Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Research

After Lughnasadh…

1 June 2017 Late afternoon

1 June 2017 Late afternoon

Lughnasadh has come and gone, and with its passing, autumn has begun. Still, I have to wait until after the Autumn Equinox before I can start taking out trees. While I can’t take out the trees in my neighbor’s yard, I can at least give my little patch of ground a better chance at more sun by taking out a few (bunch) of them. I probably won’t wait for the leaves to have fallen before I start preparing the area I want to grow my grains. First up in rotation will be barley, to be planted before midwinter for a spring harvest. Then, I will plant my einkorn for a later summer harvest. After they have had their time, I will plant some red clover to give back to the soil the nutrients my grain crops have taken from the earth. I will also be increasing the size of my garden, and maybe relocating it slightly.

I have not given up on either this project, or my dream of working toward an Iron Age feel to my backyard. I will admit that having a yard that is completely on a slope, with no real truly flat area, can be somewhat discouraging at times, but I will prevail! I never expected this to be easy, but at least it keeps me healthier.

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.

Background 

“Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life”

My persona, living in Orkney during the late 4th – early 5th century CE, puts me at the equivalent time period as the beginning of the Pictish era on mainland Scotland. There is still no irrefutable evidence that the Picts actually controlled the islands of Orkney at this early period.

I have decided to base my persona’s story as an amalgamation of archaeological evidence from Howe (which, unfortunately no longer exists as a dig site) and Warebeth on the Orcadian mainland. This is to hopefully help me flesh out what my diet, clothing, and daily living might have been like.

Laundry

This morning’s activities included gathering up my saved fire ashes, so that I could make my washing liquid to clean Eidiard’s, his apprentices, and my clothing – that needed actual washing. Of course, after cleaning the hearth (and before actually making the washing liquid) I had to lay another fire, so that I could make some food for us all to eat.

After getting the fire all set, with a pot of porridge simmering in some of the heaped embers, I went to make the washing liquid. This was done simply by pouring collected rainwater over the ashes to let it seep through and collecting the liquid (through a straw filter) in another bucket. I had already set the clothes to be washed to soak in the larger tub so that everything was  wet through. To this I added the washing liquid, carefully, and started to agitate the wet clothing. Once done, I laid them out to dry in the sun.

I’m just glad that the weather has been so mild, so far, although it does make me wonder what our winter will be like.

Oh, I almost forgot. A few days ago, Eidiard had been given some pig in exchange for some of his metal work. Well, yesterday, Eidiard decided that he was going to smoke the parts he was given. (This was after I had salt cured all of it.) The smell, as it wafted into our home, was absolutely wonderful. Woodsy, with a hint of apples. We ate (and enjoyed!) some of it last night, after it was done. It was great with the vegetables.

Research: The “washing liquid” made by running the water through the wood ash, is basically a weak lye. Since my persona is not trying to make soap with this lye, keeping the solution fairly weak would (theoretically) keep the dangers of lye burns to a minimum. There are tests that can be done to test the strength of the lye solution – floating an egg in the liquid, or inserting a feather to see if it dissolves. If the egg floats on top, the lye is too strong, if it sinks – the lye is too weak. If it floats about half-way, then the lye solution is just right (for making soap). If the feather starts to dissolve on submersion/contact, the lye solution is perfect for soapmaking.

And yes, this is something I want to test for myself – using a “washing liquid” only for cleaning cloth. I don’t think I’m brave enough (yet) to try it on actual clothes, but I have a few “sacrificial” dish towels I’d be willing to try this on.

Harvests

The barley had been harvested earlier this moon cycle, as have the oats. Thankfully, we had clear weather for the days it took to get the crops in. Hopefully, we will have enough to last the winter – for both us and the animals.

Since we have such long days, I guess I better go get some more peat, or turf if I can’t find enough peat to dry. I don’t really want to run out of fuel when trying to cook our meals.

Research

According to Dickson & Dickson’s Plants & People in Ancient Scotland (2000) the principle grain crops were a variety of barleys, notably Bere (pronounced “bear”) Barley, but also some samples of Naked Six-rowed barley. Oats it seems were a Wild Oat variety.

Edited to add: The oat varieties would have been “Common Oat” (Avena sativa, cultivated), Bristle Oat, often called Black Oat, (A. strigosa, cultivated) and Wild Oat (A. fatua, weedy). Sativa means cultivated, strigosa means bristly and fatua means insipid or not good.” (From Dickson & Dickson Plants & People of Ancient Scotland, p. 234)