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Find out how to Make Viking Funerary Flatbread

Find out how to Make Viking Funerary Flatbread

2023-08-09 23:41:18

Gastro Obscura’s Summer time Cookout columnist Paula Marcoux is a meals historian and the writer of Cooking With Fire. All through the summer season, she’ll be sharing recipes and tales from the luminous historical past of open-fire cooking.

Ah, there’s nothing fairly like an fragrant loaf of freshly baked bread, nonetheless crackling and steaming from the oven. However for archaeologists, that choice—so attractive to regular individuals—is perhaps a second option to a fraction of bread that has been incinerated with a human corpse, then entombed for a millennium or two. Maybe that sounds grim, but it surely occurs to be the recipe for a perfect state of affairs to protect the payload of knowledge encoded in a bread-artifact for future excavation and evaluation.

Charring your breakfast toast could appear tragic within the second, however, if disposed of within the right situations, that blackened breadstuff might inform future archaeologists an incredible deal about your life. Put up-excavation lab testing and imaging can point out far more than bread’s substances; it will probably additionally make clear historic baking strategies, the agricultural system that fed you, and the commerce routes enmeshing your society. Even higher, when you plan forward and deposit that incinerated slice in a contextualized location (like a grave), archaeologists can infer concepts about ritual, caste, and gender amongst your individuals.

In case your grave is the one one with a surviving bread pattern amongst contemporaneous burials in your cemetery, your morning toast might find yourself as the only illustration of all of the bread of your time and place. Teachers may warning towards utilizing this pattern as a foundation for sweeping conclusions relating to your tradition’s food plan, although: As a ritualized funereal providing, your toast might symbolize a really particular type of bread for the lifeless, not the commonplace bread of the residing.

Using excavated Viking-era bread fragments, you can piece together your own funerary flatbread recipe.
Utilizing excavated Viking-era bread fragments, you possibly can piece collectively your personal funerary flatbread recipe. Angel Tucker for Gastro Obscura

Most bits of bread don’t turn out to be archaeological relics, however quite soil, typically after passing by means of a human or animal. However as soon as totally carbonized in fireplace, bread is rendered inedible, and, given the proper circumstances, its construction will stay steady, occasionally to the point of perfect wholeness. Even when diminished to little greater than charred crumbs, a tremendous stability endures within the bread’s microscopic buildings, together with the identifiably distinctive grain fragments that make up flour; unintended or intentional inclusions, like seeds; and sure fungus cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) indicating the presence of yeast or sourdough leavening. Additional lab work in your breakfast gone flawed may embody evaluation of lipid and protein residues: Was it enriched with fats, milk, or eggs? And an examination of its starch granules can reveal what kind of grindstone milled the flour and whether or not the grains had been sprouted first.

Ann-Marie Hansson has made a profession of interrogating the cremation burial breads of Viking-era Sweden. Her exhaustive 1996 study analyzed scores of samples archaeologists had excavated from websites on the central Swedish island of Björkö, together with Birka—a once-thriving Viking buying and selling hub. Of the 575 cremation burials in query—fewer than one-tenth held identifiable stays of bread-offerings; the presence of extra grave items in these burials advised that class or wealth, not age or gender, decided which graves have been more likely to obtain such provisions for the afterlife.

All of the loaves within the examine had been incinerated and buried with cremated stays someday between 750 and 975 AD; whereas some have been in fairly good condition, many have been solely barely discernible as crumby char. Hansson subjected these samples to macro- and microscopic morphological examination in addition to residue analyses. General, they have been discovered to be composed of fairly finely milled and sifted flour—typically enriched with fat- and protein-bearing substances—customary into sturdy, variously-shaped truffles, and baked on a griddle. An excellent vary of regionally grown grains have been represented: barley, oats, rye, discipline peas, and two of the earliest cultivated sorts of wheat, einkorn and emmer.

Some of the excavated breads were strung on iron or bronze wires, a traditional storage method.
A few of the excavated breads have been strung on iron or bronze wires, a conventional storage methodology. Angel Tucker for Gastro Obscura

In a number of graves, groupings of small breads have been discovered threaded on iron or bronze wires, leaning towards a ceramic vessel holding the cremated stays of the deceased. This follow seemingly echoes the customary native means of storing bread provides for the residing by stringing them up on flax or hemp threads or withy rods sheltered beneath the home’s roof. Securing the burial breads with extra pricey and sturdy steel filaments, as a substitute of twine or twigs, wouldn’t solely convey mourners’ esteem for his or her lifeless, it might have served the pragmatic goal of serving to them recuperate the charred loaves after their cremation with the physique.

For the fire-loving meals historian, an archaeological evaluation this detailed just about constitutes a recipe guide for a variety of straightforward, tasty small flatbreads. Exploring completely different ingredient selections accessible in Early Medieval Scandinavia is a part of the enjoyable and a good way to expertise the flavors and properties of lesser-used bread grains, too. Even higher, whether or not you mill your personal grain or use bought flours, it’s in all probability the best bread dough you can ever combine.

Making Viking Funerary Flatbread

The nutty flavor of the final flatbreads pairs well with butter, cheese, and cured meats.
The nutty taste of the ultimate flatbreads pairs effectively with butter, cheese, and cured meats. Angel Tucker for Gastro Obscura

The archaeological file permits the house baker plenty of latitude in recreating these tasty choices; it’s particularly attention-grabbing to delve into a number of the period’s traits. Hansson discovered that the grains represented in particular person bread samples intently paralleled the interval’s identified agricultural practices. For instance, Scandinavian farmers have lengthy paired barley with oats—they’re sown, harvested, and floor collectively in a combination referred to as tvebland—and positive sufficient that duo constitutes a frequent bread kind among the many charred burials. Equally, one other pair with overlapping agricultural calls for was discipline peas and the early wheats, emmer or einkorn; they, too, prove to have been frequent companions each within the discipline and on the bakestone.

In a follow-up study, Hansson checked out cremation burial bread stays from different close by websites that have been culturally-related to these on Björkö and located some intriguing ingredient variations. Amongst these samples, Hansson discovered proof that a number of the doughs included animal substances, which might enhance protein, fats, and taste. Lab evaluation additionally confirmed important portions of the seeds of flax, chenopodium, and camelina. Whether or not these have been unintended weed-seed inclusions or an intentional high-protein adjuncts is simply identified solely to the farmers and bakers who’ve long-since joined their honorees within the grave.

Whereas the unique intentions of the historic Swedes could also be up for interpretation, from a contemporary baker’s perspective, these elective variants are plenty of enjoyable to play with. Within the curiosity of taste, vitamin, and curiosity, it’s possible you’ll want to use a livestock-based liquid, like whey or buttermilk, as a substitute of water, to combine the dough. In an attention-grabbing twist—nonetheless mirrored in a present-day, admittedly area of interest, follow in Sweden—a number of the ceremonial breads have been found to have been combined utilizing blood because the liquid. In case you occur to slaughter and butcher your personal animals, maybe you’ll give it a strive; fatty meat broth could be one other, barely much less outré, choice.

Customise your burial bread additional with the addition of some acceptable seeds, complete or frivolously floor. Flaxseed is available commercially. Chenopodium (also called lamb’s-quarters) and camelina (or, gold-of-pleasure) seed could be discovered by means of an web search or, means higher, by foraging across the edges of roads and fields within the peak of summer season.


Viking Age Swedes seem to have thought-about that solely the finest-ground and finely-sifted flours have been acceptable for honoring their lifeless, however right here, too, you possibly can select in keeping with style—in spite of everything, the trendy resurgence of complete grains has been proven to maintain us among the many residing a bit longer.

I exploit a small dwelling mill and easily weigh the entire grains and toss them in to grind collectively to type a rough flour. In a transfer that might seemingly be thought-about a slight to the about-to-be-cremated, I don’t sift out any of the bran. The ensuing flour smells and tastes contemporary and nutty, and feels alive.

Roll or pat your dough to a thin patty.
Roll or pat your dough to a skinny patty. Angel Tucker for Gastro Obscura

Shaping choices

Nearly all of the burial samples have been mere crumbs, with no discernable high, backside, or sides. Nonetheless, many confirmed proof for a wide range of distinctive shapes—skinny, thick, spherical, oval, triploid, and rectangular. One of the best-preserved have been those who had been patted into sturdy, cookie-like shapes and strung in threes onto an iron or bronze wire simply after baking. They have been then cremated with the physique, retrieved, and positioned rigorously within the closing burial place alongside the urn containing the equally incinerated-and-recovered human stays.

these as a baker, I see them as being fabricated for sturdiness on the expense of taste and texture, the traits suiting them to restoration from a pyre additionally compromising a few of their potential tastiness. Therefore, when you’re planning to eat, quite than cremate, these, I counsel rolling out the dough just a bit extra thinly—it delivers an particularly crisp, scrumptious perimeter.


Have all the things you want at hand: a griddle; a great pile of small, dry gas; a hearth poker of some kind; a spatula; a rack or fabric to position them on when completed; and an elective skewer.


100 grams (3.5 ounces) hulled barley OR ¾ cup barley flour, plus a bit for rolling out dough
50 grams (1.75 ounces) oat groats OR ½ cup oat flour (or rolled oats run by means of the meals processor)
1 tablespoon frivolously floor flaxseed, camelina, and/or chenopodium seed (8 grams or 0.3 ounces)
½ teaspoon sea salt (3 grams or 0.15 ounces)
½ cup buttermilk (or blood, milk, yogurt, or water)

See Also


1. In case you are utilizing complete grains, scale back them to a rough flour in a mill or with a mortar and pestle.

2. Mix all of the dry substances completely in a mixing bowl. Stir within the liquid till a dough is fashioned. If essential to include all of the dry particles, add a small quantity extra liquid. (It’s advantageous if the dough is slightly tender. It is going to dry out significantly throughout the remaining interval; complete grains imbibe moisture slowly.) Spherical up the dough properly, place and canopy in an hermetic container, and permit to relaxation when you make a hearth and prepare your griddle.

3. Arrange a fire so to place a griddle or bakestone securely a number of inches over it. A couple of bricks work wonders on this regard. Setting the griddle apart, make a hearth of medium-sized wooden and burn it right down to coals. Have a small pile of dry twigs available in case you must goose the warmth of your fireplace later whereas baking.

Cook the breads until they're flecked with brown.
Cook dinner the breads till they’re flecked with brown. Angel Tucker for Gastro Obscura

4. Whereas your fireplace is burning, type the breads. Toss a lightweight skim of barley flour on the work floor. Spherical up the dough ball, and slice it into 8 even bits. Flouring your fingers and counter frivolously as wanted, roll or pat every out to desired thinness (see word on shaping above)—about 3 inches in diameter for cremation burial, 4 to five inches for cocktail snacks. If the dough proves a bit too sticky to deal with, grease two sheets of parchment paper and repeat this step with the paper on the highest and backside of the dough.

5. Modify and even out the hearth, then return the griddle to its helps to preheat. Purpose to have a low to medium-low warmth on the griddle; the flavour and crunch develops finest quite slowly. Load up the griddle with the flatbreads. flip when flecked with brown. As you go, you’ll be taught to regulate the warmth by feeding twigs onto the established coalbed or by pushing apart something burning too aggressively.

6. When the breads are completed—crisp and brown on the sides, nonetheless a bit leathery within the center—take away to the rack or fabric, or perforate with the skewer and droop them, to chill.

7. This could yield 8 cracker-like breads. Their nutty taste pairs effectively with butter or cheese of any variety, with smoked or pickled fish, and with cured meats. They hold as sustenance for weeks, however are actually tastiest when eaten inside a number of hours, so carpe diem.

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