Ship’s bread or hard tack as it was known in the 19th century was a staple of the sailor’s diet in the 18th and 19th century and was also frequently issued to soldiers and used by other long distance travelers. A while back, we posted a video on how to make Ship’s Bisket.
One of the problems with these very hard biscuits is that they are somewhat difficult to eat. Therefore, some special dishes were made just to make use of this study food. One of these dishes is called lobscouse. Lobscouse is a bit of a generic term in the 18th century for a kind of simple stew made with meat, sea bread and vegetables if available.
I have yet to find a single reference to lobscouse in any 18th century cookbooks, but there are many references to it in the 18th century literature and some hints as to what it would be like.
Grose’s 1785 – A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
Janet Schaw 1774 wrote in a “Journal of a Lady of Quality”
Traditionally this dish was made with salt beef or salt pork but since most people have greater access to fresh beef or pork we will include directions for that. If you are using salt beef or salt pork, your meat needs to be soaked in fresh water for a few hours to remove some of the salt.
Ingredients for Lobscouse:
- 2 Quarts Water
- 1 Pound Beef or Pork, coarsely chopped
- 1 Pound Potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 Pound Ship’s Biscuit, pounded
First, chop up the beef in smallish chunks and brown it with pan drippings or a bit of cooking oil along with some chopped onion in your fry pan.
When the meat is browned, put it in a pot of water that has already been brought to a boil. If you start with salted meat, it doesn’t need to be browned, rather, it should be put directly into cold water that is then brought to a boil. The meat need to be lightly boiled for about an hour, after which you can add a couple of chopped potatoes and several chopped carrots.
Before you can use the ship’s bread, it needs to be broken into coarse chunks. Probably the easiest way to do this is to place it in a heavy cloth, pudding bag, or sack and beat it with a rolling pin, hammer, or the poll of a tomahawk. You could also use a marlin spike if you’re aboard ship. The chunks and crumbs can be added to the pot either with the vegetables, or if you want a bit more texture, add them 15 minutes after you’ve added the vegetables. You’ll need to allow this final mixture boil another 15 minutes before it’s ready to dish out.
Interesting! I hadn’t thought of it as stewed, so much, because I’d been imagining it as the forerunner of corned beef hash, and therefore closer to pan-fried. Perhaps I was influenced by the “rich man’s lobscouse” in the Aubrey-Maturin books, that, in contrast to the more-biscuit-than-meat version Jack remembered from his days as a disrated midshipman, was described as heavy with meat and drippings (and, in consequence, a trial on the digestion).
How many servings will the recipe make?
I would say around 4 servings. You can imagine this would use up one man’s rations for a day minus the vegetables, so it should be enough to feed him the entire day.
Thanks. I was thinking 6 servings for folks with a much leas strenuous life than the sailor of the day.
I literally just tasted my own batch and I absolutely love it! My own batch of ship’s biscuits were still a little soft on the inside due to them being a little too thick, but I put them in early and they became a wonderful set of small dumplings in this stew! 😀
Thank you so much, you have really inspired me to discover that cooking gene inside of me, much to my and my family’s delight!
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I came across the dish “lobscouse” some years ago reading historical accounts of traditional New England shore/ocean going food. The main difference is that it was prepared from salt fish (like salt cod) that had been soaked for at least a day in several changes of fresh water before boiling. I prepared some batches and found it to be quite good.
Presently I am exploring baking bread in a Dutch oven and salting/smoking various meats.
I enjoy your videos and the website. Keep up the good work!