the 3rd century B.C. are small and have conical grinding surfaces, the upper stone merely being centered on a peg. They were rotated slowly, since the grinding surfaces are almost, if not actually, in contact. Gravity was relied on to carry the rather heavily ground meal out of these slant-faced implements. At the beginning saddle stones outnumbered querns ten to one; by the first century B.C. querns were more numerous by two to one. With the coming of the Romans in 55 B.C. the stones became thinner and increased in diameter, until some of them were mere discs, but better balanced and supported. In medieval times the querns became smaller, and were almost invariably worked by women, except in monasteries. (Storck & Teague, p. 90-91). This was Britain, not Finland.

The bread the house master ate was commonly made of finer flour than the one the rest of the household ate. Hagen writes (p. 14), that according to English literature different coarseness of flour existed even in Anglo-Saxon times, but probably only the richest members of society would be able to use the finest qualities. Kurt Genrup claims that the Viking chiefs ate fine, white bread and imported wines from Rheinland. White and fine flour-bread is also mentioned by roman Plinius. I believe that the food history of Iron-Age Finland can leave this kind of fine bread without a notice. Even our milling technique shows it.

The flour was left mostly ground and uneven; it could include even unmilled grain. There were some unclean items left, such as sand and husks. This can be noticed from the skeletons teeth that are found from graves (Birkebaek, p. 60). No doubt, that during winter preservation mouse faeces caused illnesses and more cleaning work. Though during Iron-Age cats and dogs were domesticated, they could not always go everywhere.

Pan bread

Pan bread was baked using long sleeved pan over the fire or over the baking stone. Bread was baked very thin breads over the fire. The mixture was left unleavened. Because this mixture did not have yeast or leaven, the bread had to be eaten warm, right after baking. Barley flour was used most often, because barley tastes the best when fresh. Of course flavours can and could be used when making thin breads also, like nuts or crushed turnip mixed to the flour.

Cakes

A basic cake is mixed from flour and water. Typically they taste delicious when warm, but become hard when getting cold. The tastiest ones are made from ice-cold flour, icy water and baked in an oven red-hot. The cakes were often mixed with berries: Put the dough a bit loose into a turnip leave or into a piece of bark. Tasty leaves are practical when baking the cakes in ash or coal; the leaves give their taste into the bottom of the cake. The dough is to left so loose you cannot form it by hand. The mixture can be cooked quickly and could be baked for example over the stones around the fire. (Uusivirta)

The cakes were the delicacy of summertime. Unleavened bread could be baked quickly while travelling or staying short time in a hunting camp.

Other bread ingredients

Traditional, good bread is made from liquid, leaven base and flour. Nowadays the bakers often add salt, sugar, spices and / or fat. Sugar is not needed in a leavened bread, because leavening process produces sweetness by itself. Liquid could be not only water, but also sour milk, blood, beer, whey or other leftovers from the process of food making could be used.

Fat was very worthy ingredient during the Iron-Age. Sometimes people baked fat bread, in which pieces of fat were added. Bread of that kind had to be eaten soon, otherwise it got spoiled. According to Uusivirta in Finland in the 19th century fat bread was eaten in Shrove tide before the beginning of fast. That might be a part of a tradition given birth by the catholic religion. Butter existed in a wealthy masters board. They ate it with bread.

Spices

Spiced could be added. The wild seeds or roots picked from the nature plants or bark gave a taste often spicy enough, though. people putting caraway seeds into dough makes sense, since they prevent flatulence. That is a trouble for many that like to eat rye bread. Except to taste, spices could be added to increase preservation, though leavened bread preserves well. For example wild mint and wild thyme are especially effective preservers (Pirkka 1-2/96).

Baking ovens


Baking over the fire

An Iron-Age bread was baked in the oven, over the fire, cover into ashes or coal or using a special baking pot. Pot was obviously used only when the bread was baked over the fire or covered into ashes. Karin Viklund introduces one archaeological find from Sweden. She writes of a baking stone. A baking stone was a flat stone. When a flat stone was put inside the oven and a bread loaf was placed onto, the process of baking worked great. It reminds very much about modern stone baking - base. Ann Hagen thinks that a peasant in England did bake his bread always in the fire.

A pot - oven made from iron

Hagen describes (Processing, p.17) the most simple oven, which is made by turning an iron pot upside down and covering it with coal. Hagen writes than an oven like this makes a soft bred because the loaf raises slowly in mild warmth. Salt and honey leavened bread would be on its best in an oven like this. Salt and honey leavening needs very slow raising and a slow baking. Whether they used salt to raise their bread in Iron-Age or not, since there were at least three other ways to leaven the bread. Not much salt is needed on it, though. Salt and honey leavened bread is extremely preventing and tasty, that is why the method should be kept on.

Cato describes this kind of oven in Italy in the 2nd century B.C. Once established in Britain it continued among the peasantry into medieval times and beyond. (Wilson, p. 208)

Pit oven

A simple cooking and baking method was to make a hole in the ground and cover it with stones or turf. In the bottom some stones were put, which preserves warmth when a fire is made in a hole. Holes like this has been found from the Finnish Stone Age (Linturi). Over the fire you can cook, heat stones to warm water, over the bottom stones you can cook, cook and stew in the ashes, cook in flames, cook in coals, cure… And when the fire has gone, you can put a top made from branches with leaves and use it as an oven. I have baked in an oven like this. It works all right even for fatter bread loaves.

Dome oven

In English literature certain ovens are mentioned already from 7th century. These ovens were prepared for baking in such way that the ashes were taken away before baking (Hagen, Processing, p.17). An abbey bakery is mentioned around 9th century (p. 18). From Lund, Sweden a leftover from an oven like this has been found (Hagen). There are no such finds from Finland as far as I know yet. Though, not necessarily any reminds at all are left from mud and branches after centuries (Linturi).

Uusivirta writes that people in eastern Finland did take a dome oven inside their living houses before the end of Iron-Age. In western Finland a dome oven was located outside. Maybe it was used more seldom in the west than in the east. It was built this way: braches are put standing, tight together up. Onto it stones or/and turf. The only hole was the very one, where the bakings were put in and out. The smoke went out from the same hole, and the ashes were taken out there, too. It had to be difficult to check the coals while the fire was on! This is basically the same method as the oven in smoke saunas. The smoke came first inside the house. There were no thermometers; you can quickly learn to estimate the warmth when you put your arm into the oven.

Other pastries

To use oven means also that the leftover warmth from bread baking is sensitive to use for cooking or baking something else. If the using of an oven was common, as Uusivirta writes, the rich culture of eastern Finnish pastries such as cuckoo and kurniekka were already baked in the Iron-Age. What else did they cook or bake in ovens? According to Uusivirta our tradition of root casseroles known from traditional Finnish Christmas dinner formed only a couple centuries ago and are not that old.

Hagen writes that the Anglo-Saxons baked pancakes and spiced feast cakes with milk or cream, eggs and butter mixed with flour. These cakes were sweetened with honey, spiced with fruits. They were possibly dried (Hagen, Processing, p.20).

Porridge

Porridge is a mixture of flour and liquid. Mixed to flour people has put flavours: seeds and roots of wild plants, fat, berries, meat or fruits. Grain was also added to soups, and the difference of a soup or porridge can not always be separated. According to Uusivirta the oldest porridges and gruels were made of barley, oat or rye (p.158) and they were cooked on sour milk, birch sap, beer, ale, blood or whey.

From a folk tradition both England (Lindow man, p.109) and Finland we know that sometimes flour was mixed into liquid and formed into tough pieces. These are then eaten in soup or as muesli with sour milk. From toasted grain, spiced with rose- or rowanberries it is tasty. Mutti and pepu, special flour soups are known from the Finnish folk tradition. Is this kind of food always bitter? At least it then preserve better.

Instead of cooking over the fire and casting a whole bunch of firewood porridge can be stewed. Fist, cook it over the fire and let it boil well. Take the pot from the fire and wrap it carefully with clothes. Let it stay many hours, maybe overnight. The porridge is then edible and tasty.

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Articles: Bengtsson, Niklas: Elämän ja kuoleman eliksiirejä. HS 3.4.1997
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HS= Helsingin Sanomat

Classes: Vilkuna, Anna-Maija: Ruokatalous Hämeen linnassa 1500-luvulla. (Food Consumption in 16th century Häme castle) Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys 4.12.1997

Conversations:
Linturi, Elsa. Archaeologist, University of Helsinki. 1998

Picture of the layout Hannele Maahinen, other pictures Satu Hovi unless otherwise mentioned
Texts are written by Satu Hovi
Copying any material is strictly forbidden without permission from the author.