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Archaeologist Daniel Serra speaks about Viking Age food

Daniel Serra is an archeologist who is currently working on a doctoral thesis about Viking Age food.

Daniel Serra is an archeologist who is currently working on a doctoral thesis about Viking Age food.

Alanna Pals (‘19) | Chips

Alanna Pals (‘19) | Chips

Daniel Serra is an archeologist who is currently working on a doctoral thesis about Viking Age food.

Alanna Pals, Staff Writer

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The Nordic studies department in collaboration with Vesterheim: The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center sponsored a lecture titled “Viking Age Food” by Culinary Archaeologist Daniel Serra. Approximately 110 people attended the lecture in Olin 102 on Oct. 3, and the audience consisted primarily of Nordic studies majors and minors, students currently enrolled in a Norwegian language class, and community members.

Serra discovered his interest in Viking Age food while studying archaeology in the 1990s. He has experimented with Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance recipes and later started a Medieval catering company. Serra is currently a doctoral student in archaeology and is working on a thesis about Viking Age food culture. Vesterheim invited Serra to come from Malmö, Sweden thanks to a three-year grant that aims to build a closer working relationship with the Nordic studies program and introduce Scandinavian folk culture and language to the next generation.

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Speaker Daniel Serra wrote “An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey.”

Serra sought to answer the question, “Why would an archaeologist study food?” during his lecture. Serra answered by explaining that archaeology is about history and that food presents history in a way that shows power, ideology, religion, and allegiances that people held.

“Food is interesting because it is food,” Serra said. “Especially if you not only talk about it, but [also] have a relationship to food.”

Emma Hennek (‘22) was intrigued by Serra’s response to the question of why archaeologists study food.

“It’s interesting to know more about [Viking] culture and how food was used as a form of social hierarchy,” Hennek said.

To represent the connections with Viking Age food, Norwegian cookies, Kringla, and coffee were offered after the lecture.

Nordic Studies Fellow Hannah Tulgren (‘18) wanted the lecture to represent the 150 years of connections to Norway through the study abroad programs and all aspects of Luther.

“A lot of people in Decorah love Nordic culture just because of the atmosphere of Decorah,” Tulgren said. “Once [they] saw [the word] Viking, I think it captured people’s attention, especially because it is an interesting time period.”

Serra also explained his research process, where he started with a basic understanding of the time period and its food. He then used his knowledge of archaeology to understand the ingredients used, which helped him analyze the food. When he determined the correct cooking equipment, he began experimenting with different cooking techniques and ingredient mixtures.

Serra explained that sometimes the pots and pans resembled an unleavened bread or fecal matter. He would use experimental archeology to figure out which it was.

“I thought it was funny how he was explaining that bread could be confused for different pottery or poop,” Madison Chesky (‘22) said.

Serra’s research experience required him to look through written evidence from the Anglo Saxons, medical remedies, and sagas from the Viking Age.

The recipes eventually had to be tested through experimentation. These experiments gave him an idea of how to use the pots and pans so that he could form a hypothesis. He would cook, make new observations, new hypotheses, and experiment more. When his research gave him complete recipes, he started his catering company and eventually put the dishes into a cookbook.

“I am looking into the food [itself] rather than just looking into the food as nutrition,” Serra said. “I’m looking into food as food culture.”

Serra has two books and is currently updating and translating the first one to English. Originally written in Swedish, “En sås av ringa värde och andra medeltida recept,” or “A Sauce of Limited Value and Other Medieval Recipes,” is about Danish 13th century food based on a manuscript from Denmark. His second book, “An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey,” was for sale after his lecture.

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