Saturday, 7 April 2018

Food in Books, a Continuing Series - AN Wilson's Resolution

One of the many intriguing aspects of Captain Cook's personality, as portrayed by AN Wilson in his novel Resolution, is the detailed attention the great explorer gives to preventing scurvy on his ships. Cook is also pictured as a leader who, when he can, (and quite often there are long periods of food shortage while away from land for weeks at a time), ensures that those under his command have opportunities to enjoy celebratory meals, even when in very remote places.

Fortunately, Wilson does not merely tell us in vague terms about these meals but describes them fairly thoroughly, which means, hurray, that there is quite a lot about food in the book. Here are the highlights:

1. At one point those aboard are treated to

"mussels, with wild celery which grew abundantly on the rocks".

2. On another occasion, there is a:

"late supper of roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, followed by a banana duff laced with one of Pattinson’s very finest egg custards, [which] put most of the human beings on board in a very good humour."

3. Slightly less tempting, to my mind, on another occasion some of those aboard enjoy:

"a fine dinner of roast albatross and Saur Kraut at the Captain’s table, after which they all toasted him in the excellent brandy which had been brought aboard at the Cape. Returning to their cabins they reeled – unsure how much this was owing to the swell, and how much to the Captain’s good Cognac. A kind of dew settled on everything."

4. Later, the entire ship is treated to a slap up meal, although rather largely of the liquid variety:

"There was plenty of rum for all of them. One of the hogs which he had been taking to breed in New Zealand was roasted. His own cabin was crammed with the gentlemen, and as many officers and petty officers as could be squeezed in, the others eating as usual in the gun-room. They drank Madeira, claret, brandy and rum. From below decks where the men were enjoying rum came the roar of song. Although there was the slightest of swells, everyone to be seen on deck swayed from side to side as if in a typhoon."

Intriguingly, the meals described in the book are all shipboard, even though a large part of the novel is set on dry land. This may simply serve to highlight how much more memorable meals are in situations where you don't get them very often. In any case, as a lover of food in literature, I appreciate the detail given of these various feasts.

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