From the 'Mediaeval Fun' Files
This charming litte wood carving is a detail from the choir stalls in Roskilde Cathedral in Danmark. They date to 1420 and show scenes from the Creation to the Last Judgement. This particular one is the scene of Cain slaying Abel, his interview with God ('And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?') and God cursing Cain.
The weapon Cain uses is so very Scandinavian. *grin*
Roskilde Cathedral, detail from the choir stalls
Yes, it's a stockfish. You gotta love how Cain is not only killing his brother with a dried cod, but also drags the thing after him when he sulks off.
Of course, stockfish isn't hard enough to kill someone with, but the scene shows how important the stockfish trade was in the Middle Ages, esp. during the high time of the Hansa League. Fish was food allowed during times of fasting, and drying the fish in the air was one of the easiest methods of preservation. Stockfish will keep for several years.
Even today you can see stockfish racks (hjell
) on the Lofote Islands and the coasts of northern Norway. Some of it is used in Norway itself, but most of the stockfish is sold to Italy, Croatia, and Africa.Stockfish racks on the Lofote Islands, with rorbuer in the foregroundRorbuer
are former fisherman's huts. A lot of them have today been re-equipped as comfortable self catering holiday cabins.
Stockfish season starts in February. The cod is beheaded and cleaned off its intestines, then hanged up on the racks in pairs by the tailfins. The snow will protect if from insects, and the average temparature, slighlty above zero °C, is the best for drying cod. During the next three months the salty air will ferment and dry the fish which is going to lose 70% of its water, but keeps its amount of calcium, iron, and vitamine B.
One of the reasons stockfish is no longer so popular in Scandinavian cuisine is the fact that it has to be watered for a week in a cool room, and the water has to be changed daily. That's more work than most people are willing to put into the preparation of their dinner today. Some stockfish in the Hansa Museum in Bergen
The bundle of stockfish is real, btw, and the room was filled with a distinct odour - not unpleasant, but strongly ... maritime.
Export of stockfish (to England) can be traced as far back as 875. Stockfish was Norway's most important export article already in the 11th century. King Håkon IV Håkonarson (1217-1263; the one who died shortly after the Battle of Largs) then gave the town of Bergen the exclusive right of trade to the north, that is, all trade from the towns and villages north of Bergen, including the Lofote Islands, had to go via Bergen; the fishermen could not sell their wares directly. Bergen would remain the trade centre of Norway for the next 800 years. The king and the church would get a fair amount of taxes, thought the kept quarreling about who was going to get how much.
I'll get back to the role of Bergen and the Hansa League sometime. The list of blogposts-yet-to-be-written is growing faster than I can work it off. ;)