Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dishes for the deserted.

Today, February 1st ...

The man on whom Daniel Defoe supposedly modelled his character Robinson Crusoe was rescued on this day in 1709 from Juan Fernandez island off the coast of Chile.
Alexander Selkirk was a hot-headed Scot aboard the privateer “Cinque Ports” when he quarrelled with the captain about the seaworthiness of the vessel. Thinking to make a point, and expecting to be picked up fairly soon by another ship, he asked to be put ashore on the island. Although he regretted his decision immediately, ultimately it was the correct one as the ship sank with all hands a short time later. He was, however, marooned there for four years and four months.

The captain of the rescue ship, Edward Cooke, published a book about his voyage in 1712. He described Alexander’s food:

“.. living on Goats and Cabbages that grow on Trees, Turnips, Parsnips, &c. … He might have had Fish enough, but could not eat 'em for want of Salt, because they occasion'd a Looseness; except Crawfish, which are there as large as our Lobsters, and very good: These he sometimes boil'd, and at other times broil'd, as he did his Goats Flesh, of which he made very good Broth … in the Season had plenty of good Turnips, which had been sow'd there by Capt. Dampier's Men, … He had enough of good Cabbage from the Cabbage-Trees, and season'd his Meat with the Fruit of the Piemento Trees, which is the same as the Jamaica Pepper, and smells deliciously.”

Alexander’s main activity apart from finding food, and playing with his half-domesticated feral kittens and goats, was reading the Bible he had taken ashore. He said … he was a better Christian while in this Solitude than ever he was before, or than, he was afraid, he should ever be again”. He would have found “The family dictionary; or household companion” by William Salmon, published while he was away buccaneering, to be a very useful practical companion. It had chapters on medicines, animal husbandry, and the making of potable liquors, as well as cookery. Recipes like this might have given him some inspiration for varying his diet:

Venison to counterfeit another.
Bloody your Beef, or Mutton, in Sheeps, Lambs, or Pigs blood, or any Good New Blood; Season it as before, and Bake it either for hot or cold Eating. After this manner you may manage Young Pork, Kid, or Lamb.

Tomorrow: Boats and biscuits.

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