Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Captain Cook’s Wife is My Heroine

Mrs Cook's Book of Recipes for Mariners in Distant Seas

Its been a bit chilly for trips in the tinny with a very small person who can’t swim yet so its been a long time between blogs.  Reg returned home on Sunday from his (and once my) annual pilgrimage to the Whitsundays for Hamilton Island Race Week which meant I was left, literally, holding the baby. While he was away I turned to the bookshelf for some light relief and came across a stocking filler from a few years back called “Mrs Cook’s Recipes for Mariners in Distant Seas” by John Dunmore.

The recipes in the book are shared through the eyes of Elizabeth Cook, a remarkable woman who outlived her famous husband as well as (sadly) her six children. Apart from the amusement provided by the quirky recipes (roasted goat, stewed dog and seabirds cooked in a variety of ways), I learned a lot about the life of this unsung hero of the British Empire.

They say behind every good man there is an even greater woman. I thought I was doing it tough for ten days alone with a newborn and a toddler whilst Reg lived it up in Queensland. Elizabeth must have been made of sterner stuff than me, what with Jimmy setting off for months and years at a time, returning home long enough to conceive the next child and then heading off again on his next adventure on the high seas. Furthermore I’m sure it wasn’t the done thing in those days for a wife to keep a record of her accumulated brownie points balance and book in for a trip to the day spa on her husbands return.

She must have loved him a lot to have published a whole chapter of recipes titled “To Welcome Home a Weary Mariner” including yorkshire pudding and roast beef, jugged pigeon, oyster loaves and strawberries as fritters. Reg was dispatched straight to the pizza shop as soon as he’d finished putting the kids to bed!

If you like cooking and maritime history then you’ll enjoy flicking through this gorgeous little book. For Rhubarbs benefit we’ll skip the chapter on “dog stewed and in broth” and leave you with something more palatable to welcome home a weary mariner:

Poor Knight’s Pudding

Mr Cook was partial to this dish, which is easy to make and oft served in our home. When he was sailing off the land of New Zealand he sighted some islands which made him think of this delicacy, which he now sorely missed, being so far away from home, and so he gave them the name of ‘Poor Knights Islands’.

  • Take 4 thick slices of bread
  • 2 eggs
  • A small spoonful of sugar, well crushed
  • A small spoonful of cinnamon, ground
  • 6 or 7 ounces of milk

Beat well the eggs, the milk, the sugar and the cinnamon, all together. Cut the bread into quarters; cutting off the crusts is best. Pour the mixture over the bread, and leave to soak some 3 minutes.

Heat some oil in a pan, ready for frying. Drain the bread and slide carefully into the pan, then fry until golden brown on both sides. Sprinkle over this the sugar and the cinnamon.

Some prefer to use a little sweet white wine instead of the milk. And some may add a little preserve such as strawberry jam to flavour the dish, in that case using it instead of the sugar.

Published by Exisle Publishing and the National Maritime Museum of Australia

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