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Salted Meat for a Long Journey at Sea

Jonathan Townsend

Posted on January 07 2013

Salted Meat For A Long Journey At Sea

I recently received an email from a fellow historical foodie, who…well, for efficiency sake, I’ll include his email message while respecting his privacy:

Good evening,
First I’d like to say that I watch your YouTube historical cooking videos quite avidly, and was most intrigued by the salt pork episode. As a novice naval enthusiast and historian I’m quite interested in the methods westerners–specifically the English and even more specifically the Royal Navy around 1770-1810ish would use to preserve Beef, and also Pork, for long voyages sometimes lasting up to, and even beyond, a year between resupply. These were ships that sailed the seas encompassing Arctic, Temperate, and Tropical seas, sometimes all three in a typical three year voyage, in temperatures that varied even more extremely. My guess is that the process mimics your pork preparation, but involves complete kegging and sealing of the meat after salting and brining. I’m not suggesting you give instructions that if followed could cause harm, I ask purely out of historical interest: How would one go about preserving and keeping salted beef/pork for months during the period of time given above?

Thank you,
S.M.

S.M.’s email tickled my memory. While reading through several 18th century cookbooks, I’ve run across a number of recipes that were written specifically for cooks at sea. A few of these cookbooks even have entire chapters dedicated to the sea-faring chef.

Here is an interesting example of such a recipe that addresses S.M.’s email very well.  I find this recipe particularly interesting due to its precision and clarity. One item that may need further explanation is the author’s reference to the meat being “hot.” In this case, he suggests the meat be fresh rather than cooked…extremely fresh, that is…as in fresh enough that the meat still retains the animal’s natural body heat.

This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

The recipe reportedly originates from Sir Charles Knowles. It is unclear from the cookbook if this was the father (the First Baronet), who served in the Royal Navy between 1718 and 1779, or the son (the Second Baronet), who likewise served between 1768 and 1831. Given, however, that the son was promoted to the position of Full Admiral in 1810, a full 50 years after his father’s promotion, the recipe is surely that of the father. The cookbook, The London Art of Cookery, written by John Farley, was first published in 1783.

For an explanation, by the way, of the variations of salt, here is an excellent treatise from Charlotte Mason’s cookbook, The Lady’s Assistant, first published in 1775:


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