Thursday, December 28, 2006

A terrible sea cook

Today, December 28th …

The English newspaper The Guardian carried the following article on this day in 1908.

A terrible sea cook.

Tale from the south seas.

Mails from Vancouver received at Queenstown last night brought a stirring tale of mutiny and murder on board a South Sea schooner.
It appears that an English lad, one of the crew, was in prison at Suva, Fiji, together with the cook of the vessel, a Belgian, charged with the murder of the captain and mate and with piracy.
The English lad's story was that when the vessel was two days out from Callao the cook came on deck with a chopper in his hand and attacked the captain and the mate.
After dodging him around the deck for some time they were forced to climb into the rigging to save their lives. The cook shouted to them to come down, and as they would not he brought a gun from the cabin and threatened to shoot them if they did not jump into the sea.
They begged hard for their lives, but the cook was obdurate, and he had levelled the gun to fire when both men jumped overboard. They must have been drowned. The schooner (which presumably had a Kanaka crew) sailed away, and the cook changed her name to the White Rose. She subsequently went ashore on the Gilbert Islands, the cook looting her of all valuables. The English lad said he had no part in the crime, being coerced by the cook under pain of instant death.

The article could provide a perfect trigger for a story about other bad, or mad, or bad-mad sea-cooks - and there is no shortage of material on that topic. I have, however, been awaiting an excuse to give you a recipe from a specific book, simply because I find its title amusing. I feel justified in indulging my whim today, as it is my birthday, and the title fits perfectly with our theme.

The book was published in America in 1831, and is called called ‘The Cook not Mad’, or more accurately ‘The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery; Being A Collection of Original and Selected Receipts, Embracing Not Only the Art of Curing Various Kinds of Meats and Vegetables for Future Use, but of Cooking in its General Acceptation, to the Taste, Habits, and Degrees of Luxury, Prevalent with the American Publick, in Town and Country. To Which are Added, Directions for Preparing Comforts for the SICKROOM; Together with Sundry Miscellaneous Kinds of Information, of Importance to Housekeepers in General, Nearly All Tested by Experience'. The book gives me the perfect opportunity to indulge another whim, and make the observation that “They don’t give cookbooks titles like that anymore”.

Naturally I have chosen recipes with a nautical theme. The first is for Sea-Pie, which in spite of its name contains no seafood - but that is a story for another day. The second is an early recipe (in a ‘Western’ cookbook) for kebabs.

A Sea Pie.
Four pounds flour, one pound and a half butter rolled in paste, wet with cold water, line the pot therewith, lay in one dozen split pigeons, with slices of pork, salt, pepper, and dust on flour, doing thus till the pot is full, or your ingredients expended, add three pints water, cover tight with paste, and stew moderately two hours and a half.

A Moorish method of cooking beef, as described by Captain Riley, the shipwrecked mariner.
"Mr. Willshire's cook had by this time prepared a repast, which consisted of beef cut into square pieces, just large enough for a mouthful before it was cooked; these were then rolled in onions, cut up fine, and mixed with salt and pepper; they were in the next place put on iron skewers and laid horizontally across a pot of burning charcoal, and turned over occasionally, until perfectly roasted:"

[Query.--Does he mean that the skewers be run through the pieces of meat? we think he must, as it would be difficult to make such small pieces lie on the skewers, without falling through into the fire; especially when the meat came to be turned.]

"This dish," continues Captain Riley, "is called cubbub, and in my opinion far surpasses in flavour the so much admired beef steak; as it is eaten hot from the skewers, and is indeed an excellent mode of cooking beef."
Remark.--How would it do to cut up flakes here and there on our common steak pieces, and put under pieces of raw onion, pepper and salt, and fasten the flap down by means of little wooden pins or pegs, to be pulled out after cooking?

Tomorrow’s Story …

The King bans Coffee.

A Previous Story for this Day …

‘Any Peas with That?’

Quotation for the Day …

It is not, in fact, cookery books that we need half so much as cooks really trained to a knowledge of their duties. Eliza Acton (1845)


lorenzo23 said...

what a great blog, and the Companion blog as well. the subject is endless it'll take years to make the book - but what a read it would be.

Anonymous said...

As to the beef's cooking method, I suppose you could take skewers and lay them across a fire to make a makeshift grill. You'd have to fasten them on either side - perhaps by means of forked sticks or some more secure method - but it could be done. But skewering the meat itself works, too. I am reminded of a middle eastern barbeque method that involves digging a long shallow trench, which is filled with hot coals; guests sit beside the trench on their cushions and roast their own meat and veg on individual skewers.

Sally said...

Happy Birthday, Janet! (I totally agree with you regarding cookbook titles. LOL)

Jerry said...

I love internet! Looking for background on our old family recipe; 'English Sea Pie' turned up your blog. It was handed down from my grandfather's family, and consists of ingredients that can survive a long sea voyage, hence the name Sea Pie. Quite simply, it is a dish for mariners. Although key ingredients are corned beef, onions, potatoes, and salt pork, the real star is the thick crust that lines the pot and covers the dish, that is made with flour, water, and beef suet! It is thick, moist, and quite chewy. This is a hearty dish, but somewhere they added sage to give it more flavor.
I have the recipe.