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Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Porridge and bread were by far the two most important elements in the Viking Age and medieval diet. The main ingredient was barley, and to some extent also rye, oats, and wheat. To make the grain digestible as food, however, required careful preparation; the grain had to be crushed or ground. When only the hull was crushed, the resulting grain was suitable for boiling. To bake bread, the grains had to be broken down more finely, which could be done by grinding in a quern or mill.

Creating the daily bread of the Vikings in Southern Scandinavia

Grain was normally kept un-ground on the farm. It was only ground when it was to be used, and then only as much as was needed for the moment, to bake bread or make porridge. This meant that grinding was a recurrent job in most households. The quern must have had to be rotated daily, or at least several times a week. It is reasonable to assume that the quern was one of the most central points in the household, fully comparable to the well and the hearth.

Bread was typically made from unleavened barley flour ground in stone querns . The handle of the quern was used to rotate the top stone over the bottom stone, grinding the grain between the stones. In Iceland, lava querns were used, which produced finer flour. Stone chips from querns have been found in recovered flour, so the bread must have made for a gritty repast. You’ll be posting loads of engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.

It seems likely that women prepared and served the food in the home. There is one example in the sagas of a man preparing food at home who was mocked for it (Vatnsdæla saga chapter 44), although the sagas suggest that away from home, men prepared their own food (for example, at assemblies, on-board ship, and at game festivals).

Norse families ate two meals per day: dagverðr at mid-morning, and náttverðr in the evening. Most families had a table of some sort, and wealthy families used a linen tablecloth. Meats were served on wooden trenchers and eaten with one's personal knife. Stews, porridge, and similar items were served in wooden bowls and eaten with wooden or horn spoons (right). A reproduction of a wooden serving bowl is shown to the left. Shells were used for ladles and spatulas.

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