Ingredients & Diet

By the time of the Bronze Age, hunted and "wild" gathered food was no longer a main part of the diet, as farming could sustain more people in one area. However the first field systems came to Britain, indicating growing pressure on the land as the numbers of people and animals increased.

Bronze Age crops (examples below) could also be stored of use out-of-season or bartered for other goods.

  • Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum, descended from the wild T. dicoccoides)
  • Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum, descended from the wild T. boeoticum)
  • Barley (Hordeum vulgare/sativum, descended from the wild H. spontaneum)
  • Lentil (Lens culinaris)
  • Pea (Pisum sativum)
  • Chickpea (Cicer arietinum)
  • Bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia)

Food Preparation & Cooking

A central fire would have been lit inside the family roundhouse for both heating and cooking. There was not a smoke hole/chimney in the apex of the roof, for this would have caused an updraft that would have rapidly set fire to the thatch. Instead, smoke would have accumulated harmlessly inside the roof space (above head height) and slowly leaked out through the thatch and also kill any unwanted insects.

Another possible method for food preparation that survives in the archaeological record is a Burnt Mounds (known as fulachtaí fia in Ireland). These  are a type of archaeological site whose defining characteristic is large quantities of heat shattered stone, charcoal and normally with an adjacent hearth and trough for water. Mounds are almost always found on the banks of a loch or stream.

These sites commonly date to the Bronze Age and have been primarily interpreted as cooking places. Experiments show that a joint of meat could be fully cooked in about three to four hours through this method. However animal bone is rarely found at these site, so alternative explanations have been given, including beer making, leather treatment and salt production

Pottery

Bronze Age pottery

Bronze Age food pots introduced by the Bell-Beaker people are squat jars often with decorated bevelled rims and decoration over the body on the exterior from the rim to the base. Decoration consists of circling lines of twisted cord and tooth combed impressions.

Bronze Age pots

Reconstructed Bronze Age pottery by Ancientcraft

Grain Preparation ~ Saddle Quern Stones

Saddle querns were used for grinding corn during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The grain or seeds were placed on the concave lower stone (bedstone) and crushed (rather than ground) by moving the long rounded stone (rubber/mouler) backwards and forwards over it. The surface of the bedstone would often been "dressed" by pecking it to make it into a more efficient grater.

In Abu Hureyra (Syria), archaeologists have found abnormalities in the bone structure of ancient skeletons which they believe to have been caused by prolonged use of a saddle quern. Saddle querns were gradually replaced by rotary querns which were easier to use and caused less physical strain

Middens

Evidence of Bronze Age food and ingredients often comes from "middens" - the term for a pit or dump of domestic waste. Microscopic examination of the middens provides valuable evidence of what people ate. Damp, anaerobic conditions can preserve organic remains and middens may contain animal/fish bone, shells, plant material, human excrement, posherds, lithics and other materials associated with human occupation.


Recipes

Obviously as no Prehistoric Recipe Book exists, ingredients and cooking methods are based on research, experimentation and some guesswork. A research team, commissioned by UKTV Food in 2007 and lead by Dr Ruth Fairchild from the Food Science Department of the University of Wales Institute (Cardiff), spoke to food experts and experimental archaeologists, such as Jacqui Wood (below), to compile a list of Britain's oldest recipes (with three or more ingredients):

(© Chris Saville  - with kind permission)

Recipes: Jacqui Wood's books - "Prehistoric Cooking" & "Tasting the Past" and from Jane Renfrew's "Prehistoric Cookery: Recipes & History"

NOTE: RECIPES ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY ~ NOT INTENDED AS CULINARY GUIDANCE

Barley Beer Bread

Cooking Time: 5 mins each side
Ingredients:

  • 500g barley flour
  • 500g stone-ground wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g butter
  • Beer to mix
beer bread

Method:

  1. Mix the flours and salt together and rub in the butter
  2. Add enough beer to make a soft dough and shape into small cakes
  3. Cook on a hot stone (or griddle) until firm

Nettle Stew

Start by picking the nettles, carefully, using only the small, young ones, as they grow more bitter with age. Wash the nettles one by one, to remove soil and insects (note: Acetylcholine and histamine are the primary nettle toxins; the latter causes dermal vesiculation. Formic acid was formerly thought to cause the persistent stinging action but it is now only associated with the initial pain at contact).

Evidence:

Archaeological evidence shows that some people in the Bronze Age people used log boats for rivers for transport and also ate fresh water fish, such as pike, perch, carp and eel. Anaylsis of artefacts found with six canoes hollowed out of oak trees, on the southern edge of Flag Fen (near Peterborough), include a bowl and wooden spoon used to eat nettle stew.


Cooking Time: 10-15 mins
Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of sorrel
  • 1 bunch of watercress
  • 1 bunch of dandelion leaves
  • 2 bunches of young nettle leaves
  • Some chives
  • 1 cup of barley flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Wild Boar
nettles

Method:

  1. Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt
  2. Add enough water to bind it together and place in the centre of a linen or muslin cloth
  3. Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well)
  4. Leave in the pot until the meat is cooked
  5. Serve with chunks of barley bread

Alternative Method:

  • 1/2 a basket of nettles (approx 250g)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 50g butter
  • 2-3 handfuls of oatmeal
  • 1 tsp salt

Kefir Cheese

Kefir Cheese is made using a yeast and bacterial culture called "kefir", rather than an additional acid or rennet, to separate milk into curd and whey. Kefir grains look like little cauliflower florets and are quite rubbery.

Evidence:

Cheese fragments were found around the neck and chest of a 4,000-year-old mummified body uncovered at the Xiaohe burial site in Xinjiang (western China), making it the oldest remains of a milk product ever found. The "kefir" cheese found on the mummies was produced with bacteria and yeast, not with rennet.

  • 1 cup milk (unpasteurised / raw, organic milk is ideal)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh kefir grains 

Method:

  1. Use the ratio of 1 cup milk to 1 tablespoon of kefir grains  for fermenting a batch in 24-48 hours. The amount of time you ferment the milk for depends on the temperature and how tart you like your kefir to be
  2. Put the kefir grains and milk into a container and seal with a clean piece of muslin bound with string
  3. Leave to ferment 24-48 hours (not in direct sunlight) - gently shaking the container every now and then
  4. Once the kefir starts fermenting the milk you may notice your ‘brew’ separating into curds and whey - this is normal and a gentle shake will mix everything back together
  5. At the point where the kefir starts separating it has definitely fermented
  6. When the milk has started fermenting and turning to kefir it will probably contain some curds which can resemble the kefir grains. The way to tell the difference is that when you squeeze the curds they will break up and disappear, the kefir grains will not, but will regain their shape if squeezed.
  7. Once the kefir is finished fermenting pour the contents of the jar into a wide mouth container
  8. With clean hands trawl through the kefir using your fingers to catch the kefir grains - once you catch some grains, squeeze the grains to get out most of the kefir they contain
  9. Place the gains in a jar for reuse - over time you’ll find that your grains increase, and grow in size.

Smokey Fish Stew

From about 2,000BC; among the fish remains found in middens (waste pits) in northern Europe are: eel, carp, pike, perch, trout, salmon, plaice, bass, mullet, cod and spurdog


Cooking Time: 30 mins
Ingredients:

  • 125g bacon
  • 2 leeks
  • 500g of any smoked fish
  • 1 litre milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • Some chives
  • 1 tsp salt
fish

Method:

  1. Fry the bacon until the fat comes away from it
  2. Add the chopped leeks; cook until tender
  3. Add the fillets of fish and cover with the milk
  4. Slowly cook in a pot near the fire until the fish is cooked, which is about 30 minutes
  5. Pour in the cream, along with the chopped chives and salt

 


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