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Eating Columbus

October 13, 2014

This is going to be a big week. There’s a lot to talk about. Friday I finally made it out to Taste to put their new weekly menu through the paces. Yesterday I got to take a look at the DZ Farm and talk to all the executive chefs in the restaurant group about their plans for the future. Tuesday All Over Albany is going to announce the winner of the Tournament of Pizza.

But today is Columbus Day, and I usually take the day off. So what am I doing here? Good question.

When I lived in Berkeley this quasi-holiday had been transformed into Indigenous Peoples day. The world is a complicated place, and seems to get more complicated by the day. Did Columbus do more harm than good? Most likely if it wasn’t him, it would have been somebody else. It was the age of ships and the age of discovery.

Today I will neither celebrate nor demonize the man. I will however enjoy a day off and have brunch with a few of my favorite people. And I’ll leave you to ponder the following.

Can you trust any information on the internet these days?

The following may or may not be true. I would suspect that it’s true since it comes from The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia, which is actually a real place. But are all the pages on their website meticulously fact checked and well researched? Your guess is as good as mine.

Still, I’ll share the information that I found there because I find it interesting and cogent. I stumbled upon it, because in light of the holiday, I was wondering what Christopher Columbus ate on his ship. Here’s what the museum has to say:

In a letter to the King and Queen, Columbus had very specific orders for the food of the expedition. The standard food aboard a Spanish long-distance voyage was wine, olive oil, sea biscuit, and salted meat. Columbus requested from the Crown: good (not stale) sea biscuit, salted flour (for making bread aboard ship), wheat flour, wine, salt meat (usually salted beef), olive oil, vinegar, cheese, dried chickpeas, dried lentils, dried beans, salt fish (usually anchovies and sardines), fishing tackle, (fish for fishing while aboard), honey, rice, almonds, and raisins.

The olive oil was used for cooking things like chickpeas, lentils, beans, and salted meat. The bread they cooked onboard was usually “baked” in the hot coals of the fire pit. One of the sailors cooked a meal in the fire pit, which was the one hot meal served every day at 11 am. The meal would be served in a large wooden trencher and the crew may have had small wooden bowls for their portion. The sailors would use the knives they carried for work (for cutting rope and sail cloth) to cut or pick-up large pieces of food. Otherwise they did not have any forks or spoons. The primary drink was wine and next, water. Both were kept in barrels onboard. The water quickly went stagnate, so wine with alcohol kept better for longer. So the crews drank the wine first and then drank the water as a last resort. There was no coffee or tea to add to the water. At the end of the day, the firebox was extinguished for the night, since fire on a ship is extremely dangerous.

If it weren’t for the stagnant water, that doesn’t sound so bad. But I can’t imagine eating rice and dried beans cooked in dank, stale water. But lentils and rice cooked in wine and olive oil with some dried salted meat wouldn’t be half bad. Finishing it all off with a little cheese, honey, almonds and raisins? It sounds almost decadent.

Surely it wasn’t. But it still probably beats what most Americans eat nowadays.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 13, 2014 8:58 pm

    No leaven for the bread? Maybe Christopher Columbus had his own stash of sourdough, but I doubt it since he demands flour with the salt already mixed in.

    And yes, I think he did more bad than good since he made no significant cultural contribution and opened the door to pestilence, slavery and the colonization of Texas.

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