Ships and Food

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Ships and Food is a topic worth any number of digressions. Not down the boulevards of fine dining aboard Blue Riband liners crossing the Atlantic but rather the arterial roads that lead to shifts we have made to nourish sailors. These shifts were fairly met and had some repercussion on common-or-garden terrestrial foods.

Provisioning navies requires forethought. Soldiers, even as late as the German invasion of Russia in 1941, tended to live off the land; hence the success of a scorched earth strategy. Sailors, however, once embarked, might not make landfall until their return, with only a fishing line (or their comrades) as last resort. Ships stores consisted of dry goods (meal, rice, legumes, and hard tack), salt meats and fish, pickled vegetables, some butter and hard cheese (skim-milk Suffolk was once popular but was so hard as to be barely edible). All this was kept in often leaking barrels (a cooper was usually among the crew).