Fantasy Food to Go – Part 1 – All at Sea

Winterwood front coverAs a fantasy writer I’ve given much thought to what characters eat on those epic journeys by land and sea. My Rowankind Trilogy involved stocking the Heart of Oak, Ross’s tops’l schooner, for an Atlantic voyage. You need to base that shopping list on real life to keep it believable. I’m indebted to David Fictum’s  ‘Colonies Ships and Pirates’  for making available a chart of British Navy Food Rations, 1677-1740s.

Sailors’ Rations
In 1677, Samuel Pepys, the Secretary to the Admiralty, established predetermined rations for each sailor: one pound of biscuits and a gallon of beer each day. Four pounds of beef, two pounds of salted pork, three eighths of a twenty-four-inch cod, two pints of peas, six ounces of butter, and between eight and twelve ounces of cheese each week. There were suitable substitutions if necessary (depending on the climate they were sailing in). Some of the (salted) fish might be replaced with oatmeal, or even rice, or flour and suet. In 1731 it was official policy to issue canvas with which to make pudding bags so that one day a week the cooks could boil puddings of flour and suet to replace that day’s salt beef ration.

On board ship it was important to make sure the sailors got enough liquid. A gallon of liquid was important, but sailors were not fond of being reduced to drinking plain water. Beer could go off more quickly in warmer climates, so a suitable substitute was two pints of wine mixed with six pints of water (especially on Mediterranean voyages) or a Madeira mix if in the West Indies. Half a pint of rum a day in the West Indies could be too intoxicating, until the navy began to mix it with water and limejuice to make grog. (Limes helped against scurvy, of course.)

Ship’s biscuit or rusk bread
The Royal Navy allowed a pound of ship’s biscuit per seaman per day. Made only with cheap wholemeal flour and water (no yeast or salt) and baked hard into a round close to the size of a plate, a sailor would get three to five biscuits a day depending on the size, and they would underpin his ration. Something like this would translate reasonably well to a land-based journey, but it’s probably easier to carry a bag of flour and some salt and cook up something bread-like or pancake-like every day otherwise you risk your biscuit being rendered into crumbs by a frisky pack pony.

This was a mix of whatever was available stewed up in the ship’s galley. It might include different meats and fish, all cooked together – a gastronomic mash-up. It was supposedly a treat on a pirate vessel.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (, the secretary of Milford SF Writers (, a singer ( and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers ( She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
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