Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Showing posts with label Food History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food History. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hardtack – Vital Vittles of the Sea

Pirates spent long weeks, months, and even years at sea. Not only was the ship outfitted with plenty of rope and canvas, arms and gunpowder, carpentry tools and wood, navigational equipment, and cooking utensils, but the essential stores of food and drink. The business of feeding the ship’s crew was a serious one. Oftentimes, the length of the voyage was governed by how much food and drink could be carried on board. There would be no crossing an ocean if there was only enough room for two weeks of provisions. All food and drink were carefully rationed. Anyone caught with more than their fair share faced punishment. Yup, serious business.

When a ship set sail, it was usually well-stocked with live hens for eggs and sometimes goats for milk. There was also items such as salted pork, beef, and fish, rounds of cheese, dried potatoes, corn, vinegary cabbage, spices, ale and more. Aye, pirates ate like kings. Better than their sailor counterparts in the navies. But the fresh or perishable food did not last long. Even water went bad. The humid, dank conditions hastened spoiling and bred insects. Feasts could turn into famine. Malnutrition, disease, and starvation were very real concerns for seafarers. Ports of call weren’t always close and ships to plunder not always on the horizon. But when a ship was spotted, they were often just as prized for their food supply as a Spanish galleon sailing low from treasure. Have you ever met a hangry pirate? *shivers*

One staple found on a pirate ship was sea biscuits. Sea biscuits, more commonly known as hardtack (but also called pilot bread, ship biscuit, sheet iron, molar breakers, among other endearments), are hard, dry, heavy, crackers that were inexpensive to make, filled the stomach, and provided some measure of sustenance. To make them more edible, they were dipped in ale, coffee, soups, water, or fried in animal fat when possible. These bricks, when kept dry, can last years. YEARS! This was why they were a must-have for sea voyages, during military warfare, and lengthy land migrations. Never mind those weevils. Given the storage, they eventually found their way into the hard tack. Pirates just knocked the biscuit on a solid surface and waited for the bugs to crawl out before eating. Ewww. But it was either that or starve.

Knowing that the biscuit was such a big part of a pirate’s diet, I just had to try some for myself. There are many slightly varying recipes but they all have the same basics—flour, salt, and water. Below is the recipe I used. With pictures! Huzzah! 

Hard Tack


Rolling pin
Cookie sheet
Something to make holes with – skewer, nail, dowel


2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix flour and salt together.
Add water and knead into dough. Add more water or flour as needed to get the right consistency.


Use a rolling pin to flatten and shape in a ½ thick square.
Cut into 9 smaller squares.

Use any implement to poke holes into squares to allow even baking.
Bake for 30 minutes. Be careful not to burn them.

As I’m making these things, I’m reminded of the doughy Christmas ornaments we used to make as kids. Now I’m certain these things will taste gross. But you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. The hardtack tasted like, well, unleavened bread dough. It would taste even better dipped in soup or drizzled with honey.

So why would you want to make hardtack today? To impress your pirate friends, of course. Never hurts to be prepared for an apocalypse, either.


About the Author                                                

Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest Author, Margaret Mallory on SCOTLAND, 1513: From the Golden Time To Chaos

I am super excited today to introduce you all to our guest author, Margaret Mallory. Margaret is a 2010 RITA Finalist for her book, Knight of Pleasure, the second book in her England-set medieval series ALL THE KING'S MEN. But today, she's here to tantalize us with a bit of Scottish history (and a girl after my own heart since her post also happens to be about the Tudors!) and her NEW Scottish romance series--which I CAN'T WAIT to read! I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret in person last year at the RWA National Conference, as well as enjoying membership with her through Celtic Hearts Romance Writers and Hearts Through History, she is sweet, funny and smart and I look forward to reading her work for many years to come! So, without further ado, I give you Margarget!

by Margaret Mallory

My new Scottish series, THE RETURN OF THE HIGHLANDERS, takes place during the chaotic aftermath of Scotland’s crushing defeat at the Battle of Flodden.
James IV
What a difference a day makes. In this case, that day was September 9, 1513, the day the Scots were defeated by the English at Flodden.

Before the Battle of Flodden, Scotland seemed to be on the verge of a golden age. King James IV fostered the growth of universities, supported musicians and poets, and built palaces that rivaled those on the continent.

The Great Hall at Stirling Castle

The king, who learned to speak Gaelic, even gained the allegiance of the usually rebellious Highland chieftains. For a time, he also achieved “Perpetual Peace” with England by his marriage to Margaret Tudor, Henry VII daughter, in a union hailed as the Thistle and the Rose. Peace, perpetual or otherwise, proved difficult to maintain with Margaret’s aggressive, younger brother, Henry VIII. When France called on Scotland’s help in fighting the English, James IV honored the Auld Alliance and marched into northern England with perhaps 30,000 men.

Margaret Tudor
Henry VIII - 1509
The king led the Scots to a crushing defeat at the Battle of Flodden in Northumberland. Thousands of Scots died in the battle. The king, who foolishly put himself in the thick of the battle as if he were an ordinary soldier, was among the many, many dead. His body was so mutilated that there rumors for years that the body was not his and that the king had escaped.

Unfortunately for Scotland, the king left a seventeen-month-old babe as heir to the throne. Pro-French and pro-English factions vied for power, and clan chieftains saw an opportunity to increase their lands and influence.

The young and handsome Douglas chieftain, the Earl of Angus, charmed his way into the queen’s bed almost before the king’s body was cold. The fact that Margaret Tudor was pregnant with the dead king’s child did not appear to give either of them much pause.

Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus
My hero and heroine in THE GUARDIAN, Book 1 of THE RETURN OF THE HIGHLANDERS, meet up with this dangerous pair of lovers on a trip to Stirling Castle.

Douglas overplayed his hand when he married Margaret. The Council was leery of having their enemy’s sister as regent and was glad for an excuse to replace her with the Duke of Albany, a Stewart who was raised in France. Margaret, however, refused to hand over the royal children until Albany laid siege to Stirling Castle.

Margaret Tudor Defying Parliament
A number of Highlander chieftains also died at Flodden, although there are conflicting stories as to how many and which ones were killed in the battle. This sudden change in the leadership of several clans added another layer of volatility, shifting alliances, and violence. In addition, the lack of a strong king led some of the Highland clans to rise up in rebellion again.

James IV was a Renaissance man, ahead of his time. In addition to supporting education, music, and new architecture, he unified his fractious country, skillfully negotiated European politics, and brought a period of relative peace to Scotland.

The four heroes of my RETURN OF THE HIGHLANDERS series left for France five years before the battle that changed everything. As soon as they hear the news of the Scot’s devastating loss to Henry VIII’s forces at Flodden, they hurry home to help their clan through the troubled times ahead.

And troubled times they were.


Visit Margaret Mallory at http://www.margaretmallory.com/Leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of Ms. Mallory's new release: THE GUARDIAN!!!


Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can't prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.


After years of fighting abroad, Ian MacDonald comes home to find his clan in peril. To save his kin, he must right the wrongs from his past . . . and claim the bride he's long resisted.

As a young lass, Sìleas depended on Ian to play her knight in shining armor. But when his rescue attempt compromised her virtue, Ian was forced to marry against his wishes. Five years later, Sìleas has grown from an awkward girl into an independent beauty who knows she deserves better than the reluctant husband who preferred war to his wife. Now this devilishly handsome Highlander is finally falling in love. He wants a second chance with Sìleas - and he won't take no for an answer.


Photos courtesy of Wikipedia, with the exception for the photo of The Great Hall, which was taken by the author, the author's photo, and the cover picture.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guest Blogger, Rebecca Lynn: One Bituminous Tuber (Or How the Potato Ruined the World)

Today on History Undressed, I am super excited to have guest blogger Rebecca Lynn joining us!  Rebecca has a delcious and lovely blog, Romancing the Palate that I frequent often.  So without further ado... I give you her post today on Food History and the Potato.

One Bituminous Tuber (Or How the Potato Ruined the World)

By Rebecca Lynn

Guest Blogger,
Rebecca Lynn
 Meat and potatoes. Many of Westerners, regardless of social status, find this to be the staple of their diet. In fact, the most common side dish for any kind of meat is some form of starch or potato. Mash them, bake them, slice them, fry them... we like our potatoes basically any way but raw. But food preparation hasn't always been like this. In fact, did you know that potatoes used to be forbidden? As in, oulawed! From the introduction of the potato into the Western palate, this starchy veg has gone through a true food revolution.

Aside from being closely linked to politics and social movements (like many other foods throughout history--salt, pepper, cinnamon, and sugar, to name a few), the potato was one of the first foods to come under true scientific scrutiny. Thought to be the cause of leprosy in the 16th century, the potato was outlawed for over 100 years in some parts of Western Europe because of its association with this deadly disease. After this belief was finally proven false, the reintroduction of the potato into the culinary atmosphere was so difficult, it required military intervention. Of course, potatoes were later linked to high fertility rates and a cure for diarrhea, among other positive associations. So not all potato-based mythology was negative.

Vincent van Gogh - The Potato Eaters
Still, potatoes were generally thought to be peasant food, through most of the Modern period. It was common for food-obsessed aristocrats (especially on the Continent) to look down on restaurants or parties that served potato dishes. In the British Isles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the potato became a subsistence crop for the very poor, especially in Ireland. Peasants relied on potato crops to keep their children's bellies full, so much so that when the potato blight happened in Ireland in 1845, over a million people died in the ensuing famine.
So now, we come to the obvious question. Why is this important? And as a romance novelist, why is food history important?

Food is necessary for humans to exist, and the realness of our culinary environment can place us at a very specific point in history. Like the evolution of the potato--which went from an illegal substance in the early 16th century to a marker of social status in the 19th to a staple across socio-economic barriers in the 21st--what a person eats, prepares, and serves can say a lot about who they are. You've heard the phrase, "you are what you eat"? Well, that's true in more than a health-obsessed way.

A 14th-century aristocrat in Scotland would likely not be eating potatoes (although I think you could make an argument for Scotland, of all places, because of its isolation). A 17th-century aristocrat in France certainly would not be eating potatoes. A 19th-century British aristocrat would associate potatoes with peasants. And if they were served at the table of, say, a merchant family, the way a true aristocrat would respond (especially in his own head) would authenticate your historicity. In the same way, the response of the merchant (who was, in essence, bridging the gap between the peasant and the noble) would make him seem more real, as well.

Food detail adds authenticity. And, let's face it, food history is FUN! :-) I had a great time researching this post. In fact, I found a great resource or two that you could potentially use. I'll give you one--the one where I got most of my information. It's called Food In History by Reay Tannahill, and it's a phenomenal food history resource. The other, well, you'll just have to take my food writing class to find out about all of my secrets!

What's that, you say? When and where am I teaching this illustrious Food Writing class? Well, you're in luck. It starts on Monday. It's called "Romancing the Palate", and you can register here: http://dunesanddreams.org/writing-workshops/2010-november-workshop-b/. If you can't take it this time, I'll be teaching another class in February that will last a full month. Watch my blog (http://romancingthepalate.blogspot.com) for more information on that one. And I have food history tidbits on my blog now and then, in addition to other food writing and foodie romance topics. So stop on by.

But mostly, I want to encourage you to use authentic and deep food detail in your books. Why? Because food is common to every human experience, much like love. And the more connected a person feels to your books, the more open they are to the message that romance writers deliver: that everyone deserves to love and be loved. In addition to being a political tool, a pleasure experience, and a necessary part of human existence, food is deeply connected to our ideas of love and loving. So what more perfect marriage could there be than food and romance novels?

I can think of none.

Rebecca Lynn has two Master's degrees and is very pretentious about it. Or, she's just another writer trying to get published. Only she does have some acumen in literature, history, and leadership, and she tries to use it as much as possible. She also ran her own restaurant for a number of years and has experience in the food industry, in addition to food writing. She believes that behind every good recipe is a good love story, and that food is integral to the experience of true romance. For her, anyway. She considers herself a foodie romance author and teaches food writing workshops online.