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A Christmas feast in Iceland in 1300 with the Templar Knights



The longhouse was adorned with candles and festive greenery as the family prepared for the Christmas feast. During this cold, dark time of year in Iceland, such a lavish meal was a rare and welcomed treat. The Templar Knights had arrived by ship only a week before, but with friendships formed and celebrations underway, the Knights were invited to a feast, perhaps their last major celebration before they continued their mission and set sail on their dangerous path to the west.

The table was laden with smoked fish like trout, salmon, and arctic char. Also served was saddle of lamb smoked over birch and juniper boughs. Fermented shark meat, called hákarl, was an acquired taste saved for special occasions. Root vegetables like turnips and potatoes roasted over the fire provided warmth and sustenance.

Skyr, a rich Icelandic yogurt, was served with berries like crowberries and bilberries that had been preserved since autumn. Mead and ale were the drinks of choice, served in ornate horns to hold the beverage.

After the hearty meal, musicians played traditional Icelandic songs on fiddle and langspil as the family danced in celebration of Christmas. Though outside the bitter wind howled, inside all were filled with gratitude for food, fellowship, and enduring centuries-old traditions during the festival of light in the darkness of midwinter.

Some dishes that may have been enjoyed during an Icelandic Christmas feast in the 1300s:

  • Smoked salmon and trout

  • Roast saddle of lamb

  • Fermented shark meat

  • Roasted root vegetables

  • Skyr yogurt with preserved berries

  • Mead and ale

  • Smoked or cured meats

  • Dark rye breads

  • Dried fruits

The feast reflected Iceland's harsh climate, with preserved meats and foods that provided sustenance through the winter months. Traditional Norse cuisine and flavors were also featured. Despite the brutal cold, Christmas brought celebration into homes and respite during the darkest days.


Roast Saddle of Lamb

Ingredients:

  • Lamb saddle, bone in (2-3 lbs)

  • Salt and pepper

  • Fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs

  • Olive oil or rendered lamb fat

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F or prepare the smoker. Pat lamb dry and trim off excess fat. Season generously with salt and pepper.

  2. Place lamb fat side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Tuck fresh herbs under the meat.

  3. Roast for 60-90 minutes until internal temperature reaches 145°F, basting periodically.

  4. Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Slice and serve with pan juices.

Smoked Trout

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole trout, cleaned and descaled

  • 1 cup salt

  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar

  • 1 tbsp juniper berries, crushed

  • Wood chips or logs (birch, alder, maple)

Instructions:

  1. Make brine by boiling 1 cup water with salt, sugar and juniper berries. Cool completely.

  2. Submerge trout fillets in brine for 1 hour.

  3. Preheat smoker to 180°F. Smoke trout for 2-4 hours until opaque and flaky.

  4. Serve trout lightly browned and infused with sweet smoke flavor.

Fermented Shark Meat (Hákarl)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb shark meat, cut into strips

  • 2 tbsp salt

  • Fermentation container

Instructions:

  1. Layer shark meat and salt in the container, sealing completely.

  2. Ferment 3-6 months until cured.

  3. Rinse cured shark meat before eating. Enjoy the pungent, ammonia-rich flavor.

As these dishes show, Icelandic Christmas feasts centered around the local ingredients like fish, lamb, and wild herbs that were available despite the harsh winter climate. The curing and fermenting preserved food when fresh was scarce.


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