Columbus: What did they eat on Columbus’s ship?
Christopher Columbus had no idea how long he would be at sea for. His calculation of time was based on his “best guess” view of the diameter of the earth. Therefore getting sufficient food and water for the expected time away from land was one of the key elements to his first expedition.
Columbus sailed with 3 ships from Palos de la Frontera in Spain on 3 August, 1492. His flagship, the Santa Maria had 52 men aboard while his other two ships, the Nina and Pinta were crewed by 18 men each. The ships made a stop at the Canary Islands to top up provisions and on 6 September 1492 sailed westward.
The menu for Spanish seamen consisted of water, vinegar, wine, olive oil, molasses, cheese, honey, raisins, rice, garlic, almonds, sea biscuits (hardtack), dry legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans, salted and barreled sardines, anchovies, dry salt cod and pickled or salted meats (beef and pork), salted flour.
The olive oil and olives were stored in earthenware jugs. The rest of the food was stored in wooden casks which could hold produce like meat preserved in brine, or dry goods. All were stored in the hold, the driest section of which was reserved for casks carrying dry provisions. A cooper (barrel maker) was responsible for keeping the casks tight. Problem was the casks with brine would leak, the casks with dry goods would let water in. It was easy to loose much of your food and water.
The food was mainly boiled and served in a large communal wooden bowl. The sailors had no forks or spoons, but each sailor carried an all purpose knife, that he could use to cut large chunks. The only means of cooking was an open firebox called “Fogon.” It had a back to screen it from the wind. Sand was spread on the floor of the box and a wood fire built on it.
Fish was served more often than meat. Meats were usually prepared in a stew with peas other legumes or rice and served with sea biscuits which were soaked in the soup or in water to make them edible. Sea biscuits would last at least a year if they were kept dry.
Both wine and water for drinking were stored in wooden barrels.