With the popularity of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and shows like Black Sails, pirates continue to be popular. So we thought you might be interested in seeing some examples of the foods these scallywags actually ate while at sea. Please enjoy!
When you are sailing the oceans and looking to restock your galley, you take what you have at hand. So, reptiles like iguanas are an example of what we mean. Along with eating the meat, the pirates also enjoyed the eggs of these animals.
While salted cod is a staple in Portuguese cuisine, it was also prominent on most sailing vessels. Having the fish salted meant that not only would it last longer but it could also be eaten without having to cook it.
The salted cod could be eaten like we said, raw, or it could be boiled into a fish stew or added to any other dish to give a little more substance. This made the food go further, which was perfect for the life of a pirate.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? No matter how hard the captain of a pirate vessel tried, there were always rodents present on the ship. So when meat ran low, and the crew got desperate, these rodents soon became their meat source.
Yes, that means that pirates did sometimes roast them up and make them the main part of their meal. It may seem gross to many of us, but this is not an unusual practice in several cultures.
Remember when you were a kid and your family would have leftover nights? That meant that everybody kind of just grassed on things that were left in the fridge. You did this so that nothing would go to waste, and that is exactly what this dish was for the pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Any scraps of food that were left were piled into a dish known as salmagundi. This often included a mix of vegetables and meats that were all cooked in a pot and generously seasoned to better the taste.
No matter how hard they tried, if pirates were on a long voyage, it was inevitable that they would run out of supplies. When this happened, the pirates had to get resourceful to survive until they could get to the next port.
Sometimes that meant boiling and eating their leather goods. They also sometimes just ate it without even cooking it first. This doesn’t seem very appetizing, but when in survival mode, chances are that you’ll take the risk!
Sailing through and across the mighty seven seas took place a long time. So when you look at the foods that the pirates would eat, you have to really understand what they stocked their ships with.
Before their ships left the harbor, the crews of these pirate ships would purchase and load whatever they could fit in the galleys. They would usually stock up on meats, veggies, and fruits even though they knew that these products would go bad first.
These pirates were no one’s fools, and they understood that a lot of the foods they stocked their galleys with would go bad quickly. So to ensure that no food or money went to waste, they opted to eat many of these foods even though they were going bad.
To mask the flavor, pirates would often season their food generously with herbs and spices. They must have used a lot of spices because some of those expired foods definitely don’t smell or taste very good.
Typically chickens were brought on to the ships so that they could provide eggs, however, once the food started dwindling in regards to the meat and proteins, those chickens then found their way to the pirates’ plates.
Not ones to waste anything, the pirates would eat every bit of the chicken from the skin to the heart. They would even boil the bones for broth. Seems like they were pretty well-versed in not leaving anything behind!
Vegetables are essential to maintaining a healthy diet, and though pirates may not have had the science to back that up, they certainly understood the main idea. That is why amongst the supplies that they stored, a good amount were vegetables.
These, of course, like with any of the other perishable items, were eaten first. Once they began to wilt and rot, they were then used in soups and such.
The bones of the chickens weren’t the only bones that these Buccaneers utilized in their culinary choices. In fact, anything on the boat that came with bones often was used to craft meals.
One of the most famous meals that came from this was something called pirate bone soup. This was nothing more than a bone broth which is funny because now bone broth is a big food trend. Seems like pirates were ahead of the time.
You may be surprised that one of the most common foods eaten by pirates on the sea was bread. Of course, this bread was not quite what we think of when we think of bread. It was more like a cracker.
This bread was called hardtack. It was a water and flour dough that was crafted into squares that were easy to eat and lasted quite a long time. Unfortunately, though, on long voyages, the hardtack would end up getting infested with bugs.
One of the ways that hardtack was used and made to be a little bit more bearable, especially towards the back end of its life, was to be made into porridges. This would occur when the cooks on the ship would soak the hardtack.
Once it was soft, it was then added to a boiling mixture of some sort of liquid and brown sugar and cooked until it was almost like oatmeal. Then it was enjoyed with bugs and all!
Smoked and Salted Meat
One of the longest-lasting foods that pirates kept in their galleys was smoked and salted meats. Although, most often, this meat was beef, smoked, and aged well before it entered the galley. This food also ended up being used in other ways.
For example, some pirates, to ensure that they always had food on them, would take this salted cured meat and make them into belt buckles or other garments and wear them.
Long before the sea turtle was on any endangered species list, the pirates often caught them and used them as a fresh source of protein. It was easy at this time as they were plentiful and could be used in multiple different ways.
They could roast them or make them into a soup very easily. But in the end, the one big reason that turtles ended up on the pirates’ plates was that they needed a fresh source of meat after a long journey.
You might think it’s weird that these sailors would run out of meat or protein, seeing as how they were floating on a giant source of seafood. But most of the time, pirates had no time to stop and fish, and so seafood was a limited food on their menu.
Occasionally, as we have said, they might have picked up a turtle or even grabbed some fish or seafood when they stopped at a port. But for the most part, their menu did not house any type of seafood.
One of the vegetables that pirates loaded onto their ships before they left port was most likely cabbage. Like with all the other vegetables that they stored, this would start to go bad quite quickly.
That is why a lot of pirates began to ferment certain foods, and that included the cabbage. This would, in the end, create sauerkraut which meant that pirates often fed themselves with this very popular dish we now associate with Germany.
Among the supplies that they stored on the ship was a lot of cheese. Cheese is a great source of calcium, and it also went well with a lot of the other foods that they were storing. Also, unlike the other supplies, cheese tended to last longer.
So it is not uncommon that pirates would be seen eating cheese and meat. Even after the cheese had begun to mold, they still utilized it.
Chickens were brought on board primarily for their ability to produce eggs. As the weeks went on and the voyage continued, eventually, the livestock that had been brought on would begin to dwindle.
But until the chickens were used as meat, the pirates were able to enjoy a wide range of dishes that used eggs in them. Some cooks also would boil the eggs up so that the sailors would have easy access to a quick snack.
Herbs and spices were a big thing on pirate ships, but none of the spices were as important as salt. Not only could pirates use this salt to make help stave off the mold but it also enhanced the food’s flavoring.
Plus, salt was also used to cure any livestock that they happen to butcher at later times. That is why if you were ever to step foot in a true pirates galley, you would always find salt there as well as in the storage areas.
Along with cheese, butter was one of the biggest staples on any seagoing vessel, including those of the pirate persuasion. They would use the milk of the animals that they brought on board and use that liquid to make butter.
But they didn’t always make their own butter, sometimes pirates would bring it with them. After all, it was a great ingredient for cooking and added a ton of flavor.
Not all the vegetables that the pirates brought on board were fresh. In fact, some of them were actually dried. This would make them last longer, which was perfect for those long adventures into the unknown.
The peas they brought on board by pirates were often boiled in water. These peas then turned into a mushy paste, and this was quite filling. So maybe this is where the idea of mushy peas came from?
We’ve all heard the stories of the British Navy having to eat limes to combat scurvy. The truth is that the citrus in limes or any of the citrus fruits do help. Because of this, a lot of the time pirates would ensure that they kept limes in their galleys.
These limes could be preserved or dried, but most often, the juice was used to freshen up meals. Some pirates, we’re sure, also simply sucked the juice out of the actual fruit, as if it were an orange.
Any cows that were brought on board a pirate ship were intended to serve as sources of milk during the voyage. But like with so many of the initial supplies they came on to the ships, eventually, the pirates would resort to eating the cow itself.
Never ones to leave anything behind, they would literally eat every piece of the cow. This would give them an extension on having meat in their diets for just a little bit longer.
One of the core meats that the pirates would carry on their ships was pork. The pigs that they brought on could not be a source of anything other than the meat itself. So whether they were cooking it or salting it, pork was a staple in a pirate-style diet.
The pigs were often brought on alive, and then as the voyage moved on, the cook would then butcher them when needed.
Another animal that many pirates kept on board as a source of meat was the goat. Though not always the most popular option, goats we’re easy to take care of. Plus, they were fairly hearty meat.
Though they could also use them as a source of milk, most pirates didn’t, instead opting to stick with the more traditional source of milk in their minds. On top of all that, goats were often easy to replenish when they landed in port.
One of the foods that pirates would bring on board in bulk was dried grains. Among these grains, you would find oats, rice, and many other options. Unlike the more perishable foods, the dried grains were non-perishable and easier to store.
Most of the time, these grains were added to other meals to extend their expiry date or to make the meals more filling when serving them to the crew.
One method of making sure that the vegetables lasted longer was by pickling them. Often when strolling through a pirates galley, you would find multiple jars of different pickled foods.
As we all know now, pickled or fermented foods are good for digestion, and since pirates were not eating the freshest food, this may be one way that they were able to survive eating these rancid foods.
Along the way, the pirates soon figured out that any food that was dried lasted longer. So when scouring a pirate’s galley, you may very well find a few dried fruits among the supplies. Including this type of food into the diet allowed them to maintain a healthier lifestyle for a longer period.
Also, dried fruit was essential as it would provide the pirates with a snack on the go. Whether they actually dried the fruit on the ships or not is unknown, but we would imagine that they probably did.
Pirates like to season their foods very heavily, especially once their stock began to go bad as we’ve learned by now. One of the ways that they sweeten things up was with this thick syrupy substance known as molasses.
They would include sweetener in things like the porridge or even in their drinks to add a heavy dose of sugar to cover up any foul smell or taste. We are sure that this made a difference in quite a few cases.
For those pirates roaming the waters of the Caribbean, one of the delicacies that they often stocked up on when anchored in the harbors of the tropical paradise might just surprise you… Pirates often liked to pick up a few flamingos for the road.
This is one way that they restock their meat levels. Obviously, this isn’t something that they did on a regular basis, but when a flamingo was available, it wouldn’t be surprising if the cook of the vessel was bargaining for a few at the market.
So we know that we’re primarily talking about the food that pirates ate, but we thought we would also take a little time to discuss the liquids they drank to get that food down. After all, water is an important part of every human’s survival.
However, back then, seeing as how they were floating on saltwater and didn’t have much access to fresh water, pirates very rarely drank water. In fact, for the most part, they enjoyed what we would call today adult beverages.
One of the liquid’s that pirates relied on when trying to balance out the flavors in their meals was something called grog. Unfortunately, any fresh water that they had stored in the galley eventually would start to grow algae and slime and therefore was bad, period.
So just like they did with their food, they would add some flavors to it to cut the taste and counteract the effects of drinking bad water. This became what we now know to be grog.
Another beverage they used that off-tasting water in was sort of like what we would call a mixed drink today. They would take the water that had gone bad and add some extra ingredients to elevate the flavor.
One variation of this was called the bombo. It was a mixture of the pirate’s favorite alcoholic beverage, water, nutmeg, and sugar. This actually sounds pretty tasty except for the algae-ridden water!