Medieval food, Scandi-style

medieval swedish flasks
Replicas of glassware, on sale in the museum shop.

Like any medievalist worth their salt, a visit to Stockholm wouldn’t be complete without a peek into the Medeltidsmuseet, the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, located under the Norrbro bridge between the Royal Palace and the Opera House. The museum tells the story of medieval Stockholm from the mid-thirteenth century, and comes complete with excavated graveyard, warship, and cellars of the Blackfriars’ Monastery, all housed amongst the underground remains of the medieval city wall and churchyard of the Helgeandhuset (House of the Holy Spirit) – an area nicknamed the Riksgropen (the ‘National Pit’).

Betraying my modernist side, though, I’m a sucker for a decent museum shop, and the Medeltidsmuseet didn’t disappoint. The book selection featured recent publications on medieval food, including Maggie Black’s The Medieval Cookbook (2012) and Bridget Ann Henisch’s The Medieval Cook (2013), as well as a whole array of replica pots, jugs, jars. But most exciting were the little jars of poudre fort and poudre douce, and the sachets of long pepper on sale (Steenbergs – you have competition!)! Not something I’ve come across before in museum shops, in the UK or abroad.

The company who makes the food products is Bredaviks Örtagård, who run a reconstructed 14th century village on Sturkö, an island off the southern mainland of Sweden. As well as running a shop selling their food items, the village houses a medieval market place, a herb garden, and a dress-making workshop where you can buy modern linen clothing inspired by medieval patterns.

I also found Bredaviks Örtagård’s products stocked in the city’s Historiska museum, another hit on any medievalist’s itinerary of Stockholm. The Historiska takes a broader view at Sweden’s history, from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages to the present day. Their exhibition of the invasion of Gotland in 1361 was particularly striking – I haven’t slept properly since seeing the skeletons excavated still wearing their rusting armour! And the Gold Room… bling on a different level. But back to the food…

The Scandinavians have a complex medieval food history, detailed in the sagas and the chronicles, as well as in the vernacular recipe collections, much of which intersects with the English tradition, as Constance Hieatt outlined in her essay, ‘Sorting Through the Titles of Medieval Dishes: What Is, or Is Not, a “Blanc Manger”?’ Hannele Klemettilä blends the medieval Scandinavian tradition beautifully with the rest of the Western culinary collections too in her recent book, The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes – a well-researched and accessible overview of high-late medieval cuisine, with plenty of manuscript illustrations to liven things up! So, I have my work cut out: eat medieval becomes äta medeltids!

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