A bag of fish and chips on the harbour wall at Whitby – if the seagulls don’t get it first – is a holiday tradition that goes back generations. But this summer’s menu will be sourced from even more traditional ingredients.
A celebration of the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first voyage will see chefs on Endeavour Wharf recreating some of the dishes that would have been eaten on board the ship from which it took its name.
With a cargo of dry, salted beef, hardtack crackers and live goats, sheep and pigs, the vessel was a veritable Noah’s Ark, its crew sustained by what they slaughtered and by exotic fruits and animals they found en route.
Those who declined the rations of stowed cargo and of captured and cooked turtle and even walrus meat were summarily flogged.
Cook, born at Marton near Middlesbrough and apprenticed at Whitby, will be the subject of a weekend-long event in July to mark the landmark anniversary of his voyage to the south Pacific Ocean and the fabled “unknown southern land” of Terra Australis.
Alongside the family events and a visit from one of the tall ships racing off the coast at Sunderland later that week, a “live cooking theatre” will be built on the wharfside, with a challenge to the region’s best contemporary chefs to concoct something edible from the same ingredients.
“I have advised them that if they base their special meals on pork, they won’t go far wrong,” said Charles Forgan of Whitby’s Captain Cook Museum, an expert on the three-year expedition that set sail from Plymouth in 1768.
“Cook knew the importance of keeping his men healthy,” Mr Forgan said. “As a younger man he had seen the results of scurvy and he knew that if they didn’t have fresh food and they didn’t eat what was given them, they would be useless. He saw flogging as preferable to scurvy.”
However, the crew’s staple diet, Mr Forgan said, could be summed up in a single word: salt.
“They had salty beef and anything else that could be preserved. But they also picked up wine at Madeira, they had the animals they had taken, and their diet was supplemented with fresh food of every description, from wherever it could be found.”
In New Zealand, Cook set loose some of the pigs he was carrying, to feed the crews of ships that followed – and the locals still call one of the breeds now indigenous to the island a Captain Cooker.
Janet Deacon, tourism manager at Scarborough Council, which is organising the Cook anniversary event, said local chefs would “bring history to life” by giving an 18th century twist to modern cuisine using produce that would have been eaten on board.
Among those taking part will be staff from the Star Inn at Whitby Harbour, an offshoot of Andrew Pern’s Michelin-starred restaurant 30 miles inland at Harome, near Helmsley.
Its regular menu includes more elaborately-prepared versions of items that would not have been out of place on the Endeavour – including potted chicken liver and Madeira parfait, and “salt-aged T-bone steak”.
Cook returned to Whitby a hero after the conclusion of his first voyage, and “the gentlemen of the town rode out to meet him”, according to contemporary records.
The festival marking the 250th anniversary of the voyage will be staged in Whitby on the weekend of July 6-8.