'I must attend a reception at the Town Hall. On my return, I shall expect to find that mast revarnished in its entirety. Am I understood? First, a word about feeding arrangements.’
‘Feeding?’ thought Teo. ‘Like animals?’
The sleepy voices of the mermaids chanted:
Bajamonte’s gone to sea,
Roasted wraiths upon his knee,
He'll come back and murder me,
Bad old Bajamonte.
Bajamonte’s fat and fair,
Eats goat stew and bottled bear;
I’ll hate him for evermair,
Bad old Bajamonte.
‘I don’t believe those are quite the original words,’ remarked Renzo.
In The Undrowned Child, food plays a big part. Delicious food. Curries and candies. Cake. Fragrant soup. Hot chocolate. You can read about it in the Mermaids, Sharks & Curry section of The Undrowned Child website.
But in The Mourning Emporium, most of the food is absolutely vile.
On the real Scilla, the Venetian orphan sailors had nice food to eat, and plenty of it. But in The Mourning Emporium, the floating orphanage is taken over by the evil Miss Uish.
Here are the recipes for some of the food that she makes them eat:
Mock fish soup: take ten loaves of old bread and boil in water alongside a sailor’s boot for flavour.
Cod sponge: take ten loaves of old bread and ten cod. Let one codfish lie on top of each loaf for a few hours to drip. When the fish is dry, remove. Save the skins. The cod sponge is to be served cold. The fish is to be sautéed with thyme and butter for Miss Uish’s supper with an accompaniment of rosemary potatoes, and a marmalade pudding to follow.
Cod jelly: take one paper of Nelson’s Opaque Gelatine (supplied) and pour boiling water over day-old cod skins. Leave to set.
As a special treat, pork heart soup: take the heart, lungs and liver of a young piglet, preferably with the organs still attached together with nerves and veins. Boil with sailor’s boot until the heart dissolves. Strain and serve.
Some of the recipes are adapted from A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes by Charles Elmé Francatelli, first published in 1852.
Food on the Scilla was grim, but at Harrods you could get all kinds of delicious things that would gladden even the greedy hearts of the Venetian mermaids. Here are some things that Renzo wanted to buy for them there – these come from the real Harrods catalogue of 1895:
‘Make way!’ Pucretia elevated her clipped voice. ‘We have a cure for all insect bites. Chameleon oil. Made from pure chameleons.’
Bengal Club Cashmere Chutney
About the book Meet the cast The floating orphanage Unspeakable eatables London in 1901 Victorian mourning Quack cures and corsets