Monday, July 31, 2006

“Black Tot” Day.

Today, July 31st …

A centuries-old Royal Naval tradition ended on this day in 1970 at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch (i.e at 11 am), when the last rum ration was issued. A black day indeed.

Before rum, there was beer. The sailors ration before 1731 was a gallon of beer a day, which sounds like a lot, but trimming sails and doing things with yardarms was thirsty work. In 1731 for reasons which are unclear but which no doubt have some economic rationale, half a pint of rum was made equivalent to the gallon of beer, thus starting off almost a decade of rum-bliss for H.M’s sailors. The slide down to the dreadful day in 1970 began in 1731 when (for the cited reason of drunkenness) the ration was ordered to be mixed with water to the ratio of a quart of water to half a pint of rum, and doled out in two instalments each day; in 1740 the ration was further polluted with sugar and lime.

Naval men stoically made the best of it, as they still do, although one wonders what the officers now use for their traditional noontime toasts. The ritual was (is?) to toast first, the reigning monarch, and secondly:

on Monday “Our ships at sea”
on Tuesday “Our men”
on Wednesday “Ourselves”
on Thursday “A bloody war and quick promotion”
on Friday “A willing soul and sea room”
on Saturday “Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet”
on Sunday “Absent friends and those at sea”

Rum, of course, is a drink distilled from the by-products of sugar production, which must make it the most brilliant example of re-cycling in the entire history of the human race. Should you have some rum left over from drinking, it can be re-cycled further in any number of recipes, such as this one, from the 1870’s, which also re-cycles leftover bread.

Rum Pudding.
Grate three ounces of stale bread-crumbs, and pour over them as much rum as will moisten them. When they are well soaked, beat them up with six ounces of sugar, a little grated nutmeg, and first the yolks, and afterwards the well-whisked whites, of four eggs. Pour the mixture into a buttered mould, and let it steam until done enough. Turn it upon a hot dish, pour half a tumblerful of rum over it, set light to this, and serve immediately. Time to steam the pudding, one hour. Probable cost, 8d., exclusive of the rum. Sufficient for three persons

Above and Beyond ...

There are several other rum recipes in the extract from Cassells’ Dictionary of Cookery.

Tomorrow: Lammas Time.

Quotation for the Day …

Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash. Winston Churchill

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