Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sea Pye, Grog, and Salt Junk: Food on an 18th c. Transatlantic Journey

Journal of Charlotte Browne, Excerpt, January 27, 1754*
(See below for a 1739 recipe for a fish pie.)

In 1753, Charlotte Browne, a widow of almost two years, left her home in England and her family (a daughter, Charlotte, and a Brother) and began an exciting, adventurous, dangerous, and unpredictable phase of her life as a camp follower for what would become known as the French & Indian War.
Charlotte Brown left England on the HMS London bound for America in the late Fall of 1753 with a Captain Browne (presumably her brother-in-law as she refers to him as "brother") and a servant named, Betty. Captain Browne appears to have been commissioned to be the supply officer for a mobile army hospital charged with following the British troops as they traveled in the American colonies. What Mrs. Browne doesn't explain is specifically why she chose to undertake this journey in the first place.  Family duty to Captain Browne to serve as his "helper" (as so many women did) seems to have been the only reason for her to have left her seemingly comfortable life in England.  
Mrs. Browne wrote a journal documenting her experiences and in so doing paints a story of her experiences crossing the Atlantic, landing in Virginia, preparing to follow the British army as they were about to march inland, her daily occurrences marching, and her life at the many stopovers they made at places such as Wills Creek, Fort Cumberland, Frederick, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York where on August 4, 1757 she wrote: “There end my Journal having so much Business on my Hands that I cannot spare time to write it.”  
 As a food historian, I am particularly taken with references she makes to the food she eats along her journey: where it comes from, how she reacts to it, and how she handles hunger and deprivation. Below are excerpts from her journal regarding the food and drink she experienced during the transatlantic voyage she made on the HMS London.  Of particular note are the references to the alcoholic drinks consumed by the men (especially the ship’s pastor), her dinners with the Captain, and the “flying fish” that land on deck!  There is also mention of a "sea pye" for which I have included a period recipe for a turbot pie that may have served as a guideline for making a version of one (albeit probably made with less available items) on board ship. 

Here are the excerpts from the Journal of Charlotte Browne during her 1754 transatlantic voyage:

Jan. 16
On going into the Hold of the Ship a sad discovery was made 30 gallons of Brandy ran out that was for our sea store all the sailors lamenting that all the __.   Was out no more Grog to be had  . . . they should have good Grog the next time that they pump’d the Ship.

Jan 21
We lost a Sheep and Mr. Cherrington 2 Pigs 8 Turkeys and 6 Ducks.  There was a great Dispute with Mr. Cherrington and my Brother. Mr. Cherrington said it was not clear to him why so many of his should die and not one of ours.

[Date Covered]
A great squall on Deck, with Mr. Lash the mate and Mr. Black the Clerk of the Hospitall about the tapping of some beer.  Mr. Lash order’d it to be tap’d . . .

Jan. 27
Saw a sail to the East, a fair wind Mrs. Barbut's up and making a sea Pye the first she ever made.

Feb. 4
Being Sunday had Prayers saw __. Of this fleet Flying fish[1] came on board, it was 2 foot from the tip of the wing to the other and 20 inches long.  We eat it for dinner, it eats like a young sturgeon.

Feb. 6
Received an Invitation from the Director to dine with him, had for dinner a ham & fowls and a Pudding but the weather was so bad the Director went to bed. __ Barbut very ill and did the same.

Feb. 14
Mrs. Barbut up but not able to work.  Mr. Black came to see us in our Lower regions stay’d  so long and drank so much Grog that he was at a loss how to go to bed, he was invisible all the next day.

Feb. 17
Sunday had Prayers.  Mrs. Barbut up but not able to go to Prayers not being dress’d we had a present of a __ of Pork from the bobbin ___.

Feb. 20
 A fair wind but very Hot Capt. Browne at Breakfast on Tea and Cheshire Cheese his equipage a stone jar a tin pot a pewter basin a can one saucer and an old rusty canister.

Feb. 24
Mrs. Barbut 4 hours making a Cake bak’d it 6 [hours] In a rusty Pudding pan.  It eat like a pancake.

Feb. 27
Mrs. Barbut both day had the Captains Mess to dine with us on Ham, a turkey, and fowls and for Drink French Wine and Bristol Beer.

[Date Covered]
Killed a pig and very busy making Black Puddings
March 2
Sunday but had no prayers till after noon Parson being indispos’d by drinking too much grog the night before.

March 3
Mr. Cherrington came down into our lower Regions and say’d he would do himself the honour to treat me with the dish of Turkey, coffee. Stay’d  to supper on Black Puddings  all  of us in great fears about Cape Hatteras till 12 at Night and then was clear of it.

March 6
The storm abated saw one of the Fleet Mr. Lash at breakfast on salt junk[2] and tea.

Here is a period recipe from E. Smith's 1739 cookery book, The Compleat Housewife, for a fish pie that could have been the basis for the "sea pye" made on board ship on January 27, 1754:

[1] Probably a winged fish of the species Family Exocoetidae.
[2] 3. transf. orig. Naut. The salt meat used as food on long voyages, compared to pieces of rope; usually with epithet, as old, salt, tough junk. (from OED Online, second edition, 1989)

*A photocopy of the original Journal of Charlotte Browne is located at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  The original journal is believed to be lost.

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