Almost everything you know about pirates is wrong.
Take a moment and imagine a pirate. Tricorn hat, a long coat, peg leg, hook hand, eye-patch, parrot on the shoulder. Teeth falling out due to scurvy. Uneducated, drunken and violent. Walking the plank and keel hauling. These are some of the typical responses. Unfortunately, more rooted in Hollywood movies then in reality.
Your typical pirate mostly came from the ranks of the sailors and settlers of the colonies of the powers in Europe. The sailors came from merchant ships (where living conditions were horrid, pay terrible, and discipline brutal.), or the navies of Spain, Britain, France, or the Netherlands (where things were even worse then in the merchant fleet). Many were escaped slaves, natives of the islands and mainland and indentured servants. Quite a few were simple folk who were willing to risk their lives on one voyage that could bring home more money then they could get by a lifetime of hard labor. This mix of cultures, British, Dutch, Spanish, French, American colonists, African slaves, Indians from the mainland and islands, and all the creoles and mulattoes shunned out of their societies… this meant that most pirates were more open on their views of race and class and nation then most of their era. As thieves, rather then military, they were primarily interested in what merchants were hauling rather then harming their crews. The fact that by acting fierce and threatening could often get the pirates their prizes without a shot fired or person injured was well known to the pirates. This is not to say that pirates were some kind of egalitarian society, certainly they could be brutal, and deaths and tortures have been laid at their feet (some even correctly so.). They kept, captured, and sold slaves. Burned homes, killed and raped, there is no doubt. But the reputation of pirate far exceeds the actuality. You might say that while lawless, pirates were primarily interested in theft. They did not set out to burn and pillage. Most had strong codes of discipline agreed upon by the crew, and were known to abandon, maroon, or even kill pirates who got out of hand. Of course, some crews were more disciplined then others.
Most pirates operated from an island or colony near the shipping lanes. The places where Pirates were most common, the Caribbean, north coast and cape of Africa, the South China Sea, were tropical and full of fruits and animals on the shore, and the seas were full of fish. From the Americas came yams, potatoes, pineapple, peppers, cocoa, vanilla, papaya, squash, pumpkins, corn, tomatoes and turkey. Ships arriving from across the ocean brought sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, olives, walnuts, wheat, rice, cinnamon, cloves, peaches, apricots, and oranges. All these things would be taken as prizes by pirates (who have to eat too). They traded with and came from the European colonies and with the native populations. To think that in these conditions they ate nothing but hard tack and rum is ridiculous!
On this site, I have found period recipes from Europe, Caribbean favorites, south African, and south Chinese recipes, simple peasant food, and recipes that feature the types of foods that pirates would have likely had access to. Most have been adapted to modern conveniences, but I try and stay as honest to the intent of the recipe where possible.
So take a squint at the handy navigation tools to starboard, and find yeself a recipe or two to plunder!
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