Monday, October 10, 2016

Columbus Day and a Look at Scurvy

On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera, Spain with three ships: the Niña, Pinta and Santa María. Land was sighted on October 12, 1492. Columbus called the island San Salvador (today it is known as the Bahamas).


Scurvy was a major health problem onboard Christopher Columbus ships. Fresh fruits and vegetables were not taken on these long voyages due to spoilage. This resulted in a high incidence of scurvy among the sailors. The relationship between scurvy and Vitamin C had not been discovered yet.

The typical foods brought on these long journeys consisted of water, vinegar, wine, olive oil, molasses, honey, cheese, rice, almonds, salted flour, sea biscuits, dry legumes, salted and barreled sardines, anchovies, dry salt cod and pickled or salted meats (beef and pork). Fresh livestock included pigs and chickens were part of the ships provisions. Fish was readily available.

Foods were commonly salted and pickled as a method of preserving the food. The crew was served two meals a day. Foods were mostly boiled and served in a large wooden bowl. The sailors ate with their fingers because they had no forks or spoons. There was a lack of proper sanitation. Hand washing before meals was not required.

There is a legend that during one of Christopher Columbus's voyages some sailors had scurvy and wanted to be dropped off at one of the nearby islands and die there rather then dying on board. While the men were on the island they ate some of the island's fresh fruits and vegetables and to their amazement began to recover. When Columbus's ships passed by several months later, the captain saw the men were alive and healthy. The island was named Curacao, meaning Cure.



Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Pirates For Sail talks about Scurvy Awareness and Prevention
Filmed at Piratz Tavern, Silver Spring, MD 


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