Friday, November 19, 2010

'Necessary Articles for Seafaring Persons'

A month ago I wrote about a new cookery book I had found on Google Books 'The London Art of Cookery' by John Farley published in a Twelfth Edition in 1811.

Near the end of the book there is an intriguing section titled, as above, 'Necessary Articles for Seafaring Persons'. As Britain was, and is, a seafaring nation and as many families would be closely connected with those at sea, I expect that recipes for food that could be taken aboard ship were eagerly sought.

The captain of a large naval vessel probably had little to do with his galley's food preparations, but like the mistress of a large country house, he had a need to understand every aspect of his establishment. If he could provide a suggestion or two to the cook, he improved the diet of the entire crew.

On the other hand, the owner of a small ship likely had intimate acquaintance with the sustenance he and his crew would need for their journey, however long. He probably chose the supplies and if his wife could suggest methods of preparation to keep the food edible, it was all to the good.

The article begins "As pickled mushrooms are very handy for captains of ships to take with them to sea, we shall here give directions for that particular purpose." Two methods of preservation are included:

Pickling involves boiling the mushrooms, then bottling with vinegar spiced with pepper, ginger, bay, mace and cloves. The vinegar is topped with 'mutton fat fried'. Then 'Cork them, tie a bladder, then a leather over them, and keep them down close, in as cool a place as possible.'

Drying the mushrooms is less labour-intensive but more time consuming. They are washed then put in a cool oven until completely dry (no time estimate is given). Then, 'put them into a clean stone jar, tie them down tight, and keep them in a dry place. They will keep a great while, and eat and look as well as truffles.'

A section entitled 'Ketchup to keep twenty years' intrigued me. The receipt begins with a gallon of strong stale beer: 'The stronger and staler the beer, the better will be the ketchup.' To the beer you add anchovies, shalots, mace, cloves, pepper, ginger and mushroom pieces. These ingredients are simmered, strained, cooled and finally bottled. "This may be carried to any part of the world; and a spoonful of it to a pound of fresh butter melted with make a fine fish sauce, or will supply the place of gravy sauce." One question occurs--how often do you obtain fresh butter at sea?

"Dripping will be very useful at sea, to fry fish or meat, and for this purpose it must be...potted." 'Good beef dripping' was spiced and sieved, let stand til cold, and covered. "The best way to keep any sort of dripping, is to turn the pot upside down, and then no rats can get at it." Oh, dear...

'Directions for steeping dried Fish' complete this section of the cookery book. "Every kind of fish, except stock-fish, are salted, or either dried in the sun, as the most common way, or in preparing kilns, and sometimes by the smoke of wood fires in chimney-corners..."

Fish were often steeped in milk and water, as much as twelve hours, though whiting, herrings and salmon took less time. Herrings were steeping in small beer rather than milk and water. After steeping, broiling while basting with sweet oil, was the preferred cooking method. "A clear charcoal fire is much the best, and the fish kept at a good distance, to broil gradually." Larger fish were usually simmered in milk and water. 'Some people broil both sorts after simmering, and some pick them to pieces and then toss them up in a pan with fried onions and apples. They are either way very good, and the choice depends on the weak or strong stomach of the eaters.'

I think a strong stomach was required indeed for Regency food at sea. But all of the above sounds better than the weevil-infested biscuits common in tales of the British Navy.

Next week, award-winning author Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee will be here discussing the Irish Act of Union 1800. Amanda/Laurel wrote her first romance at the age of sixteen--a vast historical epic starring all her friends as the characters, written secretly during algebra class (and her parents wondered why math was not her strongest subject...)

She's never since used algebra, but her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times BOOKReviews Reviewers' Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. Her new release, Duchess of Sin, under her Laurel McKee name, will be released by Grand Central Publishing in December. Please visit Laurel at

'Til next time,


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