Thursday, July 19, 2007

Victualling the ‘Mary Rose’.

Today, July 19th

On this day in 1545, the Mary Rose, the first purpose built man-o’-war of the English Royal Navy and the pride and joy of Henry VIII, set off to engage the French who had already landed on the Isle of Wight. The King proudly watched it sail off – and was distraught when it almost immediately sank into the depths of the Solent. Less than fifty of the four or five hundred men aboard drowned. Naturally the French claimed credit, but it seems that no cannon had at that point been engaged, and the disaster may have been due to some instability in the ship itself.

The location of the wreck was ignored, found, lost, and found again over the centuries. Its location was rediscovered in 1966, and in 1982, this time under the watchful eye of Prince Charles (President of the Mary Rose Trust), the ship was recovered from its watery bed. The wreck (and the bodies of the crew) will continue to give up priceless information about the Tudor era for many decades, and today I want to tell you about some of the food finds.

Even after almost half a millenium under water, it is amazing what information can still be gleaned by clever scientists and historians. A number of barrels which once held ships provisions have been excavated; nine contained cattle bones from mature beasts, all butchered into standard joints of meat, another one contained pig bones, and there was also evidence of supplies of venison (presumably for the officers) and mutton. There were a large number of baskets of headless fish, mostly North Sea Cod, which would probably have been dried and salted for long preservation.

A supply of peppercorns, and a pepper-mill were recovered too, but to me, one of the most interesting finds was of a basket that had held several hundred plums, and they appear to have been fresh, not dried. There were five varieties of plums in the basket, and would have been a great treat, so unlikely to have been for the enjoyment of the ordinary seaman. The ration for seamen of the mid-sixteenth century was generous by historic standards: each man was allowed seven pounds of ships’ biscuit (hardtack), seven gallons of beer, eight pounds of salted beef, three quarters of a pound of stockfish (dried salted fish), three eighths of a pound of butter and three fifths of a pound of cheese each week.

Today I give you a recipe from a cookbook printed in that same year of the sinking, the Proper newe Booke of Cokerye. Lucky landlubbers who lived close enough to water cooked their fish in a variety of ways in the sixteenth century, and this extract describes a few of them.

Perche, Roche, Carpe, Eles, Floykes and al maner of brouke fyshe.
Take a posye of Rosemary and time and bynde them together, and put in also a quantitye of perselye not bounde, and put into the caudron of water, salte and yeste, and the herbes, and lette them boyle a pretye whyle, then putte in the fysshe and a good quantitye of butter, and let them boyle a good season, and you shall have good Pyke sauce.
For all those fysshes above wrytten yf they muste bee broyled, take sauce for them, butter, peepper and veneger and boyle it upon a chafyngdyshe and then laye the broyled fyshe uppon the dysche; but for Eeles and freshe Salmon nothing but Pepper and vyneger over boyled. And also yf you wyll frye them, you muste take a good quantitie of persely, after the fyshe is fryed, put in the persely into the fryinge panne, and let it frye in the butter and take it up and put it on the fryed fyshe, and frye place, whyttinge and suche other fyshe, excepte Eles, freshe Salmon, Conger, which be never fryed but baken, boyled, roosted or sodden.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Heg Peg Dump.

Quotation for the Day …

As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an an angler. Isaak Walton; The Compleat Angler, 1653-1655


Anonymous said...

Wonderful - thank you. I saw the Mary Rose several years ago, but not much about the food was mentioned in the museum at that time (it was still fairly newly recovered). There were many poignant items, like a tin of ointment in the doctor's kit that was clearly imprinted with the doctor's thumb print, someone's extra pair of shoes, and so on. Thanks for the update on what researchers have found

Joanna said...

It was hubris ... built with too much topdecking, so basically unstable, and then overloaded at the top with heavy weapons. It must have been terrible seeing it go down in a flat calm.

Fascinating about the plums - it's a little early in the season here now for plums, so it's a little mystery - one for the global warming scientists to sort out ...