Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Another sort of shipboard victuals.

Today, December 20 …

In 1853, the good ship “Sir Edward Parry” left Plymouth on this day, bound for South Australia, its passengers hungry for the gold recently discovered in the colony. They were usually pretty hungry on the three month voyage too.

The recommended ration for adults aboard emigrant ships run by “respectable shipowners” was:

Every day: 8oz. of “ships’ biscuit”, 6 oz. flour, 3 oz. oatmeal, and 3 Quarts of water.
Meat: Saturdays: 8 oz. Beef ; Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 6 oz. pork; Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday: 8 oz preserved meat.
Weekly: Coffee: 2 oz.; Tea 1 ½ oz; Treacle 8 oz.; Raisins 8 oz; Suet 6 oz; Pease 2/3 pint; Rice 12 oz; Butter 4 oz; Cheese 4 oz; Preserved Potatoes 8 oz.
Also each week: mixed pickles one gill; mustard, ½ oz., salt 2 oz. and pepper ½ oz.

Many passengers supplemented the ration with personal supplies, but it was still pretty grim fare for most, particularly when you take into account that the flour and biscuit would almost certainly have been weevily, and the meat so heavily salted and tough as to be uneatable except by the very hungry.

The preserved potatoes were almost always hated. One emigrant to New Zealand in 1879 wrote “We had preserved potatoes today for the first time. None of our Mess could eat them so we threw them overboard”. Many preserving methods were tried, but the usual method for use at sea involved covering them with quicklime, which must certainly have added something to the flavour. A simple drying method would have kept them more palatable, but keeping them dry on board ship would have been impossible.

If you have a bumper crop, you could try the recipe from the very useful book “Enquire Within Upon Everything” (1894).

Preserving Potatoes
The preservation of potatoes by dipping them in boiling water is a valuable and useful discovery. Large quantities may be cured at once, by putting them into a basket as large as the vessel containing the boiling water will admit, and then just dipping them a minute or two, at the utmost. The germ, which is so near the skin, is thus destroyed without injury to the potato. In this way several tons might be cured in a few hours. They should be then dried in a warm oven, and laid up in sacks, secure from the frost, in a dry place.

Tomorrow: Drowning in Armagnac.

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