It would appear that at some point, the database running my website got nuked. Please pardon the dust while I try and put things back together around here! I’m hoping I can get a fair bit of my old content out of the wayback machine, since I was silly and didn’t keep copies of what I’d written on my local drive.
Coming soon… new research on animals in Iceland, pictures of my puppy who is almost all grown up now, and 10 new Icelandic chicks that I’m raising!
The year is 913. My name is Ásny, and I am a farm wife living in the north of the island called Iceland. I am in my early 40s, and I was born in Norway, but many years ago, when I was newly a woman, my husband and I packed up our belongings and set out to seek a new life. We sailed west with some other folk, and after a short voyage, thanks to favorable winds, set our feet on land again near the place called Husavik. We built a farm near where our ship landed, and we have lived there ever since. We make our living raising sheep and goats, and I make beads from glass, and every summer, my husband Bjorn joins a group of other men to go a-Viking.
Caring for our farm is hard work, especially because the gods did not see fit to bless us with children. Every other woman around seems to have given her husband least a few sons to be his heirs, but I was not blessed the same way. My mother always said I was very sick as a little baby, so maybe that’s the reason. I certainly have made all the appropriate offerings to the gods, so I can’t imagine they are mad at me. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise, since it meant fewer mouths to feed, and we did not have to watch any children die when they were babies, but with just two of us to work our farm, and Bjorn often gone for the summer months, it made for much more work for me. Fortunately one of our closest neighbours had many, many children, and we were able to get a bit of help from them in exchange for wool and milk.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved animals. My mother would often find me in the fields with the sheep and the goats, and at night our farm cats and hounds would all pile into my bed with me, as I was an only child. So it was to no one’s surprise that when Bjorn and I left for Iceland, we brought many animals with us. In addition to the sheep and the goats, we of course have many cats around our farm to keep away the mice and the rats, and I keep chickens for the eggs and meat, and we have always had a dog or two around as well. I have found that with many animals around, the heartache from never having children of my own has lessened over the years, and I dote on my animals like others would a child. Of course, as a husfreyja I was given cats when we first established our household, as any good farm wife would want cats to keep the mice away, but I always seem to have more around me than most other women around.
This year, Bjorn and his friends that he would usually spend the summer a-viking with, decided that instead of going raiding, that this summer they would venture back to Norway, to visit friends and family there. Word had passed to us Bjorn’s father was getting very old and sick, and it might not be long before he made the passage to Valhalla. He had never died in battle, but had survived many of them and would surely be chosen to join Odin when he passes. Bjorn decided he wanted to make the journey to try and see his father one last time. And besides, there are no bees in Iceland, and our kegs of mead were all but depleted, and what would the men do without their beloved mead? Of course, as someone needed to stay to take care of the farm, I wasn’t able to join him on his journey.
Shortly before Bjorn’s ship set sail, we suffered a great loss here on the farm too. Our old dog, Snorri, who we knew was not a young pup anymore, as he had been with us for many years, had been slowing down, and had been making sounds that told us his joints were stiff and hurting, for a while now. Finally the time came where his body just couldn’t keep going, and he went to wait for us in the afterlife. It was a very sad time for us, and hard, but time stops for no one and so we had to continue on with our lives, taking care of our farm and our other animals. But the loss of our close shadow, for Snorri always seemed to be no more than a few feet away from one of us at all times, left a vast hole in our hearts.
So as I said earlier, Bjorn made the trip back to Norway, and by his telling, the trip was as easy as ours was when we first came to Iceland. He was able to see his father, and be there for him when he passed, and give his mother comfort, and of course replenish our mead supply. He also did return with supplies for the farm, and gifts for me, as he often does when he is gone for a period of time. This time he returned with a little green stone, carved in the shape of a dog just like our Snorri, with a loop so that it can be hung around one’s neck, and a beautiful white fox fur, and some grains for planting next spring… but none of those compare to the final gift he gave me.
While he was visiting his family, Bjorn happened on a local man who greatly enjoys hunting with a bow and arrow, who also raises dogs to hunt with him. It just happened that one of this man’s bitches had recently had a litter of puppies, and my husband thought that would be a suitable gift to bring home for me. He certainly knows me well, my husband does. It was the best present he could have possibly brought me. I named her Ása, and she’s been with us for a month now. She’s just three months old, and a little bundle of mischief. But when she finally stops jumping at my side and nipping at my heels, she’s her Mama’s little baby.
(((Out of persona aside: we lost our old dog, Cody, to old age and arthritis in mid-August, and we miss him dearly. As luck would have it, someone in our area posted a litter of Norwegian Elkhound puppies on the local classifieds that would be ready to go in early September. Well, being one of our top choices for dog breed, and pretty much perfect for my persona, there was not much hesitation in putting a deposit on a new puppy to join our family. She turned 8 weeks on September 4th, and came home on September 6th. And her name really is Ása, which is a name which can be documented to the Viking era, as it was found in the Landnámabók, the Icelandic Book of Names. Documentation is available here:http://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/norse/landnamabok.html. We pronounce it Ay-sa, and it means Goddess.)))
Life has gotten away from me a little bit on the Viking Age end of things, so I haven’t had a whole lot to post about recently. But… I did hatch a second batch of chicks on June 26/27th, and they’re 2 and a half weeks old at this point. I originally had 6 hatch out of the 12 eggs I set, but we lost one after a few days – it had splayed legs and curled toes and just failed to thrive. 4 of the remaining 5 are doing really well, growing like little weeds, and I’m excited to see how they turn out. I’m super pleased that they’re all different colours than my original batch. The 5th chick is a little smaller than her siblings, and I suspect this may be partly to do with the fact that she has a malformed leg. But she is growing, and we’ll see how things go – I may end up with a house chicken.
The bigger chicks went out to the coop outside at about 4-5 weeks old, and are doing great. My Easter Egger hen, who has tried to go broody repeatedly – she just REALLY wants to be a mama – decided that if I wouldn’t let her set a clutch of eggs, she was going to adopt all these little ones I put in her coop. It was pretty amusing to see her fluff her feathers up and come running at our dog (a 110 pound Akita!) when he got near the pen.
Unfortunately, only 3 of my 10 older chicks are identifiable as hens. 3 out of 10! Very frustrating. But now that I know at least 3 are hens, I’ve been able to name those 3. So let’s introduce…
Kolfinna inn svarti (Kolfinna the black)
Inga inn harfagri (Inga the fair-haired). Inga is named after a friend of mine in the SCA.
I’ve actually been a spinner for a lot longer than I’ve been interested in all things Icelandic. Up until now, however, I’ve never worked with the fleece of an Icelandic sheep. I started planning this particular project before I decided to focus on Iceland and have an Icelandic persona, so it’s a bit of a happy coincidence that this project fits in quite nicely with my overall goal here. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to do a sheep to dress project – going from raw fleeces, straight off the sheep, and do every single step along the way myself, by hand, as close to the way it would have been done in the Viking age, and ultimately end up with an apron dress for myself. The first step in this project was to research breeds of sheep to find the right one, and as I did have a Viking era persona at that point, even if it wasn’t Icelandic at the time, I came to the conclusion that the Icelandic sheep was probably the closest to what would have been available in the Viking era. There are a few other breeds that would also have worked – the Soay, the Norwegian Spaelsau, and the Jacob, for example – but for some reason I decided on Icelandics. As it turned out, that was a good choice for me since a few years later I decided to narrow my focus to Viking-era Iceland! Icelandic sheep are directly descended from the sheep brought to Iceland by the people who settled it.
The Icelandic sheep is a Northern European short-tailed sheep which has a double coat. They have a soft inner coat called the thel, and a coarser, longer outer coat called the tog. When the two are mixed together during carding and spinning, they can make a yarn which is very stable while still being able to be spun fairly thin, called Lopi. This yarn is best used for outerwear, though, as it’s not super soft and fine like Merino or wools like that. Alternately, the tog and the thel can be separated with wool combs (or by hand) and spun separately. The tog spun by itself will produce a softer yarn, and the thel will make a coarser (and I suspect more waterproof) yarn. I will be doing some experiments with a small portion of the fleeces I get, to decide whether to separate the tog and thel, or to spin it together.
My project got put on hold for a while over the past couple of years, because I was struggling to get my hands on some Icelandic fleeces, for a few different reasons – but the main one being finances. I have not been able to find anyone in my immediate area who keeps Icelandic sheep, which meant either having the fleeces shipped to me, or going out of area to get them. While fleece is too heavy, unless you’re getting a lot of it, it is quite bulky, and would not be cheap to ship. Fortunately, I realized that the site for June Coronation is only a couple of hours from Biggs Ranch, a farm in central Alberta that raises just about Icelandic everything… sheep, horses, chickens, and dogs. They’ll be shearing their sheep sometime between now and the end of June, and I’ve made arrangements to make a stop there on my way to Coronation to pick up some fleeces. I’m hoping to get going early enough in the morning that I’ll have time to meet their dogs (they have new puppies that were born in the past few weeks too!) and take some photos for my project as well.
So now that I FINALLY have fleeces coming, it’s time to get going on researching, building, and documenting the fibre prep tools I’ll be using! First up: wool combs based on the Oseberg ship find.
Earlier this spring, it occurred to me that another good way to Viking up my life and home would be that when I’m planting the garden I was planning to plant anyways this spring, to make sure I planted as many things that the Vikings would have eaten fresh, as possible. So I did a bit of reading earlier this year, so that I could order seeds from a specialized merchant, if there were things I needed that I didn’t think I could find at the nursery. It turned out there were a fair few of these, since I was looking at herbs as well as vegetables, so it was a good thing I planned well ahead.
From the list provided in that article, I will be planting: Onion, Cabbage, Turnip, Peas, Beans, and Cress. The last 6 plants in the list I did not plant – Hemp, Flax, Woad and Hops are not plants used for eating (ok, yes, you can eat flax seeds, but it’s much more frequently used for pressing for oil, or to make linen), and apples and plums are, of course, tree fruit. Apples and plums I can readily buy at the grocery store in the summer, I can get them from the farmer’s market, or from friends who have an abundance. If I’m lucky, and the people who bought the empty lot next door haven’t chopped the trees down by the time they produce fruit, this summer I could even get some from the trees next door.
The first plant in the list, Angelica, is an herb that grows wild in Iceland, and it is native to Europe and Asia, but is not found in my area of Canada. it has been found on the eastern coast of Canada1, where is has been deemed an invasive weed. Given the fact that the Vikings are known to have landed in Canada around the year 1000, at sites like L’Anse aux Meadows2, I can’t help but wonder if it was brought over by the Vikings. This is pure conjecture on my part, however, and I have no evidence for this (yet. It merits further research though, I think!) I did order seeds for Angelica, but because it is difficult to germinate, I also ended up ordering some seedlings to be shipped to me.
I did do further research on my own, and to this list I have added:
Carrots (which wouldn’t have been orange, I am certain of that, but I’m not sure what colour they would have been)
Stinging Nettle (I can get this wild here, in fact I think I’ll just be transplanting some from a friend’s yard)
Things the Icelanders grew which I am not growing, because they require too much land and are readily available in the store:
Garlic (not because of the land use, but because it requires planting in the fall and I didn’t)
There are also a bunch of medicinal herbs that I am going to grow (most are still in seed form), but I will save those for another post. Right about now is the time to be getting things planted where I live, so that’s what I’ll be doing in the next week!
I have a few different projects on the go at the moment, but right at this very minute, I’m thinking about Summer Coronation coming up, and the idea of eating like a Viking for the entire time I’m at the event. As far as I can see, this shouldn’t be all that difficult to do. I’m going to the event solo, as my husband doesn’t participate (and could very well be working all weekend, for all we know at this point), and only have to worry about myself. As far as limitations go, I don’t have any true food allergies, and only have one real limitation on what I’m cooking with outside of working within the Viking Age/Iceland parameter, and that is that I don’t eat any fish or seafood. We do know that the Icelandic Vikings *did* eat a lot of fish, but they also ate a lot of other stuff as well, so I’ll be just fine. I am a bit of a fussy eater, so you are not likely to see me trying things that are really bizarre (to modern palates, or at least the pickier ones), such as fermented shark fin or whatever. I am also “allergic” to alcohol (it’s really alcohol flush syndrome), alas, but I can at least handle things with the alcohol content cooked out of them.
I was fortunate enough to have taken an ongoing class on medieval cooking many years ago, and I still remember a fair amount from it. It wasn’t specific to the Viking period, but has served me well in general when it comes to period cooking. To start, there are two basic categories when it comes to period cooking. The first is working from actual extant cookbooks. This largely applies to later period cooking, such as the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, as there is plenty of existing works from those times.
The second is what I call conjectural cooking – in which we take what we know about a place and time in terms of what was available for foodstuffs, and for preparation methods, and come up with plausible dishes based on those. This is what we mostly have to do with the Viking period, because (so far as I have seen) there is little to nothing available for actual extant recipes. I will be doing much of this, as well as trying out recipes and ideas that other folks have come up with.
If I get into lists of food available and such in this post, it’s going to end up so long nobody will read it, so for now, I present the menu I have come up with for Summer Coronation:
Friday: a travel day for me, and at the very most, I will be having dinner on site, but it will be cold meat, cheese, etc. that is easy to prep.
Saturday: this will be my main day for actually cooking
Breakfast – a porridge of barley, with blackberries, hazelnuts, honey and cream
Lunch – cold roasted chicken, flatbread, raw carrots and apples, and perhaps a salad of fresh vegetables if I am lucky (my cress may be ready to eat by then!). Also possibly a viking cheese, made by me!
Dinner – a stew made of beef, barley, onions, parsnips, and dill, likely with more flatbread on the side
For beverages, I generally keep to water at events, as I don’t drink, as I previously mentioned. For hot drinks, I will stick to peppermint tea, as peppermint was available in Iceland (It was mentioned in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeias as early as 1240 AD as an herbal remedy, and gained in popularity over the next two centuries) and I actually love peppermint tea.
Photo taken by Chris Jones used with permission as it was posted on Flickr under a Creative Commons license here.
I’m extremely excited about a few things that are coming up in the next few weeks. The first thing is Summer Coronation, which is happening on the first weekend in June. I haven’t been to an event since March, although I had planned to go to one in April and one in May. I ended up having to cancel out on Silver Arrow and TUA, because I have a rule that Real Life Comes First, always. Well, real life intervened and I ended up on a trip to Vancouver so that my husband could get a cornea transplant instead. This trip also resulted in my missing the hatching of my chicks completely.
My eggs had what I considered a poor hatch rate – 12 out of 24 eggs hatched, and we lost one chick after hatching – and I’ve heard from other chicken people that this is anywhere from an average hatch rate to a poor one. Due to not getting as many chicks as I’d hoped, I decided to find another source of Icelandic hatching eggs. This will also have the benefit of broadening the genetic pool within my flock. I am technically not supposed even have a rooster in my flock, due to the noise, and I’m not supposed to have more than 6 hens, but I know from a discussion with our bylaw office when I reported having gotten rid of a bird that had turned out to be a male last year, that unless my neighbours complain, nobody is going to come around and count my birds. Juveniles also don’t count. I’m hoping to keep a rooster out of my Icelandics, using a No-crow collar, both for protection of my flock, and to also hatch some eggs in the future. Apparently Icies go broody quite easily and frequently.
Anyways, I did find another breeder of Icelandic chickens within what I consider a reasonable distance of me… or at least it is since I will be travelling anyways. On June 2nd, I’ll be picking up another dozen eggs from Rhyant Rock Farms and popping them in the incubator when I get back from my Coronation trip. She has absolutely beautiful birds and I can hardly wait to see what I get from that batch.
I’ve also made arrangements to make a stop at Biggs Ranch on my way TO Coronation. Biggs Ranch is a breeder of Icelandic, well, everything, just about! They have Icelandic chickens, sheep, horses, and sheepdogs! I’m hoping to get an Icelandic sheepdog someday, but that’ll have to wait until after my current pup passes as he doesn’t like other dogs. Anyways, besides wanting to visit and photograph all their critters, I’m going to be picking up some fleeces from Icelandic sheep to work with on a big, long-term project I’ve been plotting for quite a while now. I can hardly wait to get my hands on it.
In the meantime, I’m starting some research on some Viking-age fibre preparation tools, specifically wool combs, a swift, and drop spindles, most likely based on the Oseberg ship grave finds. I need stuff to use to prepare all that fleece!
I don’t usually name my chickens until they’re a few months old. This is because I give them gendered names, generally, and I also want to see their personalities come out before I name them. I currently have a Lacey (she has a lacey pattern on her neck feathers), a Princess Peach (or Peaches) because she’s got a lot of peach feathers, and my two Silver Laced Wyandottes are Beatrice and Henrietta, just because they’re so pretty and prissy looking. I’ve also had a Trouble (he was… especially in that he turned out to be a rooster instead of a hen!), a Bella (because she was pretty… except she was also actually a rooster, so she became Beau instead), a Zelda (a female video game name to go with Princess Peach), a Sunny (she was a pretty gold colour and the feathers around her head looked like a sun) and a Meredith (she was Grey).
But two of my chicks have earned themselves descriptive names already… which was actually VERY common in the Viking period. Just think of Eiríkr Þorvaldsson, who most people know better as Erik the Red (Eiríkr hinn rauði in Old Norse), for his red hair. This little one up above is named Svartur, which is Icelandic for black. Of course, chicks change SO quickly that 2 days after naming her, she now has lighter spots on her wings and belly. Oh well. Once I know whether she actually is a hen or a rooster, she’ll gain a given name, and then I’ll probably add “inn svarti” to it, unless she shows some other prominent trait that would make for a better descriptive name.
This little one’s name is Lítill, which is Icelandic for Small. She was the second to last chick to hatch, and the youngest living chick (we lost the last one to hatch, as it was born with 3 different health issues), and is definitely the tiniest of them. She’s probably just a bit behind in her development compared to her siblings, but occasionally I worry about her a bit, especially this morning when I discovered they had emptied their food dish and it had gotten flipped over ONTO her, and she was trapped. She seemed fine when I rescued her, so it probably hadn’t happened too much prior to my coming in to check on them this morning.
The flock has 4 chicks whose main colour is a dark grey or black, and 7 whose main colour is lighter, ranging from a pale cream to yellow to grey, and all of those currently have some level of dark markings on their wing feathers, but chickens’ feather colouring and patterning can change 3-4 times before they hit full grown, so it will be interesting to watch how they develop.
I have a project I’ve been working on for a while now, but didn’t want to mention too much detail on until things got to a certain stage. It’s been in my Upcoming Projects list as “Secret Project #2 (codename: feather)” for a while now. As of last week, I’ve been clear to post about it, but due to a trip out of town for a cornea transplant for my husband, I haven’t had the chance to write or take photographs until now. But it’s finally time for details!
When my husband and I first moved to the north-eastern BC area, we originally only planned to stay about 5 years, but within a few months, we had fallen in love with the area and changed our minds, and in the process, decided we wanted to buy an acreage and start a hobby farm. We bought our first house in August of 2015, which was on a double lot and in an area where backyard chickens and bees were allowed, since we weren’t able to find a small acreage within our price range. That first fall we were in the house, we built a small chicken coop, and in the spring of 2016, I brought home a few hens. At first I just got mixed breed chicks, and then when I got tired of waiting for them to grow up enough to lay, I got my hands on a couple of year-old Silver Laced Wyandotte hens, which are beautiful chickens, and excellent winter layers (which I didn’t even know when I got them), and have been enjoying owning chickens and eating fresh eggs from my backyard since then.
But somewhere along the line, I discovered something I thought was really cool, and that I absolutely had to have. Icelandic chickens. There are Icelandic chickens. They are traceable back to the chickens brought to Iceland by the Vikings who settled Iceland. This is SO COOL.
Technically, they are what is called a Land Race, not a breed. A breed can be identified by physical characteristics – for example, my Silver Laced Wyandotte chickens can be identified by how they look, as well as other things. A land race is a “domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species” (quote from the wikipedia page for Landrace). In particular, the fact that the population of Icelandic chickens were isolated from the rest of the world by being on an island has contributed to the development of the Icelandic chicken landrace. They’re still domestic chickens, Gallus gallus domesticus, just like all chickens, but they have developed characteristics because of being isolated.
Being a landrace rather than a breed, Icelandic chickens don’t have a standardized appearance. There are all sorts of colours and patterns that they can come in, which makes for a lovely variegated flock.
In Icelandic, they are called Islenska hænan (Icelandic Chicken), Haughænsni (pile chicken) or landnámshænan (hen of the settlers).
I’m more than overdue for an update on my pink dress project, not to mention at least one post on another project I’ve started and finished in the last few weeks, but in the meantime, let’s talk about something else: spinning!
Most people these days, when you mention the word spinning, first think of using an exercise bike. That’s not what I’m talking about here… I’m using this in the traditional sense of the word. People need clothes to wear, to stay warm and to meet societal standards of covering up. It’s only the past few hundred years that ready-made clothes and/or fabric have been available to the general public, in any sense of the idea, and back when the Vikings lived, a woman pretty much had to take care of all of her family’s clothing needs. This meant spinning yarn to weave into fabric. In addition to clothing, this cloth was also used for ship sails and other things, so you can imagine women were kept very busy with spinning and weaving.
The spinning wheel was believed to have been invented sometime between 500 and 1000 in India. Despite this, the spinning wheel did not make it to Iceland until sometime in the middle of the 18th century. This means that for the entirety of the viking period, and indeed the entire medieval period/period of time covered by the SCA, spinning in Iceland was done solely via drop spindle.
It is said that it took 5 people to spin enough yarn to keep one weaver busy. I spin on both a drop spindle, and a wheel, and while the wheel is certainly faster in general, there is a phrase that spinners use modernly – “the wheel is faster by the hour, but the drop spindle is faster by the week”. What this means is that because the drop spindle is so portable, and you can pull it out whenever you have a moment, it’s much easier to fit in a few minutes of spinning here and there with a spindle, because you don’t have to go sit down at it to use it.
I’ve been proving this adage true myself this week. Drop spindles are lovely and portable – and I can bring it to work with me! I have an hour long lunch break, and I live too far from my workplace to go home for lunch, so between that and two 15-minute coffee breaks, I get about 75 minutes of spinning time per day. I recently pulled out my nicest drop spindle, which is a light-weight top whorl spindle made by Houndesign Spindles. It is small and light enough for spinning a fairly fine yarn. On this spindle, I’m currently spinning up some which merino wool, into a yarn that I’m intending to still be, at the most, a fingering weight, once it’s plied into a two-ply yarn. Originally I started spinning this with the intent of dyeing it and then weaving some trim for my new coat, but now that I’ve calculated the yardage I’ll need for that trim, it’s going to take me longer than I would like to spin it, so I’ve ordered some appropriate yarn for the trim, and I will turn this into something else once it’s finished.
While drop spindles were what was used in the viking period, this particular design of spindle is not accurate at all. I’m simply using it because I had it at hand and could just pick it up and start spinning. I’m currently doing some research on spindle designs that were actually used in the viking period, and expect to have a post up about that soon.