Monday, September 18

Mr. Booke

A sailor named Booke has been with us for the last year. He is a tolerable sailor and prior to his impressment was a thief and pickpocket of some repute, if such things can be reputable. He is caught frequently stealing Baptiste's leaches for fishing bait, but I think they have finally put a stop to that. 

 He is well liked by the sailors, but not as well amongst the officers, especially the boatswain Hollybrass who is constantly on the lookout for any misbehavior. 

 When we are in port, he isn't allowed to go out on his own, but always manages to slip away, coming back with a wallet full of handkerchiefs and other sundries which he will then sell to the sailors for less than they could buy them in the stores. 

 He loves to sing and play the fiddle and is usually very jovial, however the men report that he is constantly hatching plans to escape and offering up partnerships in his criminal activities to anyone who will entertain him. 

 Recently while in port, he slipped away and was discovered in the house of a Lady Carroline Linnington’s home with a bundle full of fine silver and as much food as he could stuff into a wallet. He was captured by the constable and handed over to the ships crew for which he received several lashes. Baptiste considers him a friend and personally saw to his care after the administration of the cat. 

 He is a rogue in every way, but on quiet nights while the boat rocks, his singing does bring a small comfort and make me feel at home. 

-William Bowles, Midshipman 1803

Thursday, September 14

Baptiste, the Surgeon's Mate

“There is aboard my ship an old French sailor. He has been impressed as the surgeon’s mate, we having lost ours, and he having served in that capacity aboard others. He is a cheerful enough fellow for having been forced into the position of possibly fighting his countrymen and is full of stories from his travels. He has twice been wrecked, chased by land crocodiles in the Dutch West Indies, captured by Spanish privateers, stowed a rattlesnake aboard his ship, lived among head hunters in the South China Sea and a thousand other such tales. If a quarter of what he tells is truth he has lived a full life indeed!”
Robert Watson aboard HMS Acasta in a letter to his wife, Sept 16, 1813

Wednesday, September 13

Cooking for the Crew part 3

Dishing it out

Written by Acasta Ship's Cook: Michael Schwendau

So, the recipe has been sourced, ingredients made or found, all has been mixed, chopped broiled, basted or boiled. Time to eat the creation brought to life again by you in the pursuit of getting it historically correct or acceptable with in your means.

Service of historical dishes with meals that surround it is always a blast. As Chef Walter Staib has said in his series and books; “I don’t know what Ben Franklin ate or what John Hancock ate, but I can tell you what was served at the table and what they drank.” From there it is anyone’s guess. If you want to go for authenticity of service, there are plenty of housewife manuals or stewards books to refer to. The New York Public library has a great collection to give one the idea of how it should look finished on platter and how it is garnished. 

Especially at events, the Tavern keeper likes to put a new dish or two before the group for them to try and other staples they know. Patrons of events enjoy talking about the food we are handling, what we made, are you going to eat that? Is all too common of a question. The crew let us know what they like and what they prefer not to see in the near future if ever at all. There is no greater reward of fellowship than a meal. From the first bite to the rowdy rounds of sea shanties lead by the Carpenter. 

The meal, is the experience we give each other over a few crumbs of bread and plenty of cheer.

Tuesday, September 12

Cooking for the Crew part 2

All Hands to the Books!

Written by Acasta Ship's Cook: Michael Schwendau

Where does one begin? Well, it begins with some great reading and research. As a former culinary professional, I ravaged, plundered and spirited away many culinary tomes from the used book shops and thrifts. For there are lots of prize old cook books, local, international, home diaries or traveler journals to help you on the way. These are the best resources to start with. A few of my favorites are Lobscouse & Spotted Dog by Grossman and Thomas, the City Tavern Cookbook by Staib, LaRousse Gastronomique by Potter; my primer in culinary school; and countless others await us. 

When it comes to the internet, I recommend it to chase archives down and other research done on the topic. Your curiosity is shared by many others, new friends await. I will caution you, not all sites are given the equal attention to the details as others, but when all else fails. Return to the books. They are normally well researched, recipes are tested and typically have a good following. Success is nearly guaranteed.

Ship shape and Bristol fashion…

The French call it mise en place, professional cooks call it the Mee-z, simply put square your stuff away right and proper. Basically, get organized and figure out what you need to make that dish. Finding the book is one thing, finding the ingredients is another? What was once common on the table is pretty uncommon in many ways, yet in others. They have transformed into more widely accepted flavors, textures and qualities to the modern taste palette.

For example Catsup, once a far eastern sauce from China was a fermentation of fish and aromatics. A close cousin was the Roman Agar; what we call Worcestershire sauce today and Vietnamese Fish Sauce is even a bit closer. This was brought to Europe by the traders and transformed in to mushroom catsup, fruit catsups and finally in the 1876 Heinz found the right mix with Tomato Ketchup and now we use it a lot, like millions of pounds of it. There is much more to just this one topic, catsup. You could spend months of time chasing it. But that is the fun and excitement of it. Discovering the past, tasting it too… if you are prepared.

In short the trade routes, both land and sea. Brought new ingredients, methods of preservation and flavors to Europe and this case England. Over time, they became staple then a bit further refinement takes place into dishes that we stoically refer to as English.

Shopping for the ingredients can be both frustrating and rewarding. Commercial chains grocery stores have many of the base and staple ingredients you need, cuts of meat, butter, cream and such. Sometimes you have to go askew and wander the wilderness of Asian Markets, Farmers Markets, Latin American Grocery stores and other strange but rewarding places. There you will find all kinds of teas, salts, herbs, fish and spices that cannot be sourced elsewhere. The internet, yet again has its place. For instance, good cooking suet is still made in England by Argo. Great stuff… and a necessary for a good Spotted Dog or Figgie Pudding. But be cautious and look to see if the vendor has a good reputation and is not priced to highly.

It takes time, sometimes… piles of it. Plan your work time way ahead. Give extra time on new dishes, due to the many unknown’s you might be facing. As with many skills, the more you do it. The easier it become and less stressful. Once is not perfection, but it is one less time till you get to the perfect one.

Lastly, when it comes to ingredients, I cannot stress this enough. Hit the Farmers Market in your area. There is a lot of knowledge, from cuts of meat, to cheese making, to produce. If they don’t have it, they might know a friend of a friend. Plus they are super eager to share their knowledge and if you are lucky. You can go hang with them as they go through the process of making that ingredient or harvesting that produce. My wife sometimes cringes when she goes to the basement and is affronted with a new strange aroma; by the way honey... That is sauerkraut from a recipe I found on a food blog from Pozen... It just has to ferment another two months. be concluded tomorrow in part 3, "Dishing it out"

Monday, September 11

Cooking for the Crew part 1

What is Historical Cooking?

Written by Acasta Ship's Cook Michael Schwendau

As the cook for the crew, there is much to learn and digest. Like with all the trades on the ship, the feeding of the crew was challenge. Just like the meals you enjoy, the crews had favorites they cherished and the doldrums of “ration”. I will endeavor to describe the process that I and several of the members of the group go through or gone though in seeking out period entrees, sides, sweets and of course; the punch bowl.

It is a curious adventure of finding a dish, tracking it back through time and then sourcing ingredients, sometimes making ingredients or figuring out a rational alternative. 

In the scope of the culinary world, there is a lot of theft going on. Noodles from China became pasta in Italy; Savory pies from Germany became staples in England; Ingredients will change, cooking methods a bit too, but in the end. If you go far enough down the rabbit hole you will make it to the other side of the culinary looking glass  and find there is a plenty that taken or transformed.

This thing, historical cooking, sometimes means chasing a recipe backwards in time. De-evolution if you will. Making notes of what ingredients changed, what culture impacted it the most and when, how, where occasionally. The modern taste for flavors is constantly changing, that is a challenge too. Especially with the spice and flavor profiles in many old recipes. Equipment is always a nagging issue; do you go hand on or use the blender. Questions always come up such as; “Can I still get the ingredients for a white pudding? Where do I find cocks comb in 2017? Will they eat liver and heart in a Pig’s Fry, where do I find said liver and heart? How or rather why the heck would you boil a bag of beef?!”

Then the challenge of the preparation and presentation. Do you just assemble the dish or do you go through the rough process of making the force meat, milling the suet, and lastly buying that copper pudding pot to make it authentic? Do make at home or do I take on the risk of a flop in the field over a coal fire? How am I going to serve this? Where do I find a Queen Anne Trench Platter?!

Practice makes perfect, perfect is a moment, and never serve panic. So what I am really saying to you is; never give up and incorporate it into your home meal occasionally until you feel comfortable with it and then move to the next step in the chain of events. Puddings will burn, meat will be under cooked, but if you aren’t trying to learn the telltale signs of an oncoming flop… you will never meet success. If it goes haywire on you. DO NOT PANIC, just calmly regroup and either try again or reinvent the dish.

Consider this as an essay on why you should look at your food with the same enthusiasm as finding a period piece of clothing or furniture. Food in the living history world, is often over looked and not given much consideration. Take this as a challenge if you are a living historian, learn to make a few period dishes. For our casual guest, let it be an insight to discover the history of what you might have for supper today and the detail we seek in our adventure as the crew. be continued tomorrow in part 2 "All Hands to the Books!"

Friday, September 8

Locke vs. Swan

Screenshots taken from: Massachusetts Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Volume 13. H.O. Houghton and Company, 1864

Monday, September 4

Poor, Unfortunate Darby

Screen shot taken from: The Royal Naval and Military Calendar:
And National Record for 1821. By George Mackenzie

Friday, September 1

Welcome Aboard!

The purpose of the HMS ACASTA and the ROYAL TARS of OLD ENGLAND is to accurately portray a crew of His Majesty's Royal Navy circa 1800-1810 for the educational benefit of the public and for the mutual research and enjoyment of the individual members.

Our organization will educate via a series of first person activities designed to demonstrate the real lives of sailors as they go about their business and live their lives. Landing Parties, Surveying Crews, Recruitment Drives, Press Gangs, Shore Leave... these are but a few of the activities that our crew will undertake whilst encamped at an event. During duty hours, we follow proper Navy protocols and sailors are expected to live a sailor's life.

You can learn more about our group on the ABOUT US page.

If you enjoy reading the adventures of HMS Acasta, be certain to become an honorary member of the crew. This is a easy way to show us that you're out there and paying attention. It is a simple matter really, there is a blue button at the bottom of the page that will allow you to join.

And Second, I would ask that you comment from time to time on the posts that interest you the most. This is an excellent way to let the crew of the Acasta know what you, the reader, is the most interested in seeing. It is always most gratifying to know what the readers like. For those of you that have commented in the past, we thank you for you support and interest!

If you find a post that you are particularly fond of... be sure to share a link with your friends, over Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, etc. so they can enjoy it too!

Thursday, August 31

Vassermann's Little Book

Because my personal servant, James Vassermann, is mute, I have given him a little book that he is to carry with him that he can write in. On the first two pages of said book I have written a letter of introduction for him. You can see it clearly in these images of the book and a few of his personal items.

Wednesday, August 30

The Valiant's Storybook

"They've written us a proper storybook with this one sir!" said the midshipman as he looked across toward HMS Valiant, their signal flags whipping in the stiff breeze. It was enough breeze that they stood out straight and clear, it would make it easier to translate them.

"At least they're not all limp." said the boy as he started jotting the numbers down on his little slate for translation.

The Lieutenant of the watch frowned at the boy, but it was true, this message was fairly lengthy. Adding to his frustration, the Valiant had used several longer numbers that he didn't immediately recognize, he was going to have to fetch the book for this one.