Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Victualling Victoria's Navy - 5. Goldner's Patent Preserved Provisions

At last! That disreputable cut-price contractor has finally delivered the preserved provisions! The voyage can proceed! Erm, wait a minute, the dodgy contractor is me. These four cans are by far the best reproduction of Goldner's Preserved Provisions that I have achieved so far. Pictured above are two two-pound cans of boiled beef, a two-pound can of carrots, and a one-pound can of vegetable soup.
The chunks of beef were boiled for about ten minutes before being threaded through the small hole in the top of the can. About three quarters of the liquid was then poured in. The meat wasn't fully cooked at this stage - most of the cooking, or more likely over-cooking, occurs in the can.
Here's the sealed up can sitting in a pan of muriate of lime (Calcium Chloride). From the thermometer reading you can see that the temperature is approaching 130 Celsius yet the solution displays no obvious signs of boiling. The original recipe called for sealing the pin-hole in the lid while the can was being heated. I tried this but the jet of steam blew through the solder, so it was allowed to cool slightly first. After sealing, the can was heated again gently to check for leaks, then finished off in a pressure cooker. In the old days the can itself was the pressure cooker. You can be assured that I was wearing full protective gear throughout the more risky parts of the process.

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

Victualling Victoria's Navy - 4. Lemon Juice

The essential anti-scorbutic lemon juice is one of the easiest period food stuffs to prepare. That is  just as long as you don't have to squeeze the lemons by hand. The Navy's specification called for an ounce of brandy to be added to ten of fresh juice. Presumably this will have been cask-strength but, in the interests of expediency, I made do with the what I had to hand, which is a paltry 40% alcohol by volume. The final touch is a layer of olive oil floating on the top to exclude the air. Much nicer than the modern chemically preserved version, I think. No scurvy for me!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Victualling Victoria's Navy - 3. Salt Meat.

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.

Osmotic pressure, caused by the salt, draws liquid out of the meat. This liquid is periodically poured off, and new dry salt added. The dry salting process can continue indefinitely or, as in this case, the meat can be submerged in a strong brine solution. The strength of the pickle can be judged from the fact that there is a layer of undissolved salt crystals at the bottom of the tub. It is important that the meat, which is slightly buoyant at this stage, is wholly submerged so I started off by using a couple of off-cuts from an oak beam to hold it under as a nod towards the use of oak barrels back in the day.

Of course, there are a few ways in which the process described above diverges from its historical antecedents. For the Franklin expedition, the beef and pork was salted in eight pound and four pound pieces respectively. These would have been on the bone while I used British boneless pork leg from Morrison's and Irish beef brisket from Tesco. There are many humorous tales about the salt meat of the Navy. Referred to as 'salt junk' or 'salt horse'. It has been said that after too long in the cask it was hard enough to be turned or carved into durable ornaments. Myself, I don't set much store by these tall tales. I have confidence in the diligent efforts of the Victualling Board. I am convinced that, cooked properly, it will be delicious!

Three visits to 137 Houndsditch

In January ‎2019 Gina Koellner and I made a pilgrimage to the site of Goldner's preserved provisions manufactory. The site is now partly...