First officer’s log, whaleship CharlesW. Morgan, January 7, 1864. The good news: “Brava, Cape Verde Islands . . . Took on Board six Hogs four fowls and some Oranges.” The bad news: “The Cook deserted.”
From surly cooks, to soggy barrels of scum-covered drinking water, to mercilessly repetitive rations, it goes without saying that when it came to grub, life on board a whaling ship was no pleasure cruise. During voyages lasting three years or more, the average whaler’s diet consisted largely of salt beef, salt pork, watery tea or “coffee” (sometimes made from roasted peas), potatoes (while they lasted), beans, flour (often vermininfested), molasses, “duff” (steamed or boiled bread pudding) on Sundays, and the inevitable hardtack: dried sea biscuits, about the size and density of hockey pucks.
When the cook wasn’t jumping ship (the job was one of the worst on board, in both status and pay) or being clapped in irons for insubordination or just plain lousy cooking, he might treat the crew to a batch of doughnuts, deep-fried in whale oil and traditionally served as a reward for securing every thousandth barrel of the precious commodity. (More often he hoarded cooking grease, also known as “slush,” in a private stash which he sold to soap makers at the end of the voyage, pocketing the profits from his “slush fund.”)
Yet adding spice (literally) to monotonous whaling voyage menus were ingredients procured at various, exotic ports of call from the Azores, toMadagascar, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
“At four o’clock, the captain returned with a boatload of fresh provisions,” rejoiced Felix Riensenberg in “Under Sail: A Boy’s Voyage Around Cape Horn”, recalling the day in 1897 when his clipper ship dropped anchor in Honolulu after a