Working at a magazine often means receiving review copies of new books in the mail, whether I requested them or not, and thus I recently found myself leafing through something called Cruise of the Dashing Wave. It contains the recently rediscovered journal of a young sailor named Philip Hichborn, who set sail from Boston in August 1860 as a carpenter on a clipper ship headed to San Francisco (which, before the Panama Canal, meant tracing the entire length of South America first and crossing at Cape Horn, a journey of 143 days).
I figured the book had nothing to do with food and was about to cast it overboard into the sea of library donations—but then I noticed the index. Under "food," even the sub-headings told a tale: "Crew dissatisfaction with;" "Crew preoccupation with;" "Fresh fruit, lack of;" "Fresh meat; lack of;" "Monotony of;" "Porpoise catching/cooking of;" "Short rations during storms."
I turned to the reference for "Sea pie," and found this amusing recipe related by Hichborn:
All the old pieces of the pig that the captain can't eat, pieces of dough as large as your fist and as heavy as lead, as much water as will make it thin enough to swallow by giving your teeth a good greasing. Add pepper and salt to suit convenience of cook's hand, depending upon whether it be large or otherwise. Put in a pan and place in an oven and let it stay until eight bells.Hichborn swears it "proved very palatable," but I take that with a heavy-handed dose of salt, since he was comparing it to typical ship's fare of things like "cracker hash" and "dandy funk," defined by one source as "a mess made of powdered biscuits, molasses and slush."
Apparently, sea pie is also called cipaille, and it's a traditional dish in Quebec. Anyone ever had it?
If you want to try it, and happen to have a dozen pigeons lying around, the Old Foodie's blog has a recipe for sea pie. (No pigeons? Don't worry, the Northwest Journal's sea pie recipe says you can "by all means substitute duck, goose, moose, deer, elk, etc.")