Beowulf: A Complex and Tormented Hero

Beowulf: A Complex and Tormented Hero

By Tim Hazell

 

From North Atlantic mists came fabled voyagers such as Saint Brendan. He is said to have landed on Irish shores in the sixth century with fourteen monks to found the monastery of Clonfert in Galway. The light vessel in which they made their dangerous crossing was a curragh or little boat of wooden ribs covered with tanned ox hides caulked with tallow. Legend has taken liberties with facts, but these navigators from antiquity stand out as personalities whose accomplishments ring true.

 

The Vikings have an assured place in history as shrewd and audacious visionaries on the doorsteps of discovery. The following passages are taken from “Beowulf,” a powerful classic of Old English literature. Its hero, a complex and tormented man, emerges from a world tinged with melancholy, blood and grief.

 

It came in his mind

to bid his henchmen a hall uprear,

a master mead-house, mightier far

than ever was seen by the sons of earth,

and within it, then, to old and young

he would all allot that the Lord had sent him,

save only the land and the lives of his men…

 

The great community, of which England was a part, included Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, and the Faeroes, stretching as far as the Vinland settlement that extended from what is now Newfoundland along the coast to modern Maine. Hostile native tribes put an end to long-term plans for New World colonization for the next 500 years. 

 

These preparations for sugar-cured salmon and sweet mustard are holiday fare in true Viking spirit! 

 

Gravlax

 

Ingredients:

2 bunches fresh dill

1 3-1/2 to 4 lb. boned and fileted center-cut section of fresh salmon (will produce two equal size filets)

1/4 cup coarse salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. coarsely ground white peppercorns

 

Directions:

Cut off and discard dill stems. Pat fish dry with paper towels; do not rinse. Combine sugar, salt, and pepper. Rub mixture into filets. Spread 1/3 of the dill over the bottom of a flat dish. Add one of the salmon fillets, skin-side down. Cover with another 1/3 of the dill. Add the remaining piece of salmon, making a sandwich effect over the dill, skin-side up. Cover with the remaining dill and place a plate on top. Add a reasonably heavyweight (brick or heavy book) and let stand in a very cool place for 48 hours, turning the salmon–dill “sandwich” every 12 hours, always re-covering with the plate and weighing it down. When salmon is cured, slice thin on the bias and serve with rye bread and mustard-dill sauce below:

 

Mustard-dill sauce

 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

2 tsp. dry mustard

6 tbsp brown sugar

1/4 cup white vinegar

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Pinch of salt

 

Directions:

Combine the Dijon mustard, dry mustard, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir in the vinegar, using a wire whisk. Gradually add the oil, stirring rapidly with the whisk. Add the dill and salt. Taste and correct the flavors. Yields about 1-1/2 cups.

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