I would like to give credit where credit’s due: this was all my husband’s idea. He planned it, he researched it, he (and my son) did most of the cooking. And although I won’t say this was the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten, it was one of the most fun.
They started out yesterday making hardtack, not just for us to eat straight, but because figgy dowdy is made mostly of hardtack. Hardtack itself is made of flour, water, and a little salt, then baked at a low temperature until it is hard as a rock.
We carved “ER” in a few of them, so we could symbolically bite the queen later on.
We baked a second batch with a different recipe that used a little butter, and indeed, those were a lot easier to chew. Below is a plate full of the authentic hardtack, illustrating how much a sailor would receive as his ration every day:
A pound of tooth-chipping goodness!
The next day, my husband and son took the designated amount of hardtack out on the balcony and beat it to death with a bat:
It’s cowering in that bag.
Figgy dowdy requires hardtack crumbs, which are in fact quite hard to make. Hardtack is – I may have mentioned – pretty hard. Anyway, they finally crushed it sufficiently (or decided it would do), and then they mixed in the other ingredients: raisins and currants (which had been soaking in rum overnight), chopped figs, a little flour, a little sugar, a little nutmeg and ginger, more rum, water, three eggs, and a LOT of suet. Here’s my son kneading the mixture together. All those little white pellet-shaped things? SUET.
There were a lot of rum fumes, which he didn’t appreciate.
We then wrapped the mixture in flour-dusted cheesecloth, tied it shut, and set it in a pot of boiling water for three hours.
A tidy, attractive package! My hand is close to the camera, which is making the dowdy look smaller than it is.
Enjoy your bath, dowdy!
At one point, all four burners on our stove were going: boiling the figgy dowdy, heating up water to add to the figgy dowdy if it boiled down too low, cooking up the pease porridge, and boiling the salt pork. Hot work on a hot day! The pease porridge was basically yellow split peas and onions, boiled down to mush, and then some egg and seasoning added in. THEN, it too was wrapped in cheesecloth and put in to boil with the salt pork.
Boilin’ boilin’ boilin! Keep that dinner boilin’!
So ok, the salt pork and pease porridge (hot!) were done before the dowdy, so we had our dinner all together tidily like so:
Clockwise from top: Pease porridge; salt pork; more salt pork; hardtack (one with butter and one without – you can’t tell by looking, but your teeth will know)
What’s that in the mug, you ask? Why that, darling, is grog — rum, water, lime juice, a little brown sugar. I found it drinkable, just. I liked the peas best. The hardtack was very cracker-like, honestly; nothing to fault but the texture. Salt pork, however, is nasty, at least the way we prepared it. To be fair, I don’t know that any meat is at its best, particularly, when boiled. Still, I found this unpleasantly salty, and the half-inch fat rind was kinda tasty, but it really sits in your stomach like a lump.
British sailors were rationed a pound of salt pork. PER DAY. I can’t even imagine.
So ok, you’re wondering how the figgy dowdy turned out. I can read your mind, clearly. Well, it turned out like THIS:
That’s right, bebeh. Slimy and delicious.
It held together reasonably well. It looked a little like a loaf of soda bread, or a brain. We were able to slice and eat it for dessert.
Mmm! The white lumps this time are chunks of still-hard hardtack. The suet all melted.
I would imagine that if you’ve been stuck at sea for months, eating a pound of hardtack and a pound of salt pork every day, this probably tasted sweet and delicate and heavenly. It was a bit like bread pudding, I guess, but damper and greasier and not very sweet at all. I liked it, but it was a lot of work to make. My husband was thoughtful enough to run the figgy dowdy ingredients through a nutrition website and make us this:
Look at that iron content! That’s got to be good for something!
Apparently their rations came to about 5000 calories per day. I imagine trimming the sails and heaving the capstan and dancing the hornpipe took a lot of energy, but ye gods, I can’t even imagine. My stomach still kinda feels like I swallowed a rock.