Monday, August 20, 2007

A long sea v'yage

"I have a son of my own," said he, "as like you as two blocks, and he's all the pride of my 'art. But the great thing for boys is discipline, sonny--discipline. Now, if you had sailed along of Bill, you wouldn't have stood there to be spoke to twice--not you. That was never Bill's way, nor the way of sich as sailed with him. --Treasure Island

Apologies for the absence--it's been a busy few weeks, interrupted by a 4-day canoe and backpack trip in the Adirondacks with my wife, father, and father-in-law. Yes, the movie will be released next summer as a sequel to "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle".

Round 2 of the hardtack is done--this time went much more smoothly. With less water added to the dough, it kept together better. I skimped a bit on the pounding of the biscuit with the weight, (15 rather than 30 minutes) but noticed no difference thus far. I also used whole wheat flour rather than the white refined flour, which may have made a difference. This round of hardtack will be beaten into crumbs for lobscouse. I'm having a little trouble sourcing corned pork, but the recipe says I can substitute smoked ham in a pinch.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Biscuit update

PORK, powder, and biscuit was the cargo, with only a musket and a cutlass apiece for the squire and me and Redruth and the captain. -Treasure Island

The re-baking has significantly dried out and toughened the hardtack. I'm going to mail a piece to a friend in upstate New York, and hopefully he'll be able to give an account of how it travels.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What is the sound of hardtack rapping?

After more time in the oven, the biscuit has reached a pleasing inedible hardness. It now makes a weighty thunk when rapped on the table to knock out the weevils.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I took the first step towards my escapade and filled both pockets of my coat with biscuit.

I was a fool, if you like, and certainly I was going to do a foolish, over-bold act; but I was determined to do it with all the precautions in my power. These biscuits, should anything befall me, would keep me, at least, from starving till far on in the next day. -Treasure Island

Aye, the sea-biscuit. A thick conglomeration of flour, salt, water, and weevils that propelled the seafarers of antiquity to plunder and glory. "Bread" tough enough to survive voyages around the world, so imperishable that samples hundreds of years old have survived to the present day. Simple enough to knock together and bake on a worknight, hardtack was an obvious first recipe to tackle.

Flour, salt, water. So simple even Half-Brained Steve can remember it.

Then, some good old repetitive stirring, slowly adding the water. A rousing round of "Pump Shanty" carried me through this task. I may have added too much water, though I was following the listed amounts. This was my first time in a long time slinging dough, and it showed. The recipe recommended a firm dough, and the result at this stage, using all the water, was stringy and wet.

The gloppy mass on the floured deck.

Cover with a wet towel and let stand.

Then, pound for half an hour. The recipe recommends a marline-spike or a belaying pin, but I had to make do with a five-pound weight. Bash flat, fold, repeat. More pump shanty! By the end of the half-hour, I felt like I'd administered a flogging 'round the fleet. The dough was more elastic and closer to where I felt it should be, due to judicious application of flour to the plastic wrap and board in order to avoid the dough becoming irretrievably glued to the wood.

Judicious application of a rolling pin resulted in a more or less 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Cut into "squares" and pricked with a fork, the dough yielded...

...the ugliest biscuits known to man. The dough reglued itself after I sliced through it, and the resulting struggle to re-form the rectangles became a little more like amoebas. I also may have overestimated how thick a half-inch is--with results that shall be seen. Into the oven the biscuits went for an hour.

The biscuits actually tasted quite good straight out of the oven. They were still hot and a little moist on the inside, with a pleasant, rocklike heft. Not a lot of character, but much, much better than I was expecting, with a nutty contrast between soft center and chewy crust. Sort of like a bagel, really. Maybe I made them too thick? Definitely not the rock-hard biscuit of legend. Interestingly, though there was no rising agent included, the repeated beating and folding created an artificial mechanical substitute for leavening, creating small air bubbles in the biscuit.

So, a pleasant surprise, but still not the authentic hardtack I was looking for. Left out overnight, the hardtack toughened up a surprising amount, enough to deal a surprising wrench to my jaw when I bit in, got stuck, and tried to tear a piece off. Now that' s what we're looking for! But the inside was still disappointingly somewhat moist. A different recipe online recommended a second baking step for four hours at 200 degrees F, and three are in the oven for a second turn now. I'll also try leaving the biscuits out longer to see if they dry out any more. As it is, though, I'll probably have to make a second batch for the lobscouse, so we'll have another round with the hardtack soon enough.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How My Sea Adventure Began

THERE was no return of the mutineers—not so much as another shot out of the woods. They had "got their rations for that day," as the captain put it, and we had the place to ourselves and a quiet time to overhaul the wounded and get dinner. -Treasure Island

Today I purchased a copy of Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, a collection of slightly updated, but mostly authentic recipes from the 18th Century. I'm going to attempt to learn seven recipes from the book well enough to prepare and serve them at the 10th anniversary of the founding of ARRR!!!, Brown University's only a-capirate singing group.

The first job was to whittle down the number of recipes. L&SD is a truly remarkable achievement, with an amazing number of recipes contained in a relatively thin cookbook. Some dishes, however, were out right off the bat. For example:

Strasburg Pie


Foie gras
Puff Paste

To paraphrase the Venture Brothers, this isn't a recipe, it's a suicide note. Most of the other recipes are similarly heavy. We'll try and avoid the weightier end--but most of these recipes contain large amounts of fat. And, often, the fat's just going to be unavoidable.

Other recipes are wild, but feature ingredients that are too expensive for multiple experiments on my limited budget (Gratin of Lobster--6 1.5 lb lobsters), too outre (Millers in Onion Sauce--6 prime rats) or both (Soused Hog's Face--1 hog's face).

At the end of the day, here are the seven that I think are most achievable and most evocative of the sea:

Ship's Biscuit

Carlin, of long habit, began to rap his biscuit on the table, stopped when he realized what he was doing, and then started rapping again, guiltily. ... "Mr. Carlin is knocking out the weevils, sir," explained Bush, almost overcome with self-consciousness. "If you tap gently they come out of their own accord, this way, you see, sir." -Commodore Hornblower

This is one of the shortest recipes in the book, and a fairly easy if not entirely painless beginning. It'll be dry and tasteless, but traditional as holystoning, brass monkeys, and flogging 'round the fleet. Hopefully with fewer bargemen, though.




When Jack's ashore, they'll let him in / To some old boarding house
They'll welcome him with rum and gin / And feed him on pork scouse.
-Trad. shanty

Clearly, this had to come in. It's in a shanty we sing--and something pirates might actually have eaten The ingredients are obtainable, and there's nary a demand for suet in sight.


Corned beef
Corned pork or smoked ham
Bay leaf
Ship's biscuit
Juniper berries

Kedgeree (Kichri)

In its Indian incarnation, this is one of two vegetarian dishes in the book--a nod to the Indian Ocean and a reminder of the global nature of piracy. All hail!


Oil or ghee
Cumin seed
Ground coriander
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Neeps Hackit Wi' Balmagowry

'Sure, you will like your dinner once you are well set to it,' said Stephen, looking at the bill of fare. 'What are bashed neeps?'

'Neeps hackit with balmagowry.'

This is the other vegetarian dish. I figured half and half for the entrees was only fair. And thon gies me tha chancst tae discoorse in the braid Scots, aye?

Turnips (neeps)
Balmagowry (slightly sour cream)
Salt and pepper


'Pies at sea,' he said, 'are made on nautical lines, of course. They are quite unlike pies by land.' -The Far Side of the World

Who are we kidding? This has to come in. It has sea in the name!


Hot Water Paste
Meat (ham, pork, veal, chicken, goose)
Peas or carrots
Grated lemon zest
Sage leaves
Salt and pepper


You may make this Syllabub at Home, only have new Milk; make it as hot as Milk from the Cow, and out of a Tea-pot or any such Thing, pour it in, holding your Hand very high. -Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Easy, creamy, involves port, and an amusing part where you simulate squirting milk from the teats of a live cow. 'Nuff said.

1 Milch cow, or unhomogenized milk, or homogenized milk plus heavy cream

Spotted Dog

The pudding was Jack's favorite, a spotted dog, and a spotted dog fit for a line of battle ship, carried in by two strong men. -The Ionian Mission

This one, I felt, had to be squeezed in at the end. Not least because it's also known as Spotted Dick, not only because it's Lucky Jack Aubrey's favorite pudding, but because it encapsulates so neatly so much of the foreign nature of this cookery; a glistening, fat-riddled mass so far outside modern comprehensions of Atkins diets and calorie-counting that it demands to be eaten while wearing a cocked hat if only to make your dress equal to the culinary anachronism.



So that's it! Almost made it without requiring any suet, except for the Spotted Dog and in the pastry, if I'm not mistaken. Come along, me jolly brave boys--as we set sail on a sea of syllabub and scouse.