A tale of pirates told by a chef? How could I resist?
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown.
Owen Wedgewood was chef to the head of the Pendleton Company, which seems to be a fictional relative of the East India Shipping Company. When the famous pirate Hannah Mabbot arrives to kill Wedgewood’s employer, she pauses to eat some of the dinner he’d cooked and decides to take him with her. She offers the straight-laced Wedgewood a bargain: cook her a full dinner every Sunday and be spared. Initially horrified by her lawlessness and determined to try to escape, he gradually comes to appreciate Mabbot’s iron determination to bring down the opium trade, so ruinous for both addicts and for those forced to grow it. Wedgewood is a philosophical cook, waxing poetical about the powers of civilization and wheat to create bread and the meanings of different tastes. Brown seems to have a good background in old-fashioned cooking, as he describes Wedgewood’s efforts to create what he considers a modern, functional kitchen on board ship, including his difficulties with the stove, creating a yeast starter from scratch, using a cannonball as a rolling pin, his joy over making sauerkraut and his delightful first experiments with miso. In between the fabulous meals, there are many piratical adventures, including attacks on prisons, sea chases, and fights in seedy port taverns.
My love, on whom I pressed this, said that he had to decide that Wedgewood was an unreliable narrator when it came to describing nautical things, as there were just too many times when he used the right words just a little bit wrong, such as when he described the ship as “running against the wind.” That last was the only example that I’d noticed myself (ships run with the wind – the laborious process of tacking to go against the wind is not running), but my love is a sailor by avocation and has pored over his books of the old sailing ships. People like myself more casually interested in the sea will probably not be bothered by this. My love, once having dealt with this difficulty, was able to enjoy the story, while I was able to jump into it from the start. Even though Mabbott’s ideas are decidedly more modern than 18th century, Wedgewood’s struggles to reconcile his new world with his beliefs felt perfectly appropriate to his time. While it might seem like an odd combination, I have so many friends who love both food and pirates that I am confident in recommending this to a broad circle of my acquaintance. (Need I say that the subject matter best suits it to adults and perhaps older teens?)
There’s an interesting reversal here from the Patrick O’Brian books, where the landsman (Stephen Maturin) as the more modern thinker and the seaman (Jack Aubrey) was much more conservative. Also the modern thinker was also thoroughly addicted to one drug or another through most of the series (first opium, hashish, and the coca leaves from which cocaine is derieved, etc.)
Interesting thoughts, love! Thank you for sharing.