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

Books on Boats and Things That Float

My Old Man and the Sea...

Whatever it is in life that floats your boat, is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy a couple of hours fossicking about in a book shop, flicking through the pristine pages of books on your favourite topic?

Over the years I have gathered a bit of a collection of nautical books, which when combined with Reg’s collection is the beginnings of a maritime library. When it’s cold, wet and windy outside, and for whatever reason you’re not at sea, what better way to while away the afternoon than with your nose stuck in K Adlard Cole’s classic “Heavy Weather Sailing” or a big colourful coffee table book showcasing the best of Beken of Cowes marine photography? It is for this very reason that Reg refuses to part company with twenty years worth of Yachting World, Australian Sailing and Offshore subscriptions. I have a dream that one day I’ll be able to dedicate an entire room of the house to boat books, a sailor’s drawing room if you like. Yes, I’m a boat book geek.

Step inside...if you have a few hours to spare....

This afternoon, in the absence of such a refuge, I indulged in a couple of hours of blissful arm chair sailing when I popped in to Boat Books in Crows Nest. If you’re a sailor, boater or a fan of anything remotely nautical or of a coastal inclination and you haven’t heard of Boat Books then keep reading.

Established for over thirty years and now with shops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as a comprehensive online catalogue, Boat Books is the one stop shop for marine literature, charts and chart software. The thing that strikes you most when you browse through the shelves is the volume and variety of marine related books in stock. Far more than you’d be able to locate at the biggest general book store (5500 items in stock to be precise). Everything from the practicalities of repairing and maintaining diesel engines, mending sails, building wooden boats and plotting a safe course, through to seafood cookery books, marine and naval history, novels, marine photography and poetry, would appear to be available. There is something for everybody and if not I’m sure enquiries could be made to source what you are looking for.

Natural history meets Navy

Boat Books is also an official agent for Australian, British Admiralty, New Zealand and Fijian charts and offers a correcting service for charts you may already have. You can also purchase your digital charts and navigational software here whether for commercial or recreational purposes.

Charts....

A tea towel for the galley?

With titles like “Do Whales Get the Bends?”, “Dinner with the Fishwife” and “If Matthew Flinders Had Wings” it was a miracle I came out empty handed on this occasion. The only thing missing from the Boat Books experience was a nice cup of tea to sip whilst flicking through the pages of my next Christmas, birthday, anniversary present etc. Next time you are stuck for a gift for a boating enthusiast check out the online catalogue. In the meantime the gallery below will give you a flavour of what’s available.  Boat Books will have a stand at the Sydney Boat Show at Darling Harbour where Jessica Watson will be signing copies of her new book: True Spirit.

My trip to the book shop got me thinking about whether there is an absolute all time classic boat book. Perhaps its Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World or Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons? What’s your all time favourite?

Links

Boat Books Australia

Sydney  International Boat Show

Beyond the Shore: Sailing, Seafood, Wine…East Coast Australia

Beyond the Shore...

I want to share with you a book that I have had for a few years now and every time I pull it out from the shelf under the coffee table, it never fails to deliver a serving of pure escapism (dished up with equal portions of lifestyle envy).

Beyond the Shore encapsulates two of my greatest loves, and if you’re reading this blog, probably yours too; seafood and sailing. Until I came to Australia I had never really seen the point of cruising. But a sailing trip up the East coast of Tasmania, armed with a box of scallop pies and a case of Cascade, stopping at numerous small coastal towns all the way back to Sydney, soon changed my view on this topic.

Anyway, back to the book. If you’re not yet a convert to cruising, or indeed sailing in any shape or form, but like your seafood and wine then you might just find enlightenment in the pages of this book. Rosemary and Rob Peterswald pay homage to the beautiful east coast of Australia by sailing their yacht Oceania from Hobart to Cape York over a period of two years. In this time they share with us their sailing experiences and the food they (sometimes catch) and prepare on board as well as the culinary highlights of visits to great restaurants along the way. Recipes vary from the simple galley cooked Spicy Seafood Stew prepared at Ulladulla, to the Rosti Fillet of Beef with Moreton Bay Bugs served up by “Micheles” at Townsville Marina. All the food is matched with wines and the authors bring a touch of the sommelier in their tasting notes that accompany each recipe and meal.

Beautiful Photography and Design

Snapshots from Tropical Climes

What really makes this book endearing to me is the beautiful photography and presentation, and the combination of cookbook, travelogue and family journal. The back pages include a collage of black and white photos of all the friends, family and people met along the way. My favourite of course is the photo of the author’s family Labrador sporting sailing cap and looking very distinguished and “salty seadog” sitting beside the cockpit.  That was the clincher.

Here’s Rob and Rosemary’s recipe for Spicy Seafood Stew:

Heat 3/4 of a cup of olive oil, 4 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped chillies, 4 peeled tomatoes, diced octopus pieces, available fish heads. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove fish heads and discard. Add 1-2 cups of white wine, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, sufficient small potatoes in their jackets, and simmer for a further 10 minutes, add fish chunks, peas or beans and simmer for a further 6-7 minutes. Add cooked mussels, crayfish chunks, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a minute or so until they are reheated. Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread and full bodied wine.

I found the book available for sale at Dymocks online for $59.95 and via a number of online bookshops when I googled the title. The publisher is not quoted in the book.

ISBN 0-646-43561-2

Beachcomber Cottage

Have you ever thought about taking a sabbatical? Running away somewhere quiet and peaceful to pursue life’s more simple pleasures? If you have then you’ll like this book. You’ll also like it if diving, dogs, wildlife watching, outdoor pursuits, the good life (i.e. chooks, veggies etc) and roughing it (or any one of the above) fall under the category of “your cup of tea”. 

You might not like this book if you are staunchly anti-hunting as it touches on the topic of the West Highland stag cull. The author himself is quite relieved when he misses. But he indirectly raises the point that in order to critique such practices from afar, you really need to pay a visit and take the time to understand the way of life and what’s involved, a philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with.

The book is all about an ex-Marine turned explorer, marine biologist and writer and his recently rescued “donkey sized” dog Monty heading to the west coast of Scotland to try their hand at pursuing the simple life of a crofter. Crofters were tenant farmers who tended small plots of land, raising some livestock and a few crops. The crofter’s home was a simple affair made of local stone called a bothy and the way of life has now all but died out. Here’s a clip from youtube to give you a flavour…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An15Gz9hQDI

The book is really a journal of Monty Hall’s experience living in a small community on the coastal West Highlands of Scotland. Whilst I’m not sure that a four wheel drive landrover defender and a large RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with a 125hp engine were the tools of trade of your typical crofter, the book is still a great read and I grew to like the author. Well actually I was really just a bit jealous! To sum it up its a bit like River Cottage meets Bear Grylls with some Jacques Cousteau thrown in for good measure. Western Isles of Scotland now added to my list!  Has anyone else read it or something similar?

Published by Random House you can get it here:

http://www.rbooks.co.uk/search_results.aspx?search=Beachcomber%20Cottage&bic=

or probably also in the ABC shop as it was  filmed for a BBC series.

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