You just can’t beat a good Celebration – the anticipation, the gift-giving, the music and the mouth-watering traditional foods to mark the special occasion. Thorrablot is no exception.
The Icelandic Midwinter festival extends from 19 – 25 January, the old month of Thorri, and originally honoured Thor. You don’t have to wave a hammer about to have a good time and, even better, you don’t have to actually eat the traditional food. But you can have a try at cooking it or, at least, some of it. You could even serve it up to guests.
Thorramatur – Tempting and Tasty Traditional Food for Thorrablot
For the midwinter feast, serve what was normal day-to-day food for Vikings. Choose natural food that’s been smoked, steeped in sour milk, salted, dried or kaestur (rotted meat).
Kaestur Hakari – A pleasant dish of putrefied Shark, prepared by burying it for several weeks and then hanging up to dry out. Chop it (you will need a small axe) into cubes.
Svith – A smoky-flavoured snack of singed and boiled sheep head. First burn away (svitha) all the wool from the head before cooking. Chop the head in half (once again with your handy axe), remove the brains and set aside for breakfast. Boil the head for an hour or so.
Svithasulta – Brawn made from Svith. Chop the meat from the cooked head, press into a mold and allow to cool. This shouldn’t take long in the Icelandic mid-winter. The liquid then turns into jelly. Delicious fresh!
Lifrarpylsa – Sausage made from the offal and liver of sheep and kneaded with rye flour
Sursathir hrutspungar – Testicles of rams pressed into blocks, boiled and fermented in sour milk. Very tasty!
Hangikjot – This is hung mutton and often eaten raw. You can also smoke and boil it. Your choice.
Selshreifar – Seal Flippers, also fermented in sour milk.
What? You don’t like the traditional food?
These traditional dishes may not appeal to you. To be honest, they don’t appeal to me and the pictures certainly don’t help. Vegetarians will recoil in horror but there were no vegetarians in ninth century Iceland.
These traditional foods are examples of the diet of hard-working, frugal people who survived, and thrived, in a rugged geologically active island and their diet produced hale and hearty citizens. For more than eleven hundred years, these people lived just outside the Arctic Circle, among lava fields, mountains, glaciers and glacial rivers.
How do you find food in a country like this? The traditional method of storing meat by submerging it in fermented whey certainly worked for them. I feel awe and admiration for those early settlers and for the Icelanders today.
I’m going to eat a light meal of smoked cod on dark rye bread this Thorrablot. The Icelander’s traditional bread was made by filling pots with sourdough and mixed grains, sealing the lids, and steaming the pots in geothermal springs. Sadly I don’t have a handy geothermal spring near me, but I’ll bake a loaf of dark rye and raise a glass of Brennivin (Iceland’s strong schnapps) in respect.
This may be a better idea all round.