Posted by: Dan Sprague | February 12, 2012

Sailor’s food: Burgoo and Slumgullion

Sailor’s food: Burgoo and Slumgullion

A steward was the term the British Navy called the one in charge of the commissary or food service on a ship and who tended to personal services to the crew. The term steward came from the Anglo-Saxon and meant “Keeper of Pigs”.

On a Ship of the Line Navy ship, the Officers of the crew paid for and supplied their own personal stores, but the crew’s was paid for by the Navy. There could be a major difference of what got put on the table between the two groups.

Where the crew ate was called the Mess. Two of the meals that were served to the crew were called Burgoo and Slumgullion. The names “keeper of Pigs”, Mess, Burgoo, and Slumgullion all do fit and go together in an appropriate, colorful way.

Burgoo was different on different ships. It was usually an oatmeal porridge or a hard tack and molasses mixture. It could also be a stew. The origin comes from the Arabic word “burgbul” a dish of wheat, dried and boiled.

Slumgullion was a stew made for the crew. Its name comes from an old word for slime and gullion and was also slang for stomach-ache.  Crew members would say that the slumgullion could be used as slush “a grease rubbed on the mast and running rigging wire and various equipment as a heavy lubricant and preservative”. Slush was grease and fats from the galley. Slush was also called sludge. The “slush fund” expression got its beginning from the sea. It was money raised by sales of galley fats and the money was used for “Luxuries” for the crew. 😎

The beverages on the ships that were common were Grog, Monkey’s Blood and Lime Juice. Grog was a beverage made of rum and water and was rationed to the crew. Monkey’s Blood was cheap red wine, and Lime Juice was a juice made from lemons, limes and other citrus. The Lime juice was given to prevent scurvy and the tradition of giving lime juice to the sailors was why the Brits were called “Limeys”.

When it came to wine, the sailors came up with a way of telling if the wine was worth buying. They would pour some of the wine on the dock and would light it. If it would ignite, that meant there was enough alcohol in the brew for the Monkey’s Blood to burn. That was PROOF it was OK.

I like to learn the origins of different terms and many sea terms have unique origins that are colorful and informative. So drink up me hearties, Yo Ho Yo Ho and drink your Monkeys Blood and Grog and eat your fill of Burgoo, and if you end up with slumgullion, the Steward will tend to you in the Mess.  Arrrrg, a Pirate’s life for me!


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