‘green stuff’

The Day - Sound & Country - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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