Pirates Stress Free Dinner Party
The cast of The Pirates of Penzance, 1970. Photo from Le Dawn Studios Archive, State Library of Victoria

Tomorrow (September 19) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. While it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, it’s as good a day as any to host a Pirates Stress Free Dinner Party.

The day has its roots in a game of racquetball played by John Baur and Mark Summers. Who for some mysterious reason started cursing and encouraging each other in Pirate Slang. And they had a fabulous time doing it. So they reasoned that doing it for a day would be more fun than doing it for an hour, and the day was born.

Pirates have been around since ancient times, according to Mary Beard at any rate. You can find modern-day pirates in Somali waters. But I think we can agree that when you imagine pirates, what you see is someone from the seventeen century “golden age” of piracy (presumably the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). Famed pirates like Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, and Ching Shih.

If you’d like more information on pirates, Rob Ossian’s is a good place to start.

Food

According to the National Geographic, while at sea, they lived mainly on bread and beef, with a little butter and cheese now and again. Though of course, the bread would have been ship’s biscuit and it wouldn’t take too much time before it was more weevil than biscuit. And the beef was salted to draw all the moisture out so it was essentially dried. Having said that, William Dampier (1651-1715), supplemented his diet with wild food. But not before he had scrupulously observed and described it. Seemingly flamingo “flesh is lean and black yet very good meat”, armadillo “tastes much like land-turtle” and Galapagos tortoises taste like chicken. But the best the NG can offer is “salmagundi”; a random salady dish of scrambled whatever’s on hand including meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits. Can’t imagine why they didn’t eat fish stew.

Drinks

A ration of alcohol, initially beer or wine, was dispensed to Royal Navy sailors to help take their minds off the bad food and unpleasant living conditions. Sadly they didn’t always survive the trip any better than the food. Rum was a by-product of the sugar purification process, and as English colonies couldn’t export it, they sold it to the Navy. And as it didn’t deteriorate, the sailors were much happier.

So, there has to be rum. But I imagine that when you are looting a captured ship, you aren’t going to leave anything alcoholic behind. Especially since the barreled water would be stagnant. I don’t know whether the alcohol went into the water to make it drinkable, or the water diluted the strength of the alcohol.

Ambience

During the golden age, pirate ships were small, light, and manoeuvrable ships like brigantines. Logically, most would have been captured rather than commissioned so they would perhaps have come with an officer’s mess, but enlisted men ate where they slept (after they put their hammocks away). Pirates were more democratic and would probably have eaten wherever they felt like it. So we’ll be eating from a plate in our lap in the lounge.

Ideally listening to sea shanty recordings, or singing rounds of “what shall we do with the drunken sailor“.

Dress Code

The guys who invented the day get testy when you ask them the dress code because it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, but in for a piece of eight, in for a doubloon I say!

Jack Sparrow has become the archetypal pirate, and it’s hard to imagine how we are going to get around that. But some variation of a loose tunic with knee-length chino shorts, long white socks (or tights), black shoes and either a vest or long coat would work. You can tie a scarf around your head or get a tricorne. Leather belt with a big buckle, or swathe of coloured fabric around your waist. Maybe a replica pistol. Eye patches, wooden legs, hook hands, and parrots are all optional.

Dinner Planning

As ever, six guests invited to arrive 6.30 for 7.00 pm. Seeing as it’s a Dinner Party for Pirates as well as a weeknight, I’ll reduce it to two courses and make quick dishes.

6:30 Apéritif: Mojito with Corn Chips and Spicy Salsa

If we start with shop corn chips and salsa, half your night is done. But if you want, you can make a quick basic salsa.

Salsa: Mix together a couple of finely chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of fresh cilantro (coriander), and a quarter of an onion together with a couple of tablespoons of lime juice, sea salt and hot pepper to taste (powder or fresh). Leave for as long as possible for the flavours to develop.

Mojito: (one): Put about 10 mint leaves, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar, and ¼ of a lime in a glass and crush with a muddler. Add a shot of white rum, crushed ice and top with soda water.

7.00 Main: Chunky Fish Soup and Hard Bread with Pinot Grigio

This is not really piratey, but it is quick to make (cooking corned or salted beef will take a couple of hours). The hard bread I mean is something to dip in your soup and maybe use as a spoon. You could use a dense peasant-style bread or something with a hard crust like a day-old baguette.

Soup: Put 1 pint (600 ml) fish stock on the stove to heat while you peel and chop an onion and a fennel bulb. Fry the vegetables in oil in a large heavy saucepan for five minutes or until soft. Then add the stock, 5 oz (150 ml) Pinot Grigio, a 14 oz (400 g) can of tomatoes, a bay leaf and salt and pepper. (If you find cooked tomatoes very acidic you could add a teaspoon of sugar – I don’t). Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Skin and remove the bones from  1 lb 2 oz (500 g) of a firm-fleshed fish like salmon, monkfish or shark. Or prawns and scallops. Or both! Cut into bite-size chunks and add to the soup with chopped parsley and simmer for five minutes. Mix a tablespoon of cornflour into two tablespoons of milk. When the fish is done, remove the bay leaf and stir in the cornflour to thicken it a little. Then stir in a dollop of cream and serve with the bread.

8.00 Dessert & Digestif: Fresh Fruit, Cheese and Crackers with Liquor of Choice

So things being what they are, pirates probably don’t have a great deal to choose from, so in a departure from usual, we’ll start with the booze and work backwards.

Pinot Grigio: It seems like apples and pears are always in season, stay fresh forever, and do well with Pinot Grigio. And the best cheese for dry whites like Pinot Grigio are soft young cheeses like mozzarella or fresh goat cheeses like chèvre.

Rum: Not surprisingly, a Google search suggests that the best fruits for rum are tropical fruits like pineapple, coconut and banana. Or stone fruits like peaches, plums and apricots. (And apparently rum is a delicious addition to hibiscus tea). Oddly enough rum is also recommended for chevre and stinky washed-rind cheeses. And stinky washed-rind cheeses are good with tropical fruits too. Go figure.

And of course coffee (or tea).

Schedule

It shouldn’t take long to make the salsa, and only about half an hour to make the soup. You could have the food ready within an hour of getting home.


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