Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Here's today's dinner. Salt pork and peas. The pork was certainly tasty, but a bit tough to chew. It looked quite grey when removed from the pickle but when cut up the meat was pink inside. I chopped it into lumps before steeping it in fresh water for 24 hours but it was still quite salty and, after 2 hours boiling, still too solid for my taste. The peas were rather bland but made a good contrast to the pork.
Split peas were specified for the Arctic expeditions because they occupied just a little bit less storage space than whole ones normally issued. They became general issue in May 1856.
I lead a sedentary lifestyle so it is no surprise that the full ration is way too much for me. On the other hand, the real Jack Tar in the age of sail led a working life will plenty of strenuous exercise so it is easy to understand his calorie requirements were much greater.
Overall, my verdict on this dish is good, but could do with a bit more care from the cook, to make the meat a little more tender.
Monday, 15 July 2019
Day 2 of my Naval diet experiment provided an historic event: The first can of (simulated) Goldner's Preserved Provisions to be opened in the Twenty First Century. In fact it was probably the first can bearing the Goldner name to be opened for more than 150 years. I must admit I was a little nervous. Would I be greeted with the horrible sight and smell of a putrid abomination? No. the smell was as fresh and wholesome as anyone could have hoped for. The congealed fat at the top of the can did look a bit strange at first sight but it was perfectly good and was more a sign of successful processing than otherwise.
(simulated) Edwards' Patent Preserved Potatoes was served. As may be seen above, the condiments salt, mustard, and pepper, were laid out, but the meal was tasty enough not to require them. This is the opposite of the case with yesterday's salt beef which really did need the extra help in the flavour department. With some ship's bread and a glass of grog, it really was a most satisfying meal.
Sunday, 14 July 2019
For dinner, the salt beef was boiled for one hour in a net bag carrying a tag with my fictional mess number. It had previously been steeped in fresh water for 24 hours to re-hydrate it.
My verdict: The meat was a bit dry but reasonably tasty - a bit like pastrami. The duff had too much flour due to a measuring mistake but although the raisins were sparse, their flavour carried through. Not bad, perhaps just a bit dull. It would have been improved with some gravy. Overall a good start although I had a thick head for most of the afternoon due, I believe, to my not being acclimatised to drinking grog in the morning.
Tuesday, 25 June 2019
The final step in the process is to keep the filled can in a warm place for at least a week. This was achieved using a plastic crate and a 40 Watt heater. If there were any viable microorganisms left inside, this was their chance to show themselves by bulging out the ends of the can. Pleased to say that there was noting to report on this score. Painted up and labelled, the cans look almost too good to use for anything other than display, but opened they will be, and their contents tasted. Could they be anything other than delicious?
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
Sunday, 9 June 2019
British artist Damien Hirst made a name for himself (and quite a bit of money) by preserving parts of chopped up animals in tanks of liquid. My homage to the genre is shown above. Beef on the left and pork on the right. I just need to think of a lengthy and ironic title. No prizes for suggestions, thanks. Anyway, back to my Naval food project...
Prior to the introduction of canning, the main source of protein for seafarers was meat which had been preserved by salting. It is a simple process, which goes back centuries, if not millennia. You start with a lump of meat, cover it in dry salt, then leave it in a cool place for a few days. For the beef, a small proportion of food-grade saltpetre (about 1%) was added to the salt. Supposedly this should help it keep some of its original colour.
Monday, 20 May 2019
|The biscuit factory at Deptford Victualling Yard, 1901|
For centuries, Ship's biscuit was the bread of seafarers. In the mid 1820s the British Government initiated the construction of the worlds first steam powered biscuit factories at Deptford, Gosport, and Plymouth. The machinery was designed by the notable Thomas Tassell Grant of Portsmouth and constructed by the firm of George and John Rennie. Grant's biscuit making apparatus was described in an article in the Mechanics Magazine in March 1835 and with additional detail in 1844 by Dr Andre Ure. Some of the equipment shown in Ure's drawings can be seen in the above photo. Although the descriptions refer to the hexagonal biscuits supplied to the fleet, archive sources indicate that, for the Franklin expedition, square biscuits were specially ordered. The shape was specified to enable them to be efficiently packed in tin cases.
Dr. Ure describes the meal used to make the biscuits as "a mixture of fine flour and middlings, the bran and pollard being removed". The accounts for the Victualling Department from the 1860s provide more detail, indicating that the mixture used comprised around 87% of the milled grain. As part of my project to replicate the diet of the mid-Victorian Royal Navy, finding a suitable source was a priority.
The first step in my quest for authentic flour was to visit Charlecote watermill in Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon. Although there are occasional open days, this centuries old watermill is a commercial business milling locally grown grain to produce traditional stoneground flour for artisan bakeries and home bakers. They also have a very good business producing premium chapatti flour for the local South Asian community. My thought was to purchase both the white flour and the middlings mentioned by Ure, and make the mixture up accordingly.
The Miller, Karl Grevatt, was very interested in my project but he explained that he was only set up to produce either white flour or wholemeal, the elusive middlings not being separated from the bran. However he did suggest another source: Redbournbury Watermill in Hertfordshire, about 20 miles north of London.
Redbournbury has a fully restored traditional flour dresser or "wire machine", which is used to extract the different fractions of the meal. On the day of my visit, the mill was working by means of its auxiliary engine. I saw this as an added bonus for the authenticity of my project as the mills in the government victualling yards were engine powered, by Boulton and Watt steam engines. I purchased several bags of their Stoneground Organic 85% Wheatmeal flour, which was almost exactly what I was looking for.
I still felt the need to try to find the 87% wheatmeal of historical record, so I started experimenting with the wholemeal flour I had purchased at Charlecote and a selection of sieves of different mesh. The results were encouraging so I continued with two different flours which I bought from my local wholefood co-operative, five minutes walk from my house. I finally settled on a mixture of Shipton Mill Organic Stoneground wholemeal flour, plus Doves Farm Organic Stoneground Fine Plain English Wholemeal Flour, in the ratio of four to one. This allowed me to sieve the mixture to produce exactly the 87% extract I was looking for.
Shipton Mill is another ancient watermill. They proudly state their use of French burr stones (the best) but don't say whether or not they are still driven by water power. They have the additional prestige of a Royal Warrant as suppliers to the household of the Prince of Wales and their product claims a proportion of Maris Widgeon grain which is a rare heritage variety of wheat, now primarily grown for its tall stems which provide the long straw essential for thatching historic buildings.
Making the biscuits themselves is a far more relaxing activity. There are only two ingredients: flour and water.
To make the dough, a vintage Kenwood Chef food mixer took the place of the steam-engine powered machines of the Navy's Victualing yards. To roll it out I used a trusty wooden rolling pin with two strips of wood as guides to ensure a consistent thickness.
An improvised "Docker" marked the pattern of holes and I made up some lettering and a broad arrow from some strips of tinplate. The ship names are more for fun than historical accuracy. The originals would certainly have worn the broad arrow but probably the only additional lettering would have been a capital 'D' to signify their place of manufacture - Deptford.
This batch of biscuits were baked with the oven close to its maximum setting of about 250 C (482 F) for 15-20 minutes followed by two hours at 100 C (212 F) to thoroughly dry them out.
Here's today's dinner. Salt pork and peas. The pork was certainly tasty, but a bit tough to chew. It looked quite grey when remov...
One of the most intriguing examples of iniut testimony published in David C. Woodman's "Unravelling the Franklin mystery: In...
Section through the ship, looking forwards. These two images are my speculative reconstruction of the engine rooms of Erebus and Terror...
Time we put the tinned food back in the cupboard: Busting the Franklin Expedition myth of 'lead poisoning from tinned food'.The idea that Franklin's men were poisoned by lead from tinned food has reached almost the status of dogma. For many members of the pu...