Ahoy! Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day; a random “holiday” where people are encouraged to channel their inner swashbuckler, break out their parrots and peg legs, and talk like a plunderer of the sea. Kind of fun, right? So to get into the holiday cheer, I thought to myself – what exactly did pirates eat anyway? They were stuck at sea for long periods of time without much produce or meat…so I did a little research and thought I’d pass it onto you guys.
It’s interesting to note that the first few weeks of a voyage were rather plentiful, with a decent availability of meats, cheeses, eggs, etc. However, after a while at sea, the food would begin to spoil and that’s when things would get…nasty.
- Beverages: Fresh water did not last long on ships and the concentration of salt in sea water will actually dehydrate someone, so pirates mainly drank rum to quench their thirst. Rum has a long shelf life and was readily available. Pirates also enjoyed beer, sherry, brandy, and port.
- Protein: Cows and chickens were brought on board to provide milk, eggs, and eventually meat. When the animals were no longer able to be fed, they were used as food. Meat served to the crew was often rotten and filled with maggots. Occasionally sea turtles and fish were caught for additional, fresh protein. It was also not unheard of to hear of a pirate who ate a slave or captive. Clearly these were hungry people. Leftover meat was often salted/cured in order to prolong its self life.
- Carbohydrates: At ports, pirates would enjoy hunks of bread with their meals. On board the ship, they would eat hardtack sea biscuits. These dense biscuits would last for around 12 months if kept dry.
- Spices: Since much of the food was rotting, galley cooks became quite good at masking the rancid meat with herbs and spices.
- Misc: Food kept in storage included dried beans, pickled vegetables, and salted meats.
Some common pirate dishes…
- Bacon (when available)
- Black bean hash: Made from dried beans.
- Bone soup: Soup made from the bones and leftovers of sea turtles and whatever else the pirates caught.
- Eggs (when available)
- Hardtack sea biscuits: Shelf life of 12 months if kept dry.
- Grease Grits
- Grog or ale
- Salmagundi: A “salad” made from whatever was available. Often included chopped meat/fish, onions, grapes, cabbage, salt/pepper, garlic, oil, vinegar.
- Salted meats
And just for fun, here’s a video of everyone’s favorite, Jack Sparrow:
Enjoy th’ rest o’ yer day!