Making a dish from a by-gone age; Autumn Harvest Pottage
Hello friends, and welcome back to our little food chat. I know it’s been a while, but it’s a terribly busy, and particularly rough season for me. So let’s shake off some troubles for a bit and find some joy and solace in food, shall we?
Today, we’re going back to that good, rustic Viking-style cooking that really does lend itself well to the U.P. fall and winter.
This particular dish we’re talking about today has been called the “Autumn Harvest Pottage” by my dear friend Andrew.
All of the ingredients for this familiar yet exotic dish can be food at the Keweenaw Co-op and Pat’s IGA, so feel free to try it out on your own, too!
So when I try to “cook like a Viking,” it’s called culinary archaeology. The goal here is to cook a dish as closely to how the subject would have, and with ingredients as close as they would have had. This takes a bit of research, but it’s so much fun because it’s a little challenge; My research has to be as accurate as it can be, and I’m limited by my guidelines, so I can’t just do whatever I want.
I found out about this particular recipe from a Viking era tale, a short story, or relatively long poem, called a saga. This saga, “Cadoc’s Saga” is particularly interesting, because Cadoc wasn’t a Viking. Cadoc was a mercenary from Cornwall, England, who fought under a Viking chieftain named Hjorleif.
Cadoc was a warrior, but he also cooked for the warband at longhall celebrations. Cooking was actually considered a feminine task, and most warriors wouldn’t be caught cooking. Cadoc’s passion for cooking endeared him to his title among the Vikings of “Cadoc Skethane,” Skethane translating to “Spoon Lord,” or “Lord of Spoons.” The Cadoc Saga doesn’t say how he first got the name, just that he liked it.
Cadoc describes the porridge that I recreated as a “hearty porridge” that was “as much morning meal as evening.” Since it’s a porridge, the main filler being a kind of oat. He’s not specific on the kind, so I had to settle for steel-rolled oats.
Cadoc also uses dates, apple, walnuts, bacon, elk, and “laying around beef” which I guessed was like stew meat. The only thing he would have a particularly hard time getting would be the dates, but he could get them through various trade routes. They would have been very expensive because of the distance they’d have to travel for Cadoc to get them either in Britain or Scandinavia. That being said, I’m not sure Cadoc got them without bloodshed, but he’s pretty mum on that. I just found mine at the Co-op.
The spice profile Cadoc uses is very heavy and earthy. He uses ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. These spices with the apple would have an apple pie effect, making it pretty sweet. He cooks the fruits and spices with water and honey separately, like a compote, before adding it to the central oat pot, which is filled with oats of course, but also water, bone broth (what animal the bone is from isn’t said, but I used beef), honey, and the spices mentioned earlier.
In another separate setup, Cadoc has bacon, the “lay around” beef, and the elk cooking.
Once he seems satisfied with the tenderness of the apples and the near-syrup state that it’s made, he adds it to the central pot. After a while, Cadoc gets satisfied with the meat and tosses that into the giant central pot. He doesn’t mention it, but I added the meat into the pot when I thought the meat was just a little bit underdone, because it’ll finish cooking in the big pot.
Cadoc called it a pot, but I used a cast iron pot for the compote, a pan for the meat, and two dutch ovens for the central pot. I don’t know if Cadoc was lazy in terminology, if who transcribed or wrote the saga was lazy, or if Cadoc just didn’t know basic cooking terms. Maybe he just used a giant pot. All of these are plausible, and another thing that makes culinary archaeology fun. Research from modern sources or old sagas can be missing info, so we have to do our best to fill in those holes as close as we can.
Cadoc noted all of his ingredients because he was either proud of the grandeur scale of this pottage, or because he wanted to make it again. I have no idea if he did, because again with the dates and spices, it would have been a very costly meal and not something you would just whip up every day or on the road.
Sure, he notes everything he used, but Cadoc cooks a lot like I do; he doesn’t measure a thing.
I hope Cadoc’s turned out better than mine did, because while my friends I cooked for liked it, I thought it was way too earthy and heady. But I think I overspiced it.
The apples had a great crunch along with the walnuts, and the bacon, beef, and dates gave it a great chew, so there was a lot of mouth feel on this dish.
Overall, I really enjoyed making the dish and it could have been amazing if I didn’t overseason it, so if you decide to make this on your own, definitely season to taste as you go.
That’s all I have for you this week. Come on back next time to see what we’re cooking up, and until then, don’t forget to tip!
Chris Jaehnig has worked in Copper Country kitchens for six and a half years. He’s never met a meal he couldn’t eat. You can reach Chris at email@example.com if you have questions or anything you’d like him to to write about in the future.