Archive for the ‘18th-19thC Sailor’s Diet’ Category


March 13, 2012: “O’er the Yardarm”

March 13, 2012

I suspect that I am not the only foodblogger that uses his own blog to cement down his creations. I can’t count the times, now, that I have referred to “World of Okonomy” to remake a recipe that I have created for the blog. This is a recipe that I have made for a while, but I’m always winging it, so it always varies a bit. Making this recipe for the blog forced me to finally lock it down.

The produce department at my grocery store was practically throwing away limes (6 for $1.00) so I snapped up all I could carry. They were not “pretty” limes, but as I was turning them into limeade, I didn’t care what the outside looked like.

Limeade: Slice in half and juice 8 limes (10 oz.) Strain through a sieve. If you like the lime pulp, strain only half of the juice. To the juice, add 1/2C. sugar and a few grains of sal de mer. Add 2 Qts. H2O to the juice. Chill. Serve straight or with ice. I like my limeade a tad on the sour side, so add more sugar if you prefer.

During the summer, if it’s the weekend and the sun is “O’er the Yardarm” I’ll put a splash of gin in the limeade. We tend to use that particular colloquial phrase to mean “after 5pm”, but I wondered about the specific origins of the phrase. The “yardarm” is the crossbeam that holds up the sails of a sailing vessel. In the North Atlantic, where this phrase originated, in sailing weather, the sun would appear to cross over the yardarm, as seen from the deck, at about 11am. This signaled the crew to distribute their first portion of rum, for the day. One could imagine, that with terribly hard work of the sailor’s life, combined with isolation, battling the elements, crappy food, disease, and the lack of female companionship, that the daily portion of alcohol probably made the sailor’s life just a little bit more bearable. One source stated that the sun appears to cross over the yardarm again at 5pm. Either way, the phrase seems to mean a sanctioned time to imbibe.

Limes played a big role in the life of the sailor in the 18th-19thC. Being away from fresh food for months on end created a specific disease for sailors: scurvy. Because humans cannot synthesize vitamin C (ascorbic acid) they must get it directly through their food, specifically citrus fruits. The cause for scurvy wasn’t officially known until as late as 1932, but sailor realized that if they ate lemons or limes on the long voyages, that this would relieve the symptoms of scurvy.

Lemons have 4X the vitamin C of limes, but the British Navy could grow limes in the Caribbean, which was a British colony. British sailors were known (and still are known) as “limeys” because of their dependence on limes.

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