Today is about Geography (including endemic wildlife) and Climate in the World Building Blog Fest hosted by Sharon Bayliss.
THE BARD’S GIFT is set in the late 14th century primarily in Greenland, Newfoundland (L’Anse aux Meadows) and up the Saint Lawrence River. I would love to be able to actually go to those places (and a few in between), but unfortunately I live on the opposite coast, so that’s just not practical right now. That means I had to do a lot of internet searches and find photographs that could inspire me.
My research did turn up some odd ball things. One of them was the Greenland shark. Yes, such a creature really does exist–and figure in my story. You can’t waste a find like that.
The Greenland shark is the most northerly of its kind and one of the largest–about the same size as a great white shark or up to 21 feet long and weighing over a ton. Parts of polar bears and reindeer have been found in the stomachs of Greenland sharks.
The flesh of the Greenland shark is actually poisonous. To make it edible, it must be either boiled, with several changes of water, or pressed and dried. Traditionally, this pressing was done by placing the gutted shark in a hole dug in gravelly sand. This hole also had to be on a rise, so that the liquids pressed out of the shark would drain away. Then sand, pebbles, and rocks were piled on top to press the shark meat. It was left this way for up to three months. Then it was dug up, cut into strips, and hung to dry for another four or five months. That’s a really long preparation time.
The cured shark meat, called kaestur hakarl, is still served as part of the midwinter meal in Iceland. It’s said to still have a strong ammonia smell, which causes many people to gag the first time they eat it. First timers are advised to hold their noses because the smell is supposed to be stronger than the taste.
I’m sorry. I don’t eat what can’t get past my nose. And no, I didn’t make my characters eat kaestur hakarl, either. The shark gets away.