Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Foodstuffs

Bannocks of barley (and oat)

Well, the visiting King didn’t steal me away, have me imprisoned, or executed. I’ve just been a bit busy around the farmstead. The days are so much shorter now, but I know the Solstice is coming. I have got to get the charms ready and in place so as to ensure that the sun will return! The winter solstice is a bit more scary here than the summer solstice – mainly because we won’t see the sun very much (if at all!) on Solstice Day. The days are so dim and true dark comes so very early in the day, after leaving so late in the mornings.

Still, the animals have to be tended, no matter the weather or lighting…but I swear, even they don’t like to go out much. It’s almost as if they feel a presence that menaces them. It’s not true, mind you, but the animals that we have still seem to spook easier.

I’m glad that I have enough stores put by, and my bannocks this morning, for some reason, were exceptionally tasty. Perhaps it’s because I added some oat flour to the barley flour – not so much to stretch out the barley, but because I like the nutty flavor the oat flour gives them.

So, here is my preferred recipe – for those interested (given in mundane terms).

  • 1 cup barley flour
  • 3/4 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix the flour and salt together, cut in the butter and work until crumbly. I work this by hand, making sure to reduce all the lumps of butter as much as possible. Then, add the milk (your choice as to fast or slow), mix into the flour/butter until all is wet. The dough is quite sticky, which is what I found to be the best consistency.

Heat your cooking stone/skillet (on low heat), then turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface. You can then either press it down into a flat-ish circle, or lightly flour a rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/4″ thickness. Mark an X (or into 8s) with something (mundanely, I use a chopstick). Transfer the bannock to the skillet. Generally, cook each side for 15 minutes. If your heat is too high, you’ll start to smell “burning popcorn”, if that happens, lower the heat and flip it over to cook the other side.

When done, put butter on them, if you like. They go well with honey or jam/preserves – but you do want to eat them fresh for the best flavor. Enjoy!

Rainy days, smoking meats, baking bread

Last week, Eidiard decided he wanted to smoke some meats, as a project for our lunch on Faire Day (this Faire Day was a good few hours journey from our home). Of course, the gods have a sense of humor and made sure that it was going to rain on the days of smoking. Not having a dedicated smoke house (although it now appears that may change) meant that Eidiard had to figure out a way to accomplish this… since the meats, once smoked, needed some time to ‘sit’ to maximize their flavors. I am happy to say, that even with all the challenges the gods threw at him, Eidiard was successful in his endeavors.

I decided, that we needed to have some bread to go with the meat and pulled out my baking skills. I decided to make a sourdough bread using the spelt flour that we had traded for. Even with the damp weather, my bread loaves were successful. Not having a purpose built bread oven, while challenging, was not an impediment to the success of the loaves.

In all, our lunch with our friends at the Faire Day was quite successful, tasty, and filling.

Our lunch Photo credit - Tammy Crawford

Our lunch. Photo credit – Tammy Crawford

Bannocks of Barley

Research

Experimented with making bannocks again this morning. This time, using only barley flour. The bannocks were (as Bryian described them), very neutral in flavor, but they brightened (enhanced) the flavors of the food around them. Served with eggs (over easy) and with clover honey. They were crispy but dense, which he liked very much. I may have made them a little on the thin side, since after they were fully cooked, the bannock only averaged 1/4″. But, they were cooked fully (my own personal estimation). My next edible (hopefully) experiment willl be to make the bannocks only from oat flour.

The reason I am experimenting with the bannocks, is due to them being referenced in Plants & People in Ancient Scotland as there was evidence of their making in the Late Iron Age context during the dig at Howe, Orkney. It was stated that there was no evidence of bread making (think, leavened bread made with a bread-type wheat and yeast) during the Late Iron Age. My guess is that the author(s) of the book did not/do not consider bannocks to be a “true” bread.

Grinding Hulls

Research

So, I have managed to fairly successfully grow Bere Barley here in Southeastern Ohio. The next step is to remove the hulls from the barley grains. I’ve been looking into methods of how this may have been accomplished in my persona’s period, and while there is the great possibility that Finche may have simply ground the barley with the hulls on, I would rather remove the hulls myself.

So, I (and Eidiard) have been looking into this process, and it is possible that Finche would have used a wooden pestle with either a stone or ceramic mortar, or possibly even a cast iron cauldron. So, since I have the latter, I am going to attempt to do this. The first experiment will be with dry grain, to see how difficult it was/would be to remove the hulls. For the second experiment, I will try soaking the grains for an hour, then using the wooden pestle and cast iron cauldron, try to remove the hulls. If soaking for one hour is not enough time, I will increase the time incrementally by 30 minutes.

Once the hulls are removed, then comes the job of grinding the grains into flour. This may be a bit more difficult for me, as I do not have either a saddle quern, or a rotary quern at this point in time. I may simply resort to using the wooden pestle and cast iron cauldron for this… at least until I somehow manage to get my hands on either a saddle or rotary quern. (smile) Of interest to me, was that both were found, in the same archaeological level (c. 4th – 5th CE) at Howe – indicating that both types were still in common use. This was of interest, because generally, the rotary quern replaced the saddle quern simply because it was more effective. Saddle Quern Rotary Quern

From Outwood Mill: “The type of stone most suitable for making millstones is a siliceous rock called buhrstone (or burrstone), an open-textured, porous but tough, fine-grained sandstone, or a silicified, fossiliferous limestone. In some sandstones, the cement is calcareous.” (outwoodmill.com/history/quern-stones-aka-mill-stones/)

Bannocks, Barley, & Oats (& Spelt)

So had a fair trade the other day, with some folks from somewhere south. They were fair strange in their speech, but not so that you couldn’t understand them. They brought some grain they called “spelt” and said that it could be used much like we use our oats and barley. So, I decided to put it to the test by making bannocks to go with our meal. The spelt had a different flavor from the oats, a bit more of a nut-like flavor. It was a distinctive flavor, and stronger than the oats, but definitely not bad. It was a good addition to the barley and the two went well together. Eidiard was quite happy with them and I think I’m going to have to trade for some more spelt to go in the bannocks.