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A Bargee's Pail

You might remember a fascinating BBC TV programme that aired earlier this year, called 'The Golden Age of Canals'.  It gave the story of the tail-end of commercial carrying on the canals, told mainly through home movie footage, with assorted 'talking head' interviews with witnesses to the era. 

(It's being shown again, on BBC4 TV on Monday 19th December at 7pm.) 

The producer of that fine programme, David Parker, writes that he's now making a TV programme about 'traditional food', and adds: 

"I've come across a way of cooking called the 'Bargees Pail'. Have you ever heard of it, and do you know anybody who can simulate it on a narrow boat today? I'd like to find someone cooking in this style if at all possible. Any advice would be gratefully received." 


Monday 12 December  | Andrew Denny  | 5.17pm, Monday 12 December 2011

Comments

Proposed article for a forthcoming issue of "Towpath Topics", newsletter of the Middlesex Canal Association, Massachusetts, USA.
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Sustenance for Boatmen and Travelers - A Question
by Bill Gerber
An article in the recent issue of "Waterways World", an English publication, raised a question particularly relevant to our own network of canals and river navigations. The article described a "Bargee's Pail", a clip from which is shown here.
The question is obvious, what did our own boatmen do to sustain themselves while traveling? At the extreme, the duration of a round trip between Concord NH and Boston MA averaged nine days, four down and five up; between nearer points, of course, trip durations would have been shorter.
Unlike those on other US canals, our boats were relatively small and primitive and, to the best of my knowledge, no one lived aboard; also no "galley" descriptions have ever been found. For the most part, our 120+ miles of canals and river navigations were served by an infrastructure of taverns and dual-purpose lock tender's houses which together provided quarters, and for sustenance and socialization. (No more than four boatmen allowed per bed!) But, no doubt, use of these facilities would add to the cost of travel. While these facilities may well have provided the evening meal, and perhaps a breakfast too for many boatmen and travelers, I seriously doubt that they were used by all, particularly those who traveled constantly, or that they accounted for all en-route dining provisions, particularly the mid-day meal.
The author of the British article states: You might remember a fascinating BBC TV programme that aired earlier this year, called 'The Golden Age of Canals'. It gave the story of the tail-end of commercial carrying on the canals, told mainly through home movie footage, with assorted 'talking head' interviews with witnesses to the era. The producer of that fine programme, David Parker, writes that he's now making a TV programme about 'traditional food', and adds: "I've come across a way of cooking called the 'Bargees Pail'. Have you ever heard of it, and do you know anybody who can simulate it on a narrow boat today? I'd like to find someone cooking in this style if at all possible. Any advice would be gratefully received."
The "Bargee's Pail", described in the clip above, reminds me of my grandparent's "Fireless Cooker". This was an insulated chest about the size of a large picnic cooler. It included a slab of iron, about the size of the bottom of the chest, which could be heated on the top of a wood stove (aka cook stove). Once heated, it was moved to the bottom of the chest, a few towels were placed on it, and food, e.g., meat, potatoes and vegetables to be cooked, each in its own container, were all placed on the slab and the chest was tightly closed. This was an early Sunday morning ritual, after which the family went off to church. By the time they returned, hours later, their Sunday noon meal was cooked and ready to eat.
I've sometimes used a "Fire Pit" on camping trips, in which rocks were heated in an open fire. When hot, any remaining coals and the rocks were shallowly covered, food was added above the hot rocks, and the pit was filled in. A few hours later a well cooked hot meal was available for all to enjoy. I've also used reflector ovens and dutch ovens with acceptable success, including a 'pineapple upside down cake in the latter (with an upturned trash can placed over to serve as an oven).
Certainly hot rocks retain heat for a long time and could readily be substituted for my grandparents' iron slab, e.g., in a small barrel, and this might have conveniently served sustenance needs. But, did any of the boatmen and/or travelers employ similar or comparable means? I haven't a clue! Do any of our readers know? (wegerber@gmail.com)

Bill Gerber  | 6.51PM, Wednesday 11 January

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