Early Scandinavian cuisine is a bit of a challenge to recreate. There are no written recipes, very few written descriptions, and a limited amount of archaeological evidence. What is glaringly absent is just as import and the scraps of information that we have. One of these absences is centralized large scale milling. Also missing are large quantities of ovens. Milling appears to be done in small batches with a hand turned quern. I have used one and it takes a long time to make flour. Baking appears to have been done on rock or in a small pan over a fire. This begs the question: How did they eat the grain being grown?
In the Vendel and Viking age we find most cooking vessels are appropriate for boiling food. Also in the Icelandic Sagas there are several references to boiling meat and also to making gröt, a thick and nourishing porridge. This is the answer to how the grain was prepared. It would appear that gröt was one of the primary daily dishes of the period.
Gröt has near endless variety. You can make it thinner and more like a thick soup. You can make it almost dry like a pilaf. It can be savory or sweet...even sour. You can make it smooth by using grain that has been run through the quern into a course meal or you can use the while grain for texture.
1 part grain
4 parts liquid
bring to a boil and then simmer until liquid is absorbed and grain is tender.
This makes a very boring but basic gröt. Not bad if you are putting something on it such as pickled herring or skyr and berries. Personally I like my gröt to have a little more going on. Here are some options for the basic liquid and grain. Mix and match as you like.
Water (pretty basic)
Sea Water (Adds salt. No major salt works in the area at the time)
Whey (left over from making skyr. Will cut cooking time and add depth)
Stock (left over from boiling meat, fish, or vegetables)
Beer (works but better to drink it)
Barley (Main cereal crop)
Rye (More in the South)
Oats (More in the North)
Emmer/Spelt (Very little grown in the south only)
Herring is one of the most used food items of the Viking age. Nearly all finds show signs of herring being consumed. It is still very popular in Scandinavia. Here it is more difficult to find fresh but generally easy to get pickled.
Ideal Recipe for Herring Gröt
1c Barley, naked or pearled
2lb fresh herring fillets, bone softened
1/2c rye berries
1/2c oats, cut, or rough ground
2c sea water
1-1/2 pound leeks or 2 large onions
Cut onions to a rough chop or leeks halve, rinse the sand out, and slice 1/8” half rounds.
Add onions/leeks, whey, and butter to a 1 gallon pot and bring to a boil.
Add grains, bring back to a boil while stirring and then lower to a simmer, put on a lid and let it cook until the rye is tender, the barley has bloomed slightly, and you really can't see that there are oats. This is about an hour.
Rough chop the herring into 1/2” slices.
When grain is done, remove from heat and stir in the herring. Replace lid and let sit 5 mins. Residual heat will cook the herring.
Just before serving, stir in the skyr.
Easy Recipe for Herring Gröt
2 packages Trader Joe's 10 min Barley
1 26oz jar pickled herring (Costco has)
1 quarts chicken broth
1 stick butter
2 large onions
16oz tub sour cream or greek yogurt
Rough chop onions into about a ½ inch dice
Add onions, butter, and stock to a pot and bring to a boil.
Lower to a simmer and cook 10 mins until onions are translucent
Drain and rinse the herring.
Add 10 min Barley, bring back to a boil, lower heat and simmer while stirring 10 mins.
When barley is soft and most of the liquid absorbed, stir in the herring.
Remove from heat and let sit 5 mins.
Stir in the sour cream or yogurt , add salt as needed, and serve.