Food was predictably monotonous, unappetizing and served on deck or in the forecastle. Meals were not a suitable reward for the hard work put in by most crew on a daily basis. Coffee, sometimes sweetened with molasses, and a piece of hardtack was often all there was for breakfast. Dinner could be a slab of beef preserved in salt called "salt horse" and hardtack soaked in boiling water. For supper there might be a cup of very strong tea, a slab of bread, salt horse and soaked hardtack mixed and baked. Potatoes, beans and rice were staples as long as they lasted. Occasionally there was fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, only if there was enough left once the officers had their share.

Drinking Water

Drinking water was notoriously bad. Prior to sailing, the bottom layer of casks were filled with water intended to last several months. They were stored in the forehold and acted as ballast. Eventually, these same casks were to be filled with whale oil. If the barrels were new, the water tasted of the wood. If they had been used, the water had an undesirable flavor left by the whale oil. Sometimes even strong tea and coffee couldn't disguise the nasty taste of the water.

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Martha's Vineyard Museum