17 August 2005

Roasted tortoises and sweetmeats for Mr. Darwin

Francis Darwin's1 brief remarks about his father's eating habits:

He had a boy-like love of sweets, unluckily for himself, since he was constantly forbidden to take them...He drank very little wine, but enjoyed, and was revived by, the little he did drink. [p. 96]

Latterly he gave up dinner, and had a simple tea at half-past seven (while we had dinner), with an egg or a small piece of meat. [p. 100]

Much earlier, Charles Darwin himself had written about his culinary experiences while traveling on the Beagle2.
September 17th. [1833, Tapalguen on the way to Buenos Aires] We were here able to buy some biscuit. I had now been several days without tasting anything besides meat: I did not at all dislike this new regimen; but I felt as if it would only have agreed with me with hard exercise.

[1834, the Strait of Magellan] There is one vegetable production deserving notice from its importance as an article of food to the Fuegians. It is a globular, bright-yellow fungus, which grows in vast numbers on the beech-trees. When young it is elastic and turgid, with a smooth surface; but when mature, it shrinks, becomes tougher, and has its entire surface deeply pitted or honeycombed, as represented in the figure at right...In Tierra del Fuego the fungus in its tough and mature state is collected in large quantities by the women and children, and is eaten un-cooked. It has a mucilaginous, slightly sweet taste, with a faint smell like that of a mushroom.

October 8th. [1835, James Island, the Galapagos] While staying in this upper region, we lived entirely upon tortoise-meat: the breast-plate roasted (as the Gauchos do carne con cuero), with the flesh on it, is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup; but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.


1. Darwin, F. (ed.) 1959. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Basic Books, vol. 1.
2. Darwin, C. 1913. Journal of Researches... etc. 11th ed.
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