Apr 282018

On this date in 1772 the world’s most traveled goat (to the best of our knowledge), died in Mile End in England. The goat had twice circumnavigated the globe.

The goat, whose name is not known, was first carried on board the HMS Dolphin under Captain Wallis. In the 18th century, ships usually carried a small stock of animals – pigs, goats, and chickens usually – to provide fresh meat, milk, and eggs for the captain’s and officers’ consumption, while the crews subsisted on salted meats, dried peas or beans, and rice, washed down with rum. The goat in question must have been a prolific milk producer to have been well attended to for so long, although, to be fair, after a while her meat would not have been something naval officers would have relished, although a good cook could have made a decent stew of her had they been inclined.

Let’s start with a small biology lesson. People who are not raised on dairy farms usually do not understand that mammals do not give us milk out of the kindness of their hearts. They must be bred, and their offspring taken from them. That’s who their milk was intended for. They will lactate for a certain period after giving birth, and then have to be bred again. Their male babies are typically fattened for slaughter; that’s where veal comes from. So if you think that drinking milk and eating yoghurt or cheese does not harm animals, think again. In the 18th century, goats were a popular animal aboard naval ships because they were hardy and easy to breed.  It was not uncommon to leave a few goats on deserted islands encountered along the way, expecting them to breed and, thus, provide meat for vessels passing that way in the future. This practice wrought havoc on indigenous ecosystems, of course, but 18th century sailors were not noted for their concern about local regions other than how they could exploit them.

HMS Dolphin circumnavigated the earth twice. The second circumnavigation, begun in 1766, was under the command of Samuel Wallis, and this was our goat’s first trip around the world. The master on this voyage, George Robertson, subsequently wrote a book The discovery of Tahiti; a journal of the second voyage of H.M.S. Dolphin round the world under the command of Captain Wallis, R.N., in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768, written by her master. The goat gets a brief mention.

HMS Endeavour

The goat then sailed with James Cook on his first voyage of discovery aboard HMS Endeavour, from 1768 to 1771. Endeavour departed Plymouth on 26th August 1768, carrying 94 people and 18 months of provisions. Livestock on board are recorded as pigs, poultry, two greyhounds and a milking goat. This list at first seems incomplete because a single milking goat would not normally produce milk for more than 8 months without being bred.  One of the crew did make this note concerning our goat, however:

I must not omit how highly we have been indebted to a milch goat: she was three years in the West Indies, and was once round the world before in the Dolphin, and never went dry the whole time; we mean to reward her services in a good English pasture for life.

If we are to believe this sailor, our goat gave milk from 1766 to 1771 without being bred. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were bred between sea voyages, but I can also understand that such a phenomenal milk producer would be highly valued and protected. Samuel Johnson heard of this goat, and composed a Latin epigram for her, which allegedly she wore engraved on a silver collar around her neck:

‘Perpetui ambita his terra praemia lactis,
Hac habet, altrici capra secunda Jovis.’

Boswell gave this (expanded) translation:

In fame scarce second to the nurse of Jove,
This Goat, who twice the world had traversed round,
Deserving both her master’s care and love,
Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.

By this time the Admiralty had granted the goat a perpetual pension, which presumably translated into a lifetime of pasturage, but she died on this date in 1772, two days after being granted the pension.

We can go a number of ways with recipes to commemorate this wondrous goat. Given that she was known for milk and not for meat, goat cheese comes to mind. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk have similar overall fat contents. However, the higher proportion of medium-chain fatty acids such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid in goat’s milk contributes to the characteristic tart flavor of goat’s milk cheese, and make goat’s milk naturally homogenized.

Goat cheese has been made for thousands of years, and was probably one of the earliest made dairy products. In the most simple form, goat cheese is made by allowing raw milk to curdle naturally, and then draining and pressing the curds. Other techniques use an acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) or rennet to coagulate the milk. Soft goat cheeses are made in kitchens all over the world, with cooks hanging bundles of cheesecloth filled with curds in the warm kitchen for several days to drain and cure. If the cheese is to be aged, it is often brined so it will form a rind, and then stored in a cool cheese cave for several months to cure.

Feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep and goat milk (to give it the characteristic sharpness). It may be the most readily available cheese made with goat’s milk available throughout the West. French goat cheeses are numerous and also pretty widely distributed. Take your pick of Bucheron, Chabis, Chavroux, Clochette, Couronne Lochoise, Crottin de Chavignol, Faisselle, Montrachet, Pélardon, Picodon, Pouligny Saint-Pierre, Rocamadour, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Chabichou du Poitou, Valençay, and Pyramide. It is said that the Moors brought goats to the Loire Valley and Poitou in the 8th century, but this is a conjecture. Certainly goats were more prevalent historically in the Middle East and North Africa than Europe, but producing goat cheese took off in France more than anywhere else in Europe.

Eating goat meat is also unevenly distributed throughout the world. It is very common in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, and can also be found in many parts of the New World where European colonists took them, presumably as shipboard livestock. That is certainly the case in Jamaica where goats were valued by British sailors. Most Latin American cultures have goat recipes as well. It was easy for me to find goat meat at markets when I lived in northern Italy, and Patagonian kid was seasonally available in Argentina. I cook it when I can, usually in a rich stew seasoned with allspice and cloves. The meat of a full-grown goat is tough with little fat in it, so it must be braised slowly to make the meat tender. Cooking on a very slow simmer in broth for 4 to 5 hours is necessary. The meat is similar in taste to mutton: somewhat gamey. Young kid is a different matter. It is naturally tender and can be roast like lamb. Whenever I see a milk-fed leg of kid for sale I snap it up.

Dec 242017

On this date in 1777, captain James Cook sighted Kiritimati and named it Christmas Island. It should not be confused with Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean which is an Australian external territory. The name “Kiritimati” is a respelling of the English word “Christmas” in the Kiribati dialect of Gilbertese, in which the combination /ti/ is pronounced /s/, and the name is thus pronounced /kəˈrɪsməs/. Kiritimati was first discovered by Europeans when the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Grijalva found it in 1537, and named it Acea. At the time it was uninhabited. This discovery was referred to by a contemporary, the Portuguese António Galvão, governor of Ternate, in Tratado dos Descubrimientos of 1563. Cook visited on Christmas Eve 1777, but did nothing more about it. It was claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, though little actual mining of guano took place. Permanent settlement started by 1882, mainly by workers in coconut plantations and fishermen but, due to an extreme drought which killed off tens of thousands of coconut palms – about 75% of Kiritimati’s plant stock – the island was abandoned between 1905 and 1912.


The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world, about 388 square kilometers (150 square miles). Its lagoon is roughly the same size. The atoll is about 150 km (93 mi) in perimeter, while the lagoon shoreline extends for over 48 km (30 mi). Kiritimati comprises over 70% of the total land area of Kiribati, a country encompassing 33 Pacific atolls and islands. It lies 232 km (144 mi) north of the Equator, 2,160 km (1,340 mi) south of Honolulu, and 5,360 km (3,330 mi) from San Francisco. Kiritimati Island is in the world’s farthest forward time zone, UTC+14, and is one of the first inhabited places on Earth to experience the New Year. Despite being 2,460 km (1,530 mi) east of the 180˚ meridian, a 1995 realignment of the International Date Line by the Republic of Kiribati moved Kiritimati to west of the dateline.

Upon Western discovery, Kiritimati was uninhabited. As on other Line Islands there might have been a small or temporary native population, most probably Polynesian traders and settlers, who would have found the island a useful replenishing station on the long voyages from the Society Islands to Hawaiʻi, perhaps as early as 400 CE. This trade route was apparently used with some regularity by about 1000 CE. From 1200 onwards, Polynesian long-distance voyages became less frequent, and had there been human settlement on Kiritimati, it would have been abandoned in the early-mid second millennium CE. Two possible village sites and some stone structures of these early visitors have been located. Today, most inhabitants are Micronesians, and Gilbertese is the only language of any significance. English is generally understood, but little used outside the tourism sector.

Many of the toponyms in the island date back to Father Emmanuel Rougier, a French priest who leased the island from 1917 to 1939 and planted around 800,000 coconut trees there. He lived in his Paris house (now only small ruins) located at Benson Point, across the Burgle Channel from Londres (today London) at Bridges Point where he established the port. Joe’s Hill was named by Joe English, who served as plantation manager for Rougier between 1915 and 1919. English was left alone on the island for a year and a half (1917–19), with two teens, when cholera broke out in Papeete and transport stopped due to the First World War. English was later rescued by Lord John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, admiral of the British Fleet. English, still thinking the war was in effect and that the ship was German, pulled his revolver on the British admiral, causing a short standoff until some explanation defused the situation. Upon his rescue, English’s adventures were later chronicled in the Boston Globe.

Kiritimati was occupied by the Allies in World War II. US troops took over the island garrison, allowing Australian troops to be used for mainland defense. The first contingent of US troops was a company from the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit from New Haven, Connecticut. The Island was important to hold because if the Japanese had captured it, an airbase could have been constructed that would have allowed obstruction of the main Hawaii-to-Australia supply route. The first airstrip was constructed then for servicing the US Army Air Force weather station and communications center. The airstrip also provided rest and refueling facilities for planes traveling between Hawaii and the South Pacific. There was also a small radio-meteorological research station operated by the Kiribati Meteorological Service. In 1975 the Captain Cook Hotel was built on the former British military base.

During the dispute over the Carolines between Germany and Spain in 1885, arbitrated by Pope Leo XIII, the sovereignty of Spain over the Caroline and Palau islands as part of the Spanish East Indies was analyzed by a commission of cardinals and confirmed by an agreement signed on 17th December. Its Article 2 specifies the limits of Spanish sovereignty in South Micronesia, being formed by the Equator and 11°N Latitude and by 133° and by 164° Longitude. In 1899, Spain sold the Marianas, Carolinas and Palaus to Germany after its defeat in 1898 in the Spanish–American War. However, Emilio Pastor Santos, a researcher for the Spanish National Research Council, claimed in 1948 that there was historical basis, supported by the charts and maps of the time, to argue that Kiritimati (or Acea as in the Spanish maps), and some other islands, had never been considered part of the Carolines. Thus, Kiritimati was not included in the description of the territory transferred to Germany, and therefore was not affected, on the part of Spain, to any cessation of transfer and theoretically Spain should have had the only jurisdiction and right to the island. Pastor Santos presented his thesis to the Spanish government in 1948. In the Council of Ministers of Spain on 12th January 1949, the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that the proposal had passed to the first stage of public attention. The Cabinet of Diplomatic Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated the following note:

The Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the Council of Ministers of the situation in which we find ourselves in view of information and public commentary in the press and because of the requests made of the Spanish administration. The Ministry recognizes that it is a certain fact and historic truth due to Article 3 of the Treaty of 1 July 1899, that Spain reserved a series of rights in Micronesia and for another thing, the specifications of the territories which Spain ceded in 1899 leaves apart certain groups of islands in the same zone.

However, no Spanish government has made any attempt in this respect, and this case remains as a historical curiosity related to Kiritimati.

During the Cold War there was some nuclear weapons testing in the Kiritimati area. The United Kingdom conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test at Malden Island on 15th May 1957; Kiritimati was the operation’s main base. In fact, this test did not work as planned, and the first British H-bomb was successfully detonated over the southeastern tip of Kiritimati on 8th November 1957. Subsequent test series in 1958 (Grapple Y and Z) took place above or near Kiritimati itself. The United States conducted 22 successful nuclear detonations as part of Operation Dominic here in 1962. Some toponyms (like Banana and Main Camp) come from the nuclear testing period, during which at times over 4,000 servicemen were present. By 1969, military interest in Kiritimati had ceased and the facilities were abandoned and for the most part dismantled. Some communications, transport and logistics facilities, however, were converted for civilian use and it is due to these installations that Kiritimati came to serve as the administrative center for the Line Islands. Islanders were usually not evacuated during the nuclear weapons testing, and data on the environmental and public health impact of these tests remains contested.

The natural vegetation on Kiritimati consists mostly of low shrubland and grassland. What little woodland exists is mainly open coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) plantation. There are three small woods of catchbird trees (Pisonia grandis), at Southeast Point, Northwest Point, and on Motu Tabu. The latter were planted there in recent times. About 50 introduced plant species are found on Kiritimati. They are most plentiful around settlements, former military sites and roads. Beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada) is the most common shrub on Kiritimati; beach naupaka scrub dominates the vegetation on much of the island, either as pure stands or interspersed with tree heliotrope (Heliotropium foertherianum) and bay cedar (Suriana maritima). The latter species is dominant on the drier parts of the lagoon flats where it grows up to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall.

More than 35 bird species have been recorded from Kiritimati. Only the bokikokiko (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis), perhaps a few introduced Rimitara lorikeets (Vini kuhlii) – if any remain at all – and the occasional eastern reef egret (Egretta sacra) make up the entire landbird fauna. About 1,000 adult bokikokikos are to be found at any date, but mainly in mixed grass/shrubland away from the settlements. On the other hand, seabirds are plentiful on Kiritimati, and make up the bulk of the breeding bird population. There are 18 species of seabirds breeding on the island, and Kiritimati is one of the most important breeding grounds anywhere in the world for several of these.

The local cuisine of Kiribati is what you would expect, fish, shellfish, bananas, and coconuts predominate, cooked in Polynesian fashion.  This website gives the basic idea: https://www.internationalcuisine.com/category/kiribati/ I’ll go with pumpkin and coconut soup because it’s very common, but is also easy to prepare practically anywhere these days. The soup can be served hot or chilled

Kiribati Pumpkin and Coconut Soup


2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1 13.5 fl oz can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
coconut oil for frying
chives to garnish


Heat the coconut oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the pumpkin and ginger and cook until the pumpkin is soft, but not browned. Cover the pumpkin with water, bring to the boil, and simmer until the pumpkin is cooked and easily mashed with a fork.

Drain and then mash the pumpkin with a fork, or use a food processor. Add the mashed pumpkin back to the pot with the coconut milk and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Either heat through to serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator to serve cold.

Serve garnished with chives.

Feb 142014



Today is the anniversary of the death of James Cook, English naval captain and explorer.  The details are not entirely clear.  He had been on good terms with indigenous Hawaiians for some time, and sailed off with their blessing. But he had to return because his foremast had broken. His return was apparently unwelcome.  One of his cutters was stolen.  As he had done in Tahiti he took a hostage in order to get the cutter back. He tried to take the Alii ‘Aimoku (ruler or king) — Kalaniʻōpuʻu. – who  was apparently willing to help by being a hostage.  But several of his subjects attacked Cook.  He was beaten savagely by a club from behind, then stabbed in the back 8 times.

The esteem which the islanders, nevertheless, held for Cook caused them to retain his body. Following their practice of the time, they prepared his body with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society.  They carefully preserved his bones and returned them to his crew for a formal burial at sea.

All a bit grisly.  One of his shipmates wrote,  “He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress and appearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.”


My readers will appreciate the irony in not posting a recipe in honor of a man named Cook.

Small extra — “Captain Cook” is  rhyming slang in Australia for “look.”

Well, today is also St Valentine’s Day so eat some chocolate.