The series has spawned several related works: an atlas, an "illustrated companion," and a compilation of music. Most importantly for our purposes it prompted Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Patrick O'Brian) by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas and Patrick O'Brian. (The "which it's" construction is drawn from a speech convention used by Killick, Aubrey's steward, homage to which I have paid in my own subtitles.) Lucky Jack Aubrey loves women, he loves sailing, he loves prize money, and he loves food. The novels lavish significant attention on this last topic, hence the Gastronomic Companion, which recreates recipes for the meals in the books. For a sense of what these meals were like I strongly suggest you visit Blog d' Ellison, for pictures and a description of a dinner prepared 'a la Aubrey.
On a sea voyage at the beginning of the 19th century the key to provisions was durability. Right after leaving a port the food could be pretty good, but voyages lasted years, and the fresh stuff soon ran out. (When the pickings got particularly slim, they caught the rats and cooked them up. These they called 'millers,' according to Jack Aubrey "to make 'em eat better; and perhaps because they are dusty, too, from getting into the flour and peas.") For these long voyages stuff had to last, and there was no refrigeration. It was hardtack, salt beef and pork, dried peas.
I thought about making hardtack, more properly ship's biscuit, but the recipe requires that the finished biscuits be stored in barrels for many years, preferably at sea and somewhere that they would develop a good crop of weevils. Looking for something a bit quicker to prepare I opted for Dog's Body, or Pease Pudding. This is somewhat different than the pease porridge of the nursery rhyme, although it too can be enjoyed hot, or cold, or presumably, nine days old.
At least according to the New York Times pease porridge is more of a soup. Pease Pudding is much sterner stuff. The Old Foodie observed that
Some sort of porridge/pottage has been the staple meal of peasants in many countries for many centuries. In its simplest form it is a sort of soup with a starchy base, with other additions depending on the circumstances of the time. On feast days, ale or wine and spices, sugar and dried fruit could be added to make this one-pot meal special, and Sam [Pepys] mentions ‘brave plum porridge’ with apparent relish, in another diary entry. All that was needed was the development of pudding cloths in the seventeenth century to enable Christmas (plum) porridge to evolve into Christmas (plum) pudding, and Pease porridge to Pease pudding.
One might wonder why it took mankind until the seventeenth century to develop the pudding cloth, but then again, one might wonder why it was developed at all. Apparently, puddings started out like sausages--being stuffed into animal entrails. Some were stuffed into stomachs, like haggis, others into intestines like black or blood pudding. In fact, according to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary one of the early meanings of 'pudding' is the bowels, entrails and guts. As Humankind progressed the entrails were abandoned in favor of basins and cloths. Broadly speaking, a basin is used for steamed puddings and a cloth for those that are boiled. Puddings are usually cooked for quite a while.
My recipe for Pease Pudding is boiled in a pudding cloth. To be accurate I should have used a piece of sailcloth for my pudding cloth, but alas I had none. Cotton towels will work, but I had some unbleached muslin that I used.
The recipe itself is pretty easy, and since this was just for the two of us I halved it. I took 1/2 pound of dried split peas(e) and tied them loosely (so that they have room to expand) in my pudding cloth. I placed this in a pot of boiling water and boiled it for 1 1/2 hours. Then I drained it and let it cool enough to handle. At that point I squeezed out as much moisture as I could and put the resulting lump of pease in a bowl. The recipe then calls for mixing the pease with some butter and flour and salt and pepper.
As a note the recipe observes that a more seamanlike version can be made using salt-pork instead of butter. I confess to being even more lubberly (this challenge did start out as HEALTHY bread in 5 minutes a day), and using light butter. This mixture is then returned to the pudding cloth and this time it is tightly tied. The tightness of the tie determines the texture of the pudding. Then it is back into a pot of (fresh) boiling water for an hour.
That is it. It is then carefully unmolded onto the serving plate.
At first I was concerned that my pudding was too loose. In The Far Side of the World, Captain Aubrey is on deck "eating a piece of cold or at least luke-warm pease pudding with one hand and holding on to the aftermost maintopgallant standing backstay with the other, ..." My pudding had the consistency when unmolded of a semi-firm polenta, certainly not firm enough to eat out of hand. But like polenta it firmed up as it sat.
recipes I consulted, posted by Molly at Food.com noted that it is "[a]lso lovely served cold, spread on a chunk of bread and topped with a thin slice of ham." That does sound good.
Now, as for Dog's Body. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this was sailors' slang for pease pudding. It then became slang for a junior naval officer, and then evolved, as dogsbody, into a term for anyone doing menial work--a drudge. In usage then it would be "I am my wife's dogsbody." (And her arm candy.)
So, having baked Dog's Body 'a la Aubrey, I think I will read the next volume on my re-read of the series.
Till next time I wish you all fair winds and a following sea.