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Ship’s Biscuit

Ship’s Biscuit was one of the staples of Naval cuisine, at least for the enlisted man (Jane Austen mentions that her mother preserved several hams for her sea bound officer son to take with him…) This type of food, however, would have been no stranger to the sea faring Austen brothers. Made of flour, salt and water, they were baked up to four times, to ensure that any excess moisture was removed, allowing the bread to last indefinitely.

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A ship’s biscuit—purportedly the oldest in the world—displayed at the maritime museum in Kronborg, Denmark.

At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the daily allowance on board a Royal Navy ship was one pound of biscuits plus one gallon of beer. Later, Samuel Pepys in 1667 first regularized naval victualing with varied and nutritious rations. Royal Navy hardtack during Queen Victoria’s reign was made by machine at the Royal Clarence Victualing Yard at Gosport, Hampshire, stamped with the Queen’s mark and the number of the oven in which they were baked. Biscuits remained an important part of the Royal Navy sailor’s diet until the introduction of canned foods; canned meat was first marketed in 1814, and preserved beef in tins was officially introduced to the Royal Navy rations in 1847.

Ship’s biscuit, crumbled or pounded fine and used as a thickener, was a key ingredient in New England seafood chowders from the late 1700s onward.

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A Little Sea Bathing Would Set me up Forever!

During Jane Austen’s day, taking a holiday by the sea was no uncommon thing. The popularity of towns such as Brighton inspired Jane to write her last, unfinished novel, Sanditon, about a small town with big city aspirations.

The Sea air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every Disorder…
Sanditon, pp.329-30

Sea bathing in York in 1814
Sea bathing in York in 1814

Sea bathing itself, would prove to be an interesting experience for any young lady bold enough or ill enough to be encouraged to attempt it. Wagons, called Bathing Machines, were invented especially for the purpose, and would be drawn out into the water by sturdy women, who might then assist you down into the water where you could paddle about or swim in relative privacy, shielded from view of the shore.

A period Bathing Machine

Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide and her son Hastings spent part of December 1790 through part of January 1791 at the seaside town of Margate. She wrote of her time there, as quoted from JASA’s Jane Austen at the Seaside:

I had fixed on going to London the end of this Month, but to shew You how much I am attached to my maternal duties, on being told by one of the faculty whose Skill I have much opinion of that one month’s bathing at this time of the Year was more efficacious than six at any other & that consequently my little Boy would receive the utmost benefit from my prolonging my stay here beyond the time proposed, like a most exemplary parent I resolved on foregoing the fascinating delights of the great City for one month longer … Was not this heroic? … Hastings grows much & begins to lisp english tolerably well, his education is likewise begun, his Grandmamma having succeeded in teaching him his letters. The Sea has strengthened him wonderfully & I think has likewise been of great service to myself, I still continue bathing notwithstanding the severity of the Weather & Frost & Snow which is I think somewhat courageous.
Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’, pp 97-99

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The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
-Persuasion

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

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Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

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How To Make a Sailors Valentine

Sailor’s Valentine – “A Present/Think of Me”, shell, cedar, glass, metal, cotton, tintype, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Strong Museum.

Centuries ago, Sailors’ Valentines were handmade gifts by sailors to be given to their girlfriend or wife. I can only imagine just how difficult it must have been to be a sailor in the 19th century and to be away from his true love for months, possibly even years at a time. There certainly was no form of constant communication like phones or the internet, and there was no mail delivery at sea. A sailor could write a letter to his love and mail the letter when he was in port, but mail to him would be sporadic, if at all. It would require a great deal of devotion to remain bound to someone you couldn’t see or talk to with any regularity.

No doubt, the sailors chose their vocation to either provide or to prepare to provide for his loved ones. Hard economic times have always plagued our world and people have always done what was necessary to earn a living. I don’t deny there were some who loved the sea and longed for adventure, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t also desire to be with the one they loved.

Some believe that the sailors spent months collecting unique and beautiful seashells during their travels and personally make intricate, detailed seashell artwork. When they returned home they would present these labors of love to their betrothed or wife as a symbol of their constant devotion. It would say to the recipient ‘I was thinking of you always’ without a word having to be spoken.

My Sailor’s Valentine
Today making a sailor’s valentine is not as difficult as it would have been in generations past. We can purchase seashells by the pound and pick through the bags for the perfect shell. There are even kits available to purchase if you want to make a specific design without the hassle of searching for the right size, shape or color shell.
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Sailor’s Valentines: A gift of Love

Let’s start this look at Sailor’s Valentines with a poem;
The distant climes may us divide
to think on you shall be my pride
The Winds and Waves may prove unkind
In me no change you’ll ever find.
A magic spell will bind us fast
And make me love you to the last
Let Cupid then your heart incline
to take me for your Valentine!
Sailor’s Valentine – “A Present/Think of Me”, shell, cedar, glass, metal, cotton, tintype, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Strong Museum.

Jane Austen’s brothers, Francis and Charles, often sailed in the East Indies. Is it possible that one of them might have brought back a ‘Sailor’s Valentine’ for his sweetheart or wife? It is thought that by 1820, the craze for these treasures had reached a peak that would last through the Victorian era.

A Regency needlework silk picture- “The Sailor’s Farewell”, depicting a Tar leaving a weeping woman in front of a domestic setting with stumpwork trees.

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Mrs. Lucas’ Mince Pie

Did Charlotte dine with you? No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince pies. -Pride and Prejudice Although Mrs. Bennet makes a sly jab at Charlotte Lucas for being home advising the staff on how to prepare the mince pies, it is clear that she is a much better manager and housekeeper than either Mrs. Bennet or her daughters are likely to be. Mince pies are often associated with Christmas, and for good reason. They are the Christmas pies referred to in Medieval times, though these were generally rectangular, to represent the Christ child’s cradle. The dried fruits and spices symbolized the three gifts of the Magi. Many mince pies contained chopped meat as well as spices. The brandy used in the filling acted as a preservative, allowing large quantities to be made up at one time and stored until use. I’ve pared down this recipe to make enough filling for one large pie. If you choose to replace the brandy with juice, use the filling immediately; it won’t store well.   To Make A Mince Pie Without Meat Chop fine three pounds of suet, and three pounds of apples, when pared and cored, wash and dry three pounds of currants, stone and chop one pound of jar raisins, beat and sift one pound and a half of loaf sugar, cut small twelve ounces of candied orange peel, and six ounces of citron, mix all well together with a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, (more…)