Finche's Soutterain

Bringing the Early Iron Age to Life

Bannocks of Barley


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.


“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.

Grinding Hulls


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.” (


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.

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.