Monday, May 12, 2014

A Cheap, Fresh, and Lasting Victual for Seamen.

The provisioning of ships was a great pre-occupation of Naval authorities, scientists, and medical men in the days when ships set off on long voyages across uncharted waters, at the mercy of the wind, with limited navigational aids, and even more limited methods of food preservation.

One man who was very interested in the subject was Hugh Plat (1552–1608) – an independently wealthy courtier, inventor, and writer. Plat wrote on many topics, particularly within the fields of domestic economy, agriculture, science, and medicine. His pamphlet Certaine Philosophical Preparations of Foode and Beverage for Sea-men, in their long voyages; with some necessary, approoved, and Hermeticall medicines and Antidotes, fit to be had in readinesse, at sea, for prevention and cure of divers diseases, published in 1607 contains a very early English reference to macaroni (by which he meant pasta in general.)

And first for Foode. A cheape, fresh and lasting victuall, called by the name of Macaroni amongst the Italians, and not unlike (save only in forme) to the Cus-cus in Barbary may be upon reasonable warning provided in any quantity to serve either for change and variety of meat, or in the want of fresh victual. With this, the Author furnished Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, in their last voyage.

Interestingly, this reference to macaroni seems to have escaped the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary who give the first use in English as being in 1673 in Travels through the Low countries, Germany, Italy and France, with curious observations, natural, topographical, moral, physiological, & c. by John Ray. Ray refers to “Paste made into strings like pack-thread or thongs of whit-leather (which if greater they call Macaroni, if lesser Vermicelli) they cut in pieces and put in their pots as we do oat-meal to make their menestra or broth … ”

Plat had extolled the virtues of macaroni in a previous pamphlet, published in 1595. In Sundrie new and Artificiall remedies against Famine, in summary, he notes that the advantages of pasta as a food for seamen were:

-          - It kept well, even in hot conditions.
-          - It was relatively light in weight. On expeditions on land, one man could carry enough to feed two hundred men for a day.
-          - It cooked quickly – a bonus to the cook in the tiny cramped galley - and the saving in fuel translated to more saved space.
-         -  It could provide a welcome alternative to the interminable salt meat which was a staple of the seaman’s diet.
-          - It also served “both in steede of bread and meate, wherby it performeth a double service.
-          - Unused macaroni could be used to supply a second voyage.
-          - It lent itself to variation and enrichment (for officers only, presumably.)
-          - The ingredients for making macaroni are available all year.
It was still over a hundred years before English cookery books began to regularly include recipes for pasta. Here is one of my favourites – an early version of mac ‘n cheese.

To Dress Macaroni with Permasent [Parmesan] Cheese.
Boil four Ounces of Macaroni ‘till it be quite tender, and lay it on a Sieve to drain, then put it in a Tossing Pan, with about a Gill of good Cream, a Lump of Butter rolled in flour, boil it five Minutes, pour it on a Plate, lay all over it Permasent Cheese toasted; send it to the Table on a Water Plate, for it soon goes cold.

The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald (1769)


Unknown said...

Macaroni is still good travel food

Unknown said...

Macaroni is still good travel food - and I think Captain John Smith also mentions it as sea provisions his Sea Grammar - now I'll have to go check

SometimesKate said...

I keep reading old recipes that say cut or break up the macaroni. Did it come in long spirals, like springs do now? Also, what was it made of, that it could be cooked for 20 minutes and then baked? If I tried that with modern macaroni, I'd end up with mush.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi SometimesKate. 'Macaroni' did not mean hollow tubular pasta at that time - it just meant pasta, long strands like spaghetti or fettuccini.