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Neolithic menus

 
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My friend AC is visiting me at the moment, and as an interesting exercise we have decided to try and cook ourselves a full meal that could have been available in Neolithic times - that is prior to farming and the introduction of many food crops to the UK. So we have to make do with just locally foraged foods from native plants.
So far we have had a wander round and come up with some ingredients. We did a small trial of some of the foods my friend has not before sampled: cooked pignut and woundwort roots for example. There are other plants that are available at different times of year - more spring shoots for example - and also we could include seaside products.
Our leaves haul included violet (dog and sweet), self heal, sorrel, bush vetch (vicia sepium), sea cabbage, good king henry ( I cheated on this one because this probably came in with the Romans, but fat hen is very similar and would have been available), small leaved lime (tilia cordata) and wild angelica. Also pictured are hazelnuts and hawthorne berries. The former seems to be having a good year this year and is what gave me the idea.
neolithic diet northern europe
leaves and fruit on Skye in September

The roots I have easily available and I know I like are pignuts (conopodium majus) marsh woundwort (stachys palustris) and silverweed (potentilla anserira) Unfortunately, when we tried the silverweed it seemed a bit bitter and stringy to me. It still has full leaf, so I believe that it probably should probably not be dug until later in the year - all the goodness would have been put in reserve by the plant. Every time I've tried it before I've found it quite sweet and pleasant. My friend seemed quite happy with it, but I'm not including the fresh roots in the meal. I do have a very smal quantity of dried roots that I've never got round to doing anything with, but we may be able to make a couple of tablespons of 'flour' with this which could be interesting.
neolithic diet northern europe
Marsh woundwort, silverweed and pignut roots

There are some more leaves that I can include but now I need some help in coming up with menus. I've got a few ideas and there are probably other foodstuffs that would be available in your area you can add in.
 
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Well done, Nancy! Knowing what to look for and when to look for it is half the battle - the other half is knowing how to prepare it. I'd love to see how you brought it to the table!
 
Nancy Reading
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So this might be desert sorted....
brambles.jpg
bramble ripe blackberries rubus fructicosus UK
Ripe blackberries for pudding!
 
Carla Burke
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Yum! Our blackberries died back, in July, from the crazy hot/dry weather. Those leaves also make a lovely, nourishing, health boosting tea.
 
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fun game! i’ve played it a few times, but i suppose somewhat more loosely, with both native and introduced plants. some parts of the year are definitely more tasty than others!
 
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I was a sceptic at first glance, but damn, this is really interesting stuff!
 
Nancy Reading
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Carla Burke wrote:Yum! Our blackberries died back, in July, from the crazy hot/dry weather. Those leaves also make a lovely, nourishing, health boosting tea.


Ah I hadn't even thought of a drink to go with the meal - various infusions are possible. I still have water mint, which I think would be allowed and I like. We did think of (hard) cider, since we have crab apples, but I don't have time to ferment it. Also since AC is vegan, the only sweetener I can obtain easily (honey) we are choosing not to use.

Greg and Douglas, It is interesting to see how people lived and what they ate, and also appreciate how lucky we are that we now have the range of food crops available from all over the world. I can cheat if I want which makes it easier, and I'm also not going to use an earth oven/fire pit for cooking! I do like an intellectual exercise, and have learnt a lot about which plants came in to the UK after the last ice age (Juniper being pretty much the first tree for example!)
 
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Absolutely, Nancy! Understanding how plants were returning to the North West of Scotland as the last Ice Age ended, and the first few thousand humans returned, is intriguing.

The best archaeobotany site for Scotland I've found is ScARF (the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework)'s one, which includes estimated grain variety Neolithic cultivation chronologies for various Scottish sites: https://scarf.scot/thematic/scarf-science-panel-report/4-people-and-the-environment/4-3-archaeobotany/

There is suggestive direct evidence that our forebears in Mesolithic Scotland were not just 'picking' but systematically managing hazels (Corylus avellana, which had established itself by c. 10,000 years ago) for food for example: Bishop, Church & Rowley-Conwy, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2014.11.004

While hazel shells were preserved at about 34/47 sites in that study, "Plant macrofossils from other woody taxa were very scarce in the assemblages: crab apple fruits and seeds [Malus sylvestris] and a possible pear (Pyrus sp.) pip were restricted to single assemblages and hawthorn [Crataegus monogyna] stones were discovered on just 2 sites."

Bishop et al.'s earlier summary concludes, "The  presence  of hazelnuts on most sites suggests that the plant was  routinely  and  systematically  exploited  and  stored  for  food  because  hazelnuts  were  only available for a limited period in the autumn. ..

"[O]ther  plant  remains  were  extremely  rare  in  the  Mesolithic  archaeobotanical  assemblages  reviewed.    however,    the    presence    of    the    carbonised remains of lesser celandine, seaweed, crab  apples,  hawthorn,  vetches/tares  and  fat-hen  in  several  assemblages,  together  with  the  ethnobotanic  evidence  .. [mean] it is likely that a much greater range of  plants  was  exploited  by  Scottish  Mesolithic  hunter-gatherers  than  has  been  identified archaeology."

Bishop, R., Church, M., & Rowley-Conwy, P. 2014. Seeds, fruits and nuts in the Scottish Mesolithic. https://doi.org/10.9750/PSAS.143.9.71

Rosie Bishop has an exciting new paper out on open access, a study at Northton Mesolithic site on Harris in the Scottish Outer Hebrides.

"The excavations uncovered abundant root tuber remains of Ficaria verna Huds. (lesser celandine), an excellent high energy and carbohydrate-rich food source, and produced the first evidence for the use of tubers of Lathyrus linifolius (Reichard) Bässler (bitter-vetch) at a hunter-gatherer site in Europe. "

But no fruit remains there, sadly! Bishop, R. R. et al. 'New evidence for the use of plant root foods in Mesolithic hunter-gatherer subsistence in Europe'. Veget Hist Archaeobot 32, 65–83 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-022-00882-1
 
Nancy Reading
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AC, We could have a try with Lathyrus linifolius if you like? I've only found rather tough small tubers so far - they have a licorice like flavour which may be useful if you like it. The plants are spreading into the field where the soil is better, so there may be bigger tubers now.
 
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Very interesting! As I live in tropical country, the first food that comes to my mind is palm heart, maybe raw and sweetened with jataí bee honey, a kind of small bumble bee, I guess.
 
Nancy Reading
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So we've eaten our meal and survived!
A few thoughts on foraging:

1) It is much easier to harvest leaves, nuts and berries than roots.

foraging neolithic food scotland
Which tuber is edible?

I imagine that as a community you would have various small people whose job it could be to scrabble in the earth and select out the good tubers. In the picture above most of the tubers you can see where AC was digging for woundwort are actually onion grass - a type of perennial grass with swollen rhizomes that look a bit like onions (and taste like anti-nail biting lotion) apparently people used to eat them, but I haven't worked out how they made them at all palatable yet.

foraging berries Scotland
Berries are much easier to harvest!

2) Knowing the area saves a lot of time.
Almost all the food was gathered from my coppice woodland, with also some hazelnuts, berries and rosehips  from along the river bank. Because I knew the area well I knew already where to look for the woundwort and hawthorne berries. The pignuts I dug out of my annual growing area - I am extending one of the beds and needed to dig out the couch grass anyhow so that too a bit longer than it should, but different plants grow well in different locations, so it probably saved quite a bit of time looking for violet leaves for example, because I had seen them flowering in spring.

foraging leaves wild angelica Scotland
Knowing where the wild angelica grows


AC and I had fun speculating how people would have gone about daily life foraging - They must have been pretty good at it to have any time for anything else!
 
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This might be a silly goofy question, but do you have a 'kit' that you take when you are out foraging? Like standard supplies that you find useful? Or do you know what you are looking for and plan that way?

 
Nancy Reading
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Hi Tim, There are no goofy questions on Permies (or maybe they all are?)!
Since I'm foraging on my own property, or thereabouts I don't need to worry too much about kit - it's easy to pop back in and pick up anything I need. Clean bags, a sharp knife and digging implements are what comes to mind. My sister in law gave me a cute foldaway belt pouch of waxed canvas and leather that is actually ideal for nuts and berries, since it enables both hands free.
a bit like these perhaps:

source
I had a quick look and I can't spot a thread on "what to take with you when foraging" - maybe you'd like to start one? Usually the thread you wants then pops up under similar threads
 
Timothy Norton
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Thank you for sharing that with me! I might start up a thread when I get my thoughts together on it. I'm a soon to be new forager so I'm still finding information!
Staff note (Nancy Reading) :

Thanks Timothy! - his new thread on foraging kits is here

 
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I leave honey for bees. If I can't grow sugar cane or sugar beets, I can try having agave grow. If there in sweetener otherwise I might use fruit yet more.

Growing everything for food is what I find most desirable to do, so sustainable a way to live it would for everyone if we live for us and our descendents to continue in this world.
 
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~~"So we have to make do with just locally foraged foods from native plants."

Really? Why?

Before gardens, people were opportunistic eaters. You ate everything that was available. If you can build a fire, you can place a flat rock over it. Add a little grease you have saved from the last bear you found or killed, and you have a nice way to cook whatever comes your way. Grasshoppers, worms, grubs from fallen/rotted trees, whatever you caught in traps or nets, birds/mice/squirrels/groundhogs, etc. Or you can use an animal's stomach or bladder as a pot. Hang it over a fire and fill with water for stews and soups. Or hang the "pot" and drop heated rocks into the water. You'll get a very fast boil. Add some wood ash for salt flavor and herbs you gather and whatever meat you found, and you have a great meal. Or go simple and eat the worms, etc., raw. Or spear them on a stick, to hang before a fire.

Before gardens, people had much more varied diets. But what they ate was far more dependent on seasons and weather. If you found a dead deer or managed to kill one, you gorged on meat. If early Spring, you ate lots of young skunk cabbage. People did dry lots of food, laying it in the sun to dry or hanging it in the rafters of their lodge, and that helped in times of snow. But, mostly, they enjoyed feast or famine. The better your family or community "witch" or herbalist, or your wandering hunter, was at their knowledge and job, the fewer occasions of hunger.
 
Nancy Reading
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This was our haul laid out to view before preparation:

neolithic man food Northern Europe Scotland foraging
Neolithic forage haul

Clockwise from top left:
hawthorne berries,
rosehips,
brambles,
crabapples (looks like these may be a cross with orchard apples),
pignut and marsh woundwort tubers,
good king henry (cheating a bit!)
mixed leaves for cooking (in black tray) including fat hen (we found some!), wild angelica and sorrel,
water mint (in mug),
ladies' mantle,
small leaved lime,
hazelnuts (in square pot, some de-hulled),
wild cabbage (more smaller leaves on wooden board),
mushrooms (cheat! from shop)
salad leaves and flowers (in rectangular punnet) including violet, baby angelica leaves, baby small leaved lime, sorrel, baby cabbage, bush vetch (vicia sepium) tips, selfheal, dandelion and wild cabbage flowers,

What would you have made?
I was intending a three course banquet, with salad to start, a layered bake for main course and brambles with hazelnut cream for pudding. Mint tea as accompanying drink. As it turned out we ran out of time a bit and had the salad in with the main course). I'll post some more pictures below.
 
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Somewhere we have a thread about "Preptember" September is Preparedness Month, at least in some places. As a learning and thinking and experimenting  exercise, I think this is wonderful.

I do believe that at the end of the last Ice Age, the British Isles was still attached to mainland Europe? I think that as much as these people were foragers and not farmers, we shouldn't underestimate just how much they would have known about plants and figured out about seeds, and although they may not have *intentionally* planted seeds (although in the case of Hazelnuts, I'd vote they did, as they were coppicing them way back!) they would have absolutely been dropping seeds in places the visit which may have tended to increase the density of the plant. I believe there's also a likelihood that they would have discouraged plants they found problematic.

We tend to use the term "caveman" in a semi-derogatory way at times, and I suspect that's unfair! They had different priorities and skill sets.
 
Nancy Reading
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It is believed that a pretty catastrophic event caused the seas to flood into what is now the North Sea and separate Britain from Europe in about 8200BC

source
I'm pretty sure that people 10000 years ago were just as intelligent as we are today (more so in some cases!) intelligence was just used in a different way. We may never prove much about the way they lived though.
 
Ac Baker
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I have been struggling to find nutritional information about the foods which we foraged for our Mesolithic menu.

However I did stumble on this important recent note:

"Foraged foods essential for rural women’s nutrition

"Securing access to forests and common lands that yield micronutrient-rich wild foods is crucial to enhancing the dietary diversity of undernourished people in vulnerable communities in India, researchers say. ..

"Women relied on vitamin-A and iron-rich leafy green vegetables such as chakwar (Senna obtusifolia), jute leaf (Corchorus olitorius) and fruits and vegetables like hog plum, bottle gourd and bamboo shoots, especially during June and July, when crops are still in the field and stocks from the previous year are low."

https://www.nature.com/articles/d44151-023-00105-0
 
Nancy Reading
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Have you seen this article AC: Perennial vegetable nutrition? It includes some information on Good king henry and small leaved lime. More research required perhaps...

neolithic forage food isle of skye
Our main meal spread


So we layered the leaves and vegetables with rosehips, roots and sliced pignuts and had accompanying salad, apple sauce and haw sauce. In our trials I found that the haw got bitter the more it was cooked, so we just mashed those and had them cold (spitting out the stones as we went!). The apples were quite sweet anyway (we think they were a cross with eating apples because they were a good size too) but cooked with a little angelica the result was very pleasant. I think the bake could have done with a bit longer in the oven - the pignuts were still not quite done even though they were sliced to help cook evenly.
native foods of northern Scotland
neolithic tureen under construction

We rinsed the Good king henry in boiling water to remove some of the saponins, although they should be destroyed with cooking as well I think. We also precooked the rosehips, mushrooms, ladies mantle and cabbage leaves slightly so they would fit in the loaf tin better. We cheated slightly on the seasonings. We were going to collect some wild thyme, but it started to slash down with rain by the time I remembered, so we used some dried garden thyme instead. Also we used a little bought sea salt. The small leaved lime leaves were a little older than I would normally use (in salads) so I cut them up quite finely to make them easier to chew, but everything turned out quite tender and easy to eat.

neolithic food for northern europe
A large serving of wild food


For pudding we had simple brambles (blackberries) with a hazelnut 'cream'. I used a hand held blender to make the cream, but I honestly think it would have been easier and quicker with a decent pestle and mortar. Mine is a little small, so I persevered...I didn't bother straining and it was delish!

vegan foraged dessert
berries and hazelnut cream


As accompaniment we had watermint tea which was refreshing and worked really well.

So the only things I would do differently is not gather so much, there was a fair amount left over, and cook the tureen for a bit longer. I think it had nearly an hour, but really the pignuts were not as digestable as they could have been. Everything we ate would be edible raw, so not an issue with safety, just with palatability.
I'm not sure what Neolithic people would have had for cooking utensils, but the bake could be done in a fire pit, as is still common in parts of the world. The only thing I'm not sure of is how they would boil water for peppermint tea?
 
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simplest water-boiling in that day’n’age was probably using a clay pot, and you add a rock that was heated in the fire to it.
 
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Oh, I hadn't seen that, really interesting thank you! (I would classify globe artichoke as a perennial vegetable itself).

"This study reports the results of nutritional composition testing of fourteen perennial vegetable species  .. perennial kale (Brassica oleracea), Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis), good king henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), sea kale (Crambe maritima), spinach vine (Hablitzia tamnoides), hosta “Big Daddy” (Hosta sieboldiana), orpine (Hylotelephium telephium), mulberry “Illinois everbearing” (Morus alba x M. rubra), sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), patience dock (Rumex patientia), scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica), littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata), and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). ..

"The reference vegetable species are okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), leek (Allium ampeloprasum), scallion (Allium fistulosum), asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), broccoli (Brassica oleracea Italica group), cabbage (B. oleracea Capitata group), cauliflower (B. oleracea Botrytis group), kale and collard greens (B. oleracea Acephala group), pak choi and Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa), pepper (Capsicum annuum), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), summer squash and zucchini (Cucurbita spp.), winter squash (Cucurbita spp.), globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), avocado (Persea americana), green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), pea (Pisum sativum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), eggplant (Solanum melongena), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), and sweet corn (Zea mays). ..

"For all but one of the nine nutrients studied, at least one perennial vegetable had nutrient concentrations higher than the reference vegetables (ranked very or extremely high). In the case of Zn, ten perennial vegetables were ranked very or extremely high. .. Many perennial vegetables are high in the nutrients needed to address nutrient deficiencies. Ten out of the 12 species tested ranked high or higher in multiple nutrients. .. The leaves of Urtica dioica [stinging nettle], Chenopodium bonus-henricus [good king henry], Morus alba x M. rubra [mulberry “Illinois everbearing], and Rumex patientia [patience dock] are especially notable in this regard .. ".
 
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Reading a book called 'People of the Wetlands' (Bryony and John Coles) - bodies dropped in bogs get well preserved, along with their last meal. Settlements submerged by rising water are also preserved, along with anything not rescued and the oddments between planks. The bog bodies reveal a gruel of various weed seeds - I'm guessing what's left over after the villagers have had their Spelt, for these folk give the impression of being travellers, outsiders.
I'm also guessing agriculture started when the seeds of food plants got deposited near their habitation - it's been found in N America that biodiversity hotspots coincide with historic habitation. The first UK foragers would have been coast dwellers.
So my garden is a collection of plants I enjoy eating, or fling in the pot for variety. Some UK native, some not. My burdock (Arctium, from wild seed) grows in an old bin or similar - much easier to harvest the roots than extracting from woodland soil, plenty of calories. I'm having difficulty growing ground elder (Aegopodium) - slugs love it. But Alexanders (Smyrnium) and Babington Leek are great winter greens.
 
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What a fun and challenging activity! And to have a friend who wanted to do it too, that’s awesome!
 
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