Salted Meat for a Long Journey at Sea

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

Battle of Grenada, during which Admiral Knowles (Second Baronet) was slightly wounded

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 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.

Admiral Sir Charles Knowles, First Baronet

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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11 Responses to Salted Meat for a Long Journey at Sea

  1. Kelly Stone says:

    ok so this using an “f” in place of an “s” and other quirks in the font is really disturbing. If you read Sir Charles’ instructions, it appears that he feels a wife should be kept in an oven. 🙂

  2. That my Johns is it. The inconsistencies of the 18th century printers art. As you can see the transposition of f for s isn’t consistent across the piece. It simply reflects what the printer had to hand when setting the page. It does make working from primary documents or even scanned versions thereof that little bit trickier. Still it is better than the 17th century when the rules of spelling and grammar were somewhat more fluid in the hands of printers and writers. Back to the topic in hand S.M. may find the two modern books on the topic of food at sea of interest. “Lobscouse & Spotted Dog” a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman & Lisa Grossman Thomas is the more accessible and useful of the two in terms of recipes. Including recipes for Millers*. Jane Macdonalds’s “Feeding Nelson’s Navy” is a more scholarly study of naval victualling but has greater depth in understanding the Royal Navy’s attempts to supply and regulate the average seamans diet.

    * Rattus rattus by any other name, Rattus norvegicus if you were lucky (more meat y’see)

    • Kevin Carter says:

      There were rules of typesetting including that of the “medial s” ligature, which replaced any letter “s” that occurred within a word or at the beginning of a word (but never at the end of a word) with the long or descending-s ligature. It does make research a bit trickier, Chris. The word-recognition software used with the on-line scanned resources does a fairly decent job of recognizing the ligature, but the “f” does slip through on occasion. So, as Kelly points out, before any attempts are made to put one’s wife in the oven, it’s well-advised to read the recipe twice.

  3. Jon says:

    For a fascinating read about all things salt, I highly recommend Mark Kurlanksy’s “Salt”.

  4. Sean McCoy says:

    Kevin, thank you very much for addressing my question and doing so on this great blog! Chris, I actually own Janet MacDonald’s ‘Feeding Nelsons Navy’ (It took three weeks to be delivered from Liverpool, is it out of print?), and it is indeed an invaluable and interesting insight into Royal Navy provisioning at the time. Lobscouse and Spotted dog I have yet to order, which I keep meaning to rectify. The excerpts online are a very good endorsement and as a huge fan of the Aubrey-Maturin books–and naval fiction in general (Alan Lewrie, et al)–I intend to do so sooner rather than later.

  5. Jamie says:

    I would love to see how the results of preserving meat this way, would test out in a lab, as to the safety of consumption?

  6. Tryck Keith says:

    in 1973 we went on an expedition in northern Canada and Alaska using the tools and eating the foods in use in the late 1800s. We found a supplier of salt beef in Canada and took a couple 5 gallon buckets of salt beef. Just like what one might expect to find on a man-of-war in the 1700’s except instead of sealed wood casks we had to settle for 5 gallon buckets. We found the beef to be very edible, and usable in many ways. I was quite surprised. The saltiness we dealt with by how long we soaked the beef, after removing it from the brine, before cooking. In any event, we didn’t have to salt the meal and salt was far from being unbearable or overpowering. It was more like a well salted soup or stew. It was good.

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  9. Shaun Curtis says:

    All that salted meat at sea had a tendency to end up full of worms too!

  10. Petrina Ula says:

    Salt beef is a huge part of the diet of Newfoundlanders in Canada. We eat it every Sunday, in a traditional meal called Jigg’s Dinner.

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