A&S Days

43 – spent the day being a Viking for the education program (elementary school day) at Upper Canada Village’s Medieval Festival. I mostly split my time between making a circular fishing net, combing wool for Kadlin to spin, and explaining all the things you can do with a dead animal (aka bone and antler are the plastic of the Middle Ages).

44 – down the research rabbit hole again. This time it was figuring out how to make a wicker eel trap, and hang my fishing net from a pole. Naturally, this involved looking at many pictures from manuscripts and archaeological finds.

45 – more research, this time on Merovingian purses – evidence for them being worn by women, and construction details. I have found extant examples of metal buckles I think I can make. I really hope shopping can count too, as I have ordered fabric for some new garb.

46 – Reading some new-to-me books on dyeing, browsing through two new books on Merovingians and Austrasians. The Merovingian book has some lovely pictures but is light on textile info; the Austrasian book is a disappointment because it is so basic. Also did a bit of gardening – I harvested most of my sorrel and some fresh onion greens for soup, and lettuce and arugula for salad.

47 – research on woad dyeing with a fermented urine bath, and found a copy of Sir Kenelm Digby’s recipe for mustard with horseradish. I promise I will not work on both of these recipes at the same time! Also did more knitting.

48 – more knitting, plus gardening and recipe planning. Read the 1596 book “A short introduction for to learne to swimme. Gathered out of Master Digbies Booke of the Art of Swimming. And translated into English for the better instruction of those who vnderstand not the Latine tongue.” By Christofer Middleton
Digby, Everard, Sir, 1578-1606., Middleton, Christopher, 1560?-1628 (found on Larsdatter, along with lots of pictures of people swimming. I also browsed through the book Early British Swimming (mostly the 16th C section).

49 – knitting (almost finished the first mitten – the fit isn’t as nice as I would like, but there is no time to rip it out if I’m going to finish the pair before they need to go to their new owner). Dyeing – I had a huge pile of rhubarb, so I boiled up a pound of the leaves while cooking the stems for future lunches. I strained out the leaves and now have a half pound of fleece simmering. Rhubarb is not a period dye plant, and the roots are much more likely to give a good colour (reddish), while the leaves are normally used to make a mordant. However, I have read that the leaves will also give a decent yellow, so I’ll leave them to soak overnight, then add some salt as a fixative and see what happens.

50 – half way there! More knitting, plus redoing the rhubarb. It was a disappointment. (Update – it’s still disappointing)

51 – tablet weaving, which felt really good. It’s nice to be back to a project that is work and is truly medieval

52 – knitting. The first mitten is finally done and I have started the cuff of the second one.

52 – Several hours of tablet weaving. I managed to tangle things up today. I got it untangled, then started working my tablets in the wrong direction. I caught it relatively quickly, but decided to leave them and just work correctly from there on, largely because the piece to that point should be enough for a coat cuff (my intended use). I kept working until a thread broke.

53 – I’m counting research as A&S today. I tried dyeing with rhubarb leaves earlier this week and it did very little to the wool (though rhubarb is supposed to be a good mordant). Today I have been looking up how dye with elderberries (promising, and I have some in my freezer), buckthorn bark (not brilliant, but worth trying if only to get rid of the buckthorn near my fence), and annatto (I bought a bunch on my last trip to El Salvador for cooking but I rarely use it to cook. Besides – so much orange!). Barberry, lilac twigs are in the mix too – I like barberries but my plant is still small, while I hate lilacs and the neighbour’s is growing into my yard. Since I love green but my woad and weld won’t be ready for a bit, I also looked at possible green dyes from other sources. So far, I have ruled out pigweed, lily of the valley and bindweed (despite promises on various sites, the colour don’t seem to be very good). I also looked up make my own verdigris (easy, but I’m not certain it will work on textiles), and how to make my own copper sulfate (much harder because I need to get hold of sulfuric acid). Now to save website links or print instructions so I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.n Tonight, I’m off for an early dinner with friends, and then to see the RCMP Musical Ride. Hopefully the rain has ended, though I doubt it will be nice enough for a picture like this, which I took at their show in 2014: RCMP


I started a hat in Mammen stitch using a circular start and adding stitches from the crown. It’s the first time I have been really happy with a circular cast on.

I also worked on a new fishing net suitable for a small weir in a stream. Here I am working on it:

upper canada village 013.JPG

I ended my day learning to use Jorunn’s warp weighted loom.

40 – knitting and naalbinding

41 – I spent the day with the Dark Ages Recreation Company (DARC) at the Medieval Festival at Upper Canada Village. It was mostly a day of talking about textiles with visitors, but I did manage to finish a Mammen stitch bag to hold my phone, complete with a strap so I can hang it around my neck or tie it to my knapsack. I am forever dropping or misplacing it because I don’t use pockets in most of my clothes. The wool was from an unsuccessful dyeing experiment the last time we were at L’Anse aux Meadows. We were trying some sort of seaweed in a salt water bath. Seaweed (at least this kind) did not make a very good dye bath.


I raced home afterwards so I could meet up with Tomas de Courcy, who blogs lots about cooking. We geeked out over cookbooks and recipes all through dinner. I’m totally counting this as part of #100daysofas.

This three-legged stool is patterned after an oak stool seat from 16-22 Coppergate (more info on this can be found in “Wood and Woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York” by Carole A. Morris (York Archaeological Trust, 2000, p. 2303-2304). Similar stools have been found in 10th and 11th C levels in Winchester, Dublin and Lund.

Mine is made from a leftover slab of pine that was in my basement, and parts of two boat oars (also pine, from my basement). Though the wood is different and it’s a little thinner than the original, the length and height dimensions are correct. The leg height was based on a what felt comfortable as a seat. My friend Aelfwyn kindly drilled the holes for me so that they are on a slight angle for greater stability, and cut the oars to length while she was at it. She has an awesome workshop filled with power tools that she uses to make many beautiful things when she isn’t helping her tool-impaired friends with projects. My job was to clean the varnish off the legs, then whittle the tops to fit as pegs in the holes, and clean up the seat so it is nice and smooth. The original was from a split board, rather than a cut board like mine, and doesn’t have any knotholes. Mine won’t pass a serious authenticity test, but it will work for most or my Viking age recreation activities. The pile of shavings on my floor today was impressive. I probably should have worked outside where I took this picture.


Way back when, somewhere in the mid-late 1980s, I ran across naalbinding in Margarethe Hald’s book Danish Textiles in Ancient Bogs and Burials. I was fascinated. I wanted to learn this thing. I wanted to do all the stitches. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at translating two dimensional pictures into three dimensional objects, and no-one I knew was doing naalbinding at the time.

Eventually, I did figure out enough to make socks, mitts and hats, in something that sometimes looked like Coppergate stitch, and other times looked more like a basic basket weave. I acquired other books on naalbinding. I tried really hard to figure out Odd Nordland’s stitch notation system from Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Knitting. I tried Lawrence Schmitt’s system. I got my then-apprentice Eluned to show me how she did it.

Eluned kept telling me to look at YouTube for really good instructions that might last longer than a brief lesson with her, but I never did, until yesterday. Hallelujah! I am now addicted to the Finnish/English instructions found here. This morning I dug out a skein of yarn and started working at it. I am now well into the second row for a bag to hold my phone. I may be late to the YouTube instructions party, but I’m celebrating now.

I spent some time looking up soap recipes and history, and information about soapwort. I was recently given some plants which I want to use for making soap, since it is native to Europe, and it appears I already had some growing in my yard (aka mystery plants that were too pretty to mow): IMG_0575

This is a very helpful site with medieval and renaissance recipes for both hard and soft soap, and links to more: Medieval Soap Making. For more history, Wikipedia’s links seem to be about as good as it gets, though Roger Pearce has done some good sleuthing to show that neither Galen nor the Ebers papyrus are solid evidence for soap, as such. Culpeper (1616-1654) writes: that “bruised and agitated with water, i raises a lather like soap, which easily washes greasy spots out of clothes” (Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, reproduced from an original edition published in 1826, Magna books, 1992, p. 162). Using soapwort looks pretty simple – basically I need to chop up leaves and stems, add water, and stir it up. I can even dry the plant and use it throughout the year. The roots may have more saponification properties, but I don’t want to dig up the roots and lose my plants. I noticed more soapwort in fields near the barn where my horse lives; if I can get out that way again before the flowers disappear, I’ll try harvesting them.

33 – knitting

34 – knitting

35 – oyster recipe research, and Conyng, Hen or Mallard from Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books (recipe)

In the Middle Ages, the Advent period, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, was a time of reflection, penitence and fasting. This meant that people were not supposed to eat meat or dairy, but instead ate vegetarian foods, fish and shellfish. While poorer people living near the ocean might have access to fish and shellfish, futher inland only the wealthy could afford to import items like sturgeon, eels and oysters. Depending on geography and religious practice, Christmas feasts took place on 25 December, on 1 January or on 6 January. (1)

OYSTERS IN GRAVY from Forme of Curye [Rylands MS 7], found in Curye on Inglysch: English culinary manuscripts of the fourteenth century (including the Forme of cury). Early English Text Society. Constance B. Hieatt, Sharon Butler (eds.). London: Oxford University Press. 1985:

Cxvix. Schyl oysters and seeth hem in wyne & in har owne broth, cole the broth thorow a cloth, take almaundes blaunched, grynde hem & drawe hem up with the self broth & alye hit with flour of ryse & do the oysters therinne, cast in poudour ginger, sugur maces, qbybus & salt, seeth hit not to stondyng & serve hit forth.


XX.VI. I. Schyl Oysters and seeþ hem in wyne and in hare own broth. cole the broth thurgh a cloth. take almandes blaunched, grynde hem and drawe hem up with the self broth. & alye it wiþ flour of Rys. and do the oysters þerinne, cast in powdour of gyngur, sugur, macys. seeþ it not to stondyng and serue forth.

OYSTRES EN GRAUEY from Ms. 279, found in Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian Ms. 279 (Ab. 1430), & Harl. Ms. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole Ms. 1429, Laud Ms. 553, & Douce Ms. 55, edited by Thomas Austin for the Early English Text Society, 1888:

ixl. Take gode Mylke of Almaundys, an drawe it wyth Wyne an gode Fysshe brothe, an sette it on the fyre, and let boyle; and caste ther-to Clowes, Maces, Sugre an powder Gyngere, an a fewe parboylid Oynonys y-mynsyd; than take fayre Oystrys, and parboyle hem in fayre Water, and caste hem ther-to, an lete hem boyle to-gederys; and thanne serue hem forth.

Another version from the same book:

Oystres in grauey. Take almondes, and blanche hem, and grinde hem, and drawe hem thorgh a streynour with wyne, and with goode fressh broth into gode mylke, and sette hit on the fire and lete boyle; and cast thereto Maces, clowes, Sugur, pouder of Ginger, and faire parboyled oynons myced; And then take faire oystres, and parboile hem togidre in faire water; And then caste hem there-to, And lete hem boyle togidre til they ben ynowe; and serue hem forth for gode potage.

OYSTERS IN BREWETE from Thomas Awkbarow’s Recipes in Liber Medicinarium (MS Harley 5401)England, 2nd half of 15th century, found at Thomas Gloning’s website:

72. Recipe ostyrs, & shell þam & seth þam in clene water. Grind peper & saferon, brede & ale, & temper it with þe broth of þe ostyrs þerin, & boyle it & cast in salt, & serof it forth.

OSTYRS IN GRAVY from the same manuscript:

77. Recipe ostyrs, & shell þam & seth þam in wyne or in watur; grind þam & draw þam vp with þe brothe, & alay it with þe flour of ryce, & do þerto þe ostyrs; & cast þerto powdyr of gynger, sugur, maces, quibibs, salt, & seth it to it be standyng & serof.

OYSTERS IN GRAVY from Enseignements qui enseingnent a apareillier toutes manieres de viandes(France, ca. 1300 – D. Myers, trans.), found at MedievalCookery.com:

Oysters in gravy, first cooked in water and onions, with pepper and saffron and with an aillie of almonds. Oysters again with salt and bread well leavened.

WIE MAN OSTER MACHEN SOLL / HOW ONE SHOULD PREPARE OYSTERS From Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin (Germany, 16th century), found in German at Welserin/Gloning and in English translation at Welserin/Friedman

197 Ostergi wascht saúber sý saúber vnnd thúts aúf, saltzts vnnd pfefferts/ vnnd legts aúf den rost jn den halben schalen, darin jr gefonden habt, vnnd giest pútter daraúff, als jn
der schallen, vnnd last es jn ainer gúten glút pratten/ als ainer ain bar air jset/ alsdan gebts aúf den tisch warm, das der pútter darbeybleibt.

How one should prepare oysters. Wash the oysters very clean and open them, salt and pepper them and lay them on the grill in the half shells in which you have found them. And pour butter on them, that is, in the shells, and let them roast in a good heat as long as one roasts eggs. Then bring them warm to the table, so that the butter remains in them.

HOW OYSTERS ARE COOKED from The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book by Maestro Martino de Como, translated by Jeremy Parzen, University of California Press, 2005, p. 102:

Oysters are cooked over hot flaming coals, and when they open they are done, and they can beaten. They should be removed from their shell, fried in a little oil, and topped with some ver-juice and strong spices.

HOW TO COOK OYSTERS from Libre del Coch (Italian, 1529), found at Libre del Coch:

229. Oysters are eaten fried with oil, and your pepper, and saffron, and your spices, and orange juice; and cast into your escabeche with your bay leaves.

And they are eaten roasted with your pepper.

And they are eaten boiled in your water, and oil, and spices gently fried first with your onion and oil in a frying-pan; or the onion gently fried alone in the frying pan; and cast in the pot with vinegar to taste, and some good herbs.

And they can be cooked in a casserole with your water and oil and spices and good herbs with onion gently fried in your frying-pan, and cast within, and your little taste of vinegar.

OYSTER RAGOUT from Le Viandier de Taillevant (French, 15th C), found at Viandier:

79. Scald them, wash them well, and fry them in oil. Take browned bread, puree of peas or some of the water in which the oysters were scalded (or other hot boiled water), and wine (mostly), and sieve. Take cassia, ginger, cloves, grains of paradise and saffron (for colouring), steeped in vinegar. Add onions fried in oil, and boil together. It should be very thick. Some do not boil the oysters.

OYSTERS, from Viandier:

135. Oysters. Cook them in water, fry them in oil with onions, and eat them in Oyster Ragout, or with Spice Powder or Green Garlic Sauce.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L’arte et prudenza d’un maestro Cuoco (The Art and Craft of a Master Cook) by Terrence Scully (University of Toronto Press, 2011) offers many recipes for oysters. There are recipes for oysters crostata (207), with truffles in a thick soup (214), and grilled, braised or fried – served in their shells or on bread, and with herbs, spices, green sauce, or most commonly with orange juice and pepper (184-189). These recipes are all too complicated or expensive for this particular project, so I am leaving them aside for the mm

OYSTERS IN GRAVE from the Wagstaff Miscellany (Beinecke MS 163, about 1460) found at Wagstaff, copyright © 2013 by Daniel Myers, MedievalCookery.com

35.  Schelle oystrys in to a pott and swette ther withe put ther to fayre watyre perboyle heme take hem up put hem yn fayre watyre peke heme clene blaunche almondys grynde hem tempyre heme up withe the same brothe draw up a goode mylke do hit in a pott withe onyons and hole spycez and a lytylle poudyre of sygure boyle hit to gedyre & doo the oystres ther to & serve hit forthe & caste ther yne zoure[?] dragge of hole spicys a bovyne & blaunche poudyre.

HUÎTRES / OYSTERS from Le Menagier de Paris, 1393 found at Huitres and my translation:

Les huîtres sont d’abord lavées dans de l’eau chaude puis mises à bouillir afin que leur saveur reste dans le bouillon ; il ne faut pas écumer. Oter ensuite les huîtres et les faire frire, si l’on souhaite ; en mettre une partie dans les écuelles et se servir du reste pour faire un plat.

The oysters are first washed in hot water then put to boil so that their flavour stays in the broth; they should not come to a full boil. Then remove the oysters and fry them if you wish, put some in bowls and use the rest to make a(nother) dish.

Civet d’huîtres from Menagier de Paris and and The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Ménagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book, translated by Gina L Greco and Christine M. Rose, Cornell University Press, 2012:

130. Ecalez et lavez bien les huîtres, portez-les à ébullition et ôtez-les aussitôt du feu ; égouttez-les et faites-les revenir avec de l’oignon cuit dans l’huile. Prenez du pain grillé ou des croûtons de pain à foison, mettez-les à tremper dans du bouillon de légume ou dans le bouillon d’huîtres, ajoutez du vin et passez. Prenez de la cannelle, du girofle, du poivre long, de la graine de paradis ainsi que du safran pour colorer, broyez et délayez dans du verjus et du vinaigre, puis mettez de côté. Broyez alors votre pain grillé ou vos croûtons avec du bouillon de légumes ou celui des huîtres, ajoutez les huîtres au cas où elles ne seraient pas assez cuites.

130. Oyster Civet. Scalde and wash the oysters well. Cook them just until they reach a boil, then drain and fry with onion cooked in oil. Soak toasted bread or plenty of breadcrumbs in vegetable stock or in the water the oysters were boiled in, add plain wine, and strain. Grind cinnamon, clove, long pepper, grain of paradise, and saffron for color, and moisten with verjuice and set aside. Then grind up toasted bread or breadcrumbs with the vegetable stock or oyster water, and also the oysters, since (if) they will not have been cooked enough.

BAKED OYSTERS ON THE HALF-SHELL from Henry Buttes, Dyets Dry Dinner (1599), found in Big Buttes Book by Michelle Enzinas, Five Rivers Publishing, 2016, p. 403.

Dress it with pepper, oil, the juice of sour Oranges: after it be roasted on the embers.

Michelle recommends baking for 15-20 minutes over hot coals (which give a lovely smoky flavour) or in an oven at 450F. The shells will open and the oyster flesh will be firm. Drizzle the oysters with a dressing made of sour orange juice, olive oil and pepper. Buttes says that the oyster “is unfortunate and unwholesome in all months that have no the letter R in their name, because it is then venerious (given to lechery) (Buttes, p. 402). This is the first reference I have ever seen for something I heard regularly about fish shellfish growing up: it was only good to eat in the months with an R in them (ie September to April). Presumably the hot summer months increased the risk of food poisoning.

Now for a confession – I don’t really like oysters. However, I think I’ll be able to do one of these recipes where they are boiled in their shells and then cooked with onions and spices. Until I get a chance to acquire oysters to try cooking, enjoy this lovely image of an oyster from 1350 Flemish bestiary:


Jacob van Maerlant, Der Naturen Bloeme, Flanders 1350, Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KA 16, fol. 108v (you can see all sorts of animals from this bestiary here. Click on the “images” link at the bottom to scroll through.