My husband says that the Finns and the rest of the Nordic types just never stopped eating Medieval. He may have something going on here. Trouble with Finnish cooking in particular is that the earliest surviving cookery book in Finnish comes from the early 19th century. I haven’t researched Swedish (which used to be the language of the rulers) materials, so it’s possible that actual period recipes exist, which may have been used also by the high-ups in Eastland. Otherwise, however, we are rather dependent on the archaeological record. So we’ll know what they ate and, based on the evidence of the cooking equipment, roughly how they cooked it, but we don’t know the exact procedures. Yet, by far most and most of Finland would have been inhabited by illiterate peasants, so they would not have read or written cookery books anyway.
At some point I’ll have to write a blog post on the history of the traditional massive multi-oven/fireplace system that is a feature of most older farmhouses. Baked and roasted dishes would have been usual, particularly in the East, contrary to the situation elsewhere in Europe, where peasant houses did not tend to have ovens.
This lengthy musing attempted to provide some background to why I think the dishes I cooked at the weekend may have their roots far in history, or, at the very least, why they could be included in SCA menus. All the things that I made are very common day-to-day dishes in Finland, and I grew up eating them regularly.
Baked barley porridge. Frumenty by any other name. Apparently ‘frumenty’ comes from the word for ‘grain’, so although most recipes for it today use wheat, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use barley. The Finnish ones would be made using full fat cow’s milk; but as an experiment I decided to use Alpro’s ‘New!’ (um) almond milk available at my local supermarket. I washed pearl barley and soaked it in water for two hours, although this was probably unnecessary; then boiled it for about half another in water and in some of the almond milk. Finally I tipped the puffed up grains into an oven dish and poured the rest of the almond milk in. Here I used too little liquid. Next time I will use closer to two litres of almond milk. I cooked it in 150 C degrees for two hours and a bit. The overall result was very good, although, as I implied, a little bit too dry for the dish to be called porridgy. The skin, which should be the best part, was greyer and looked less appetising than when the porridge is cooked using cow’s milk. It tasted fine, though, although not as delicious as in the traditional version. You could eat this dish sweet or savoury.
To go with the barley, I made some fruit soup. We always hear how fruit and other plant matter in Period were either considered totally harmful or harmful when uncooked, but I cannot believe that they wouldn’t have been used. For a start, you don’t write dietary advice against the eating of something if that something isn’t being eaten. Also, berries in particular are so deeply rooted in the Nordic psyche, that I’m gonna argue that they’ve been eaten with gusto as long as Scandinavia has had human habitation. For this soup, I used a frozen supermarket summer fruit mix tipped into blackcurrant juice and some sugar. I thickened it a little with cornflour. I should really look into Period thickeners, assuming any existed. The texture of the barley porridge goes beautifully with this. It also works very nicely as a cool, thick beverage or a cold soup. I’ve a mind to make a vat of this for some event and leave it in the hall for people’s consumption as they wish.
Yesterday I made stuffed cabbage rolls. Stuffed vegetables seem to originate in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean, and I seem to recall I read somewhere that as an idea of a dish these arrived in Finland quite late. For Finland, they might be non-period, but certainly not so elsewhere. I boiled a cabbage upside down in a saucepan until they leaves softened and plucked them off. I made a mixture of fried small cabbage leaves, onion, beef mince, some of the cooked barley from the porridge (typical recipes use cooked rice) and various spices (some recipes include an egg for coherency, I didn’t use it), placed a little in the middle of each large cabbage leaf and folded the leaves into cushions. I placed a knob of butter on top of each cushion, drizzled treacle over the whole lot, and baked them also in 150 C for just over two hours. They came out very good, although next time I’ll use white cabbage instead of green. These should be eaten with red currant or lingonberry jam; we went for the former.
Finally, today I cooked grated roots to go with the rest of the cabbage rolls. I prepared and grated some carrots, a small turnip and a parsnip, tossed them in a large amount of butter in a saucepan until they’d softened for a bit, and then simmered them in chicken stock for a few minutes. Added salt and pepper, as they seemed to be necessary.
A satisfying selection of dishes, although my contentment is somewhat marred by the fact that our hob seems to be giving up the ghost.