WWPD – What Would Pirates Do?


geistpiratenToday is Talk Like A Pirate Day – not strictly a food holiday, per se, but if you need a reason for having a feast and mad libations today, this occasion certainly is reason enough.

What began in 1995 as good-natured swearing-like-buccaneers among raquetball-playing friends [oh, can we call it squash-buckling? No? Sorry.], became a more widespread [non]holiday when it was championed by syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry. Barry became the official spokesman of the pirate holiday, scoring mainstream media coverage and national attention for the annual celebration. Said Barry: “talking like a pirate will infuse your everyday conversations with romance and danger.”

Romance *and* danger? Sign us up!

While not really wanting to go so far as to strap on a peg leg [but while still being open to wearing an eye patch, and a Seinfeld-esque pirate shirt], we wondered if we could cook like a pirate, while we spend the day talking like a pirate?

What would pirates eat?

Apparently, me mateys, pirate grub ain’t pretty.

Sea travel in the 17th and 18th centuries was treacherous and fraught [fraught! I say!] with danger, all the more dangerous if you were a pirate, traveling furtively, on the run from the law.  Stopping in at the nearest “civillized” port to load up on fresh food and supplies was neither safe nor practical, so the cargo hold of a pirate ship had to be stocked with everything needed for sustenance on the long journey.

So what did they have to eat? Not Another Food Blog says pirate ships stocked lots of dried beans and hard tack [cracker-y biscuits], and pickled foods. Unless they were lucky enough to have poultry and cattle on board for eggs and milk, pirates had little fresh food available to them; many stories tell of widespread food-borne illness and death.

Turtle eggs and turtle soup was considered a treat and a delicacy on the pirate menu. A less appetizing entree was the ominously-named Bone Soup, which was simmered from any meaty bones they could obtain [including those of expired pirates, ick].

While the pirate pantry sounds pretty grim, their beverage choices were a little more pleasant. The fun History of the World in Six Glasses says that fortified wines [like port] and distilled liquors [like rum] made long-distance travel possible [these did not spoil like wine or beer would do]. Mark Kurlansky’s excellent book Cod argues that rum made the Age of Exploration necessary [to obtain sugar cane to make the rum, and to supply slaves to grow the sugar cane, and to catch the cod to feed the slaves].

Along with beer, sherry, port, and straight rum, pirates were known to drink bombo [bumboo or bumpo], rum flavored with cane syrup, nutmeg, allspice and any other local plentiful island spice.

Several sources cite the Rumfustian as a favored pirate drink, and its perilous inclusion of raw egg. It’s an unholy alliance of raw eggs with sugar, sherry, gin, and beer with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Pirate beverages, on the whole, seem like a safer bet than pirate entrees. If you really want to cook like a pirate, with a modern twist, we recommend a dish called Salmagundi . In the present day, salmagundi is a dish with chopped meat and anchovies on top. In the Age of Exploration, salmagundi was made of whatever was available. Often, the dish included chopped meat (beef, fish, chicken, pig, turtle, etc.), eggs, anchovies, onions, grapes, currants, cabbage and herring. Salt, pepper, garlic, oil and vinegar were often used as seasoning. It was made in large quantities and could keep pirates going for almost a week or more.

Do you celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day? Let us know if you try any of these [admittedly unusual] dishes or drinks!

Image: Geistpiraten [ghost pirates] by Playmobil. Wonder if they subsist on ghost chiles?