Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guinea Pig - Breaded and Fried

One of the highlights of our trip to Peru in 2009 was a visit to Incanto Restaurant in Cusco where I got roasted guinea pig (cuy). The guinea pig legs reminded me structurally of prairie chicken, but the meat was similar to rabbit. After we got home from Peru I made a number of attempts to try and find guinea pig meat to eat, including contacting a number of Peruvian restaurants, but was unable to find any. Finally, a number of years later, Exotic Meat Market made it available and I ordered four and have had them sitting in the freezer waiting for the right time to cook them. I talked with the owner and chef of our local Peruvian restaurant about cooking them for me, and he was willing, but I was never able to make it work time-wise with my family's schedule and the schedule of the restaurant. 
Guinea pig.
So several months back the mood hit me and I decided to cook them on my own. I thawed two of them and decided to bread and fry them. The guinea pigs seemed  smaller than those found in Peru, but were still large enough to get a good meal out of them. 
Two guinea pigs, or cuy.
I cut them in half, lengthwise, then cut them down further into smaller pieces, then breaded them in flour mixed liberally with salt and pepper, and fried them in canola oil. The guinea pigs were fatty enough to add their own juices to the pan and they fried up nicely to a golden brown. 
Two guinea pigs, cut in half.
Cut into smaller pieces, breaded and in a frying pan.
Frying to a crisp, golden brown. 
It is a dark meat, very moist, soft and juicy, and has no gamy flavor. It reminds me of rabbit, which I love, but I think the guinea pig is even better - a little darker and more flavorful. If cost was not a factor, I would have cuy more often. I tried the other two guinea pigs sous vide, perhaps a separate post some day, but this breading and frying far surpassed the sous vide version. I would cook guinea pig this way again. 
The finished product. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lionfish - Sous Vide

Lionfish are conspicuously colored fish with red, white, creamy and black bands, showy pectoral fins and spiky, venomous fin rays. I've always loved seeing them in aquariums, but never dreamed I would have an opportunity to eat one. Anshu Pathak at Exotic Meat Market made it available and I couldn't resist. They have relatively recently become an invasive species off the southeastern U.S. Coast and Caribbean and I assume that is where this lionfish came from. 
Beautiful red and orange lionfish.
It is very similar to the scorpion fish I tried in September, but it is smaller and much easier to prepare. It was already gutted, but I had to remove the spiky fins, head and tail. Knowing that the spines are poisonous and not knowing whether a prick of a spine would cause any problem, I carefully tried to avoid pricking myself with the spines. The spines are much longer than the spines on the scorpion fish, but they are not as thick and they are much more easily removed with kitchen shears. The heads of both fish are similar, but the hard plating and spikes on the head of the scorpion fish are much stronger and more pronounced. 
Beautiful red on white markings underneath the throat and on the belly.
Head severed from the torso in the cleaning process.
The meat of the lionfish, which is very white, is more delicate than the scorpion fish and not as thick. The result is that it is much more bony and consequently a little more difficult to eat. 
Filets: one side with the skin and the other from the inside.
Because it is a mild white meat, I decided to go with a spicy preparation. I did that with the scorpion fish and really loved it. I spread some butter on the filets, then slathered on some goulash cream hot paprika mix csipos, a hot pepper paste made in Hungary, a small amount of ground fresh chili with garlic and a number of spoonfuls of Herdez salsa casera, a spicy tomato salsa. I vacuum sealed the filets with the added ingredients and then put them in a sous vide for 40 minutes at 53 centigrade. 
The spicy ingredients behind the vacuum sealed pouch with the filets.
The lionfish filets are delicate, very mild and worked excellently with the spicy ingredients. 
The finished product. The ingredients made a nice broth for the fish.
In comparison with the scorpion fish, it is prettier, seems more exotic, and is easier to clean. However, it has much less meat and I preferred the flavor and texture of the scorpion fish which was much like lobster. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wood Pigeon - Sous Vide

I ordered two wood pigeons, on-line, that had been shot in the wild in Scotland. 
The common wood pigeon.
In descriptions about the meat I read that it was "deep crimson in color" and had a "rich gamey flavor" and that it was "dark" and "delicate" and should be served "pink or rare." A British website with wood pigeon recipes said the pigeon was best with the breasts removed and "pan fried and served pink." 
Two raw wood pigeons. Note how dark the meat is.
Cut in half.
I have eaten pigeon before, in Chinese (both domestic and foreign) restaurants, but they are usually called "squab" and are domestic pigeons that are young and slaughtered  after they have reached full-size, but before they have flown. 

These wild-shot pigeons, although full-grown, were much smaller than the squab I've eaten in Chinese restaurants and the taste is off-the-charts different. I rate these birds as some of the gamiest meat I've ever eaten. 
Vacuum-sealed. One bag had butter added.
The bag with the birds in butter after cooking.
I decided to cook them sous vide and decided on 53 centigrade as the on-line recommendations were to eat it rare. I figured that a little longer in the water bath would soften it up, so I cooked them for 4 1/2 hours. I cut them in half, length-wise, coated them in olive oil with some salt and pepper, and in one batch (I put one bird in each vacuum-sealed bag) I also added some butter. 

Despite the long cooking time the birds were still very supple, yet difficult to cut. And the taste was very livery, more so than liver, with a bitter tinge to it. Neither Judy or I finished it, it was just too strong. 
Two sous vide pigeon halves with creamy mashed potatoes. Fortunately the mashed potatoes were very good. We didn't eat much of the pigeon. 
So I bagged up the birds, refrigerated them, and pulled them out the next day to try them again. This time I cut off much of the remaining breast meat (the other meat was just too difficult to remove) and microwaved it until it was warm. Then I salted it heavily and tried it again. It was still very livery and bitter, but both tastes were more muted, perhaps because of my heavy salting and because of the extra cooking. 
This left-over pigeon was cut up into pieces and then microwaved. That helped a little bit.
I would not eat pigeon this way again. It either needed to be cooked at a higher temperature and much longer in the sous vide, pan fried in thin slices, or marinated in something very strong that would neutralize the strong flavors. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Baked Rio Grande Wild Turkey

We had our second wild turkey in a row for Thanksgiving (wild as in the type of bird, but actually raised on a farm). Last year we had an Eastern wild turkey. This year we had a Rio Grande wild turkey
Raised in California and slaughtered in the Bay Area.
We got it vacuum packed and fresh.
This turkey was a little larger, 14.5 pounds, and like the turkey last year, had a smaller breast, larger wings and larger drumsticks. Traditional turkeys have small wings that are virtually inedible. Wild turkey wings have more meat and are much nicer to gnaw on (one of the perks that belong to the carver of the turkey). The drumsticks also seem to have less connective tissue and small bones, thus providing more usable dark meat. 

More dominated by legs and wings than breasts.
We cooked the turkey in a bag and it came out looking pretty hammered, falling apart - the breast falling away from the bone, but it was actually moist and not overcooked. The stuffing was breadcrumbs, two pounds of pork sausage, some dried cranberries and walnuts. 

The drumsticks came off quite easily.
A nice selection of dark meat, along with white meat. 
Andrew brought several friends from Los Angeles to share lunch with us and we had an enjoyable time. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Smoked Short-Finned Eel

Eel, as both an animal and a food, is something I've known very little about. When I lived in Hawaii as a teenager I encountered several live sea eels. One was a black and white eel off Waikiki while snorkling, probably a snowflake or zebra moray. The other, a large green moray, was captured with my Marine Biology class at BYU-Hawaii off Laie Point.

My first eel-as-food encounters were in sushi restaurants where I've since become familiar with both unagi (fresh-water eel) and anago (salt-water eel). Eel as sushi tends to have a slightly sweet taste and does not have bones.

About four years ago I bought some charcoal broiled eel from a Chinese market and brought it home for a family meal and it had the same sweet taste that I associate with sushi unagi.

Last year, while in the Balkans, I took a big step forward, eel-wise, during a wonderful meal at Damar Restaurant in Ohrid, Macedonia, where Judy ordered fried eel, fresh from Lake Ohrid, which was just a stone's throw away. This eel looked and smelled very different than sushi eel. It smelled off-puttingly fishy and was in much larger pieces. I was surprised to bite into it and find a back-bone, like a salmon or other fish, but without the annoying rib-bones (I understand that the eel has rib bones, but they are either removed or are not big enough to notice).   The eel was plump, juicy and savory, not sweet at all. I learned that sushi eel is a presentation of one of two flaps separated from the central back bone and that eel is not naturally sweet. Something takes place in the processing that adds the sweetness.

I just took another step-forward in my eel education. I obtained some smoked eel from Exotic Meat Market. It was short-finned eel, a fresh-water eel found in the rivers and lakes of New Zealand, as well as Australia and other nearby islands. Much to my delight, the eel was packaged in its entirety, from head to tail, minus the innards that had been cut-out as evidenced by a cavity that ran along the belly. The eel below is resting on a plate that is 19 inches long, making the eel over two-feet in length. It weighed between two and three pounds.
The entire eel, packaged in plastic, resting on a 19 inch plate. 
Gerookte paling is "smoked eel" in Dutch. It apparently is a Dutch delicacy. 
The short-finned eel has a tiny head, ending in a pointed snout. Further back down the body are gill flaps followed by tiny fins. The other end is one large fin, from a distance almost indistinguishable from the head. I enjoyed looking it over.
Bent, so it fits on the plate.
Fin, gills, eye and mouth in the foreground and tail in the background.
Tiny teeth are visible in the opened mouth.
Using kitchen shears, the eel was cut into sections. The outer skin was loose and rubbery, much like the seaweed used in a sushi roll. The lower section of the eel was bulging with a thick liquid that was visually off-putting, but had a nice fatty, smoky taste. The eel pieces coated with the liquid were incredibly moist and full of juicy smoked flavor. The closest taste I can associate it with is smoked kippers. If you like smoked kippers, you'll love this smoked eel. The eel pieces without the liquid were more dry, but still had an incredible smoky flavor.
Cut-up sections arranged on a plate. Note the loose-fitting outer skin.
The smoked eel without the skin.
For Judy, a little went a long way. I'm smitten. I love smoked kippers and this is easier to eat than kippers.

I love sweet tasting unagi, and I loved the savory fresh eel in Ohrid, but this entirely different tasting smoked eel is the best yet.

Having the entire eel adds an additional dimension to the eating experience. However, for some at our Thanksgiving table, where it was an appetizer, it made it harder to eat. For guests that might be a little squeamish or less adventurous, cutting it into sections and removing the skin before-hand would reduce the mental anguish.

This wonderful product will be on our dinner table again.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Whole Iguana - Sous Vide

I've had iguana meat twice previously. The first time the iguana was already prepared in bbq sauce, killed and cooked by one of my friend's Mexican farm workers. The second time I purchased parts of an iguana, already killed and cleaned and ready to cook. I've been wanting to get a whole iguana to skin, cut up and cook on my own. When I do that, I find that I learn more about and gain a greater appreciation for the animal and for the process of bringing it to the table. 

I was on the phone recently with Exotic Meat Market in Perris, California, and learned that they had some whole iguanas in stock. I purchased a three pounder and got a box with the iguana packed in dry ice the next day. 
A three pound iguana.
Judy mentioned that she had signed a schedule to cook a meal for the LDS missionaries in our ward. One of the missionaries told her he'd heard I cooked unusual meat and he was excited to come to our house. Hearing that, I asked them if they were willing to try iguana, and I got an enthusiastic "yes."  
I've never seen iguana skin cowboy boots (a quick look on-line confirms they are available), but the skin is perfect for it. It is thick, durable and has a beautiful shine and color. It does not rip easily - it required kitchen shears to open up entry points. I began pulling the skin off of the carcass, separating the meat from the skin. The front and hind legs were easiest: a slit up the length of each leg provided sufficient room to maneuver. I could have cut off the toes, but with a strong tug most of the skin came cleanly off.  I had to be more careful with the torso as the skin stuck more tenaciously there. The tail was even more difficult: the skin is rougher and more tightly connected to the meat. Note in the pictures the long white bands going up and down the tail. Those bands appear to be connective tissue that made it difficult to separate the meat from the skin. I liked the skin so much that I decided to preserve it by scraping off any attached meat and salting it. The stringy bands of connective tissue on the tail were the most difficult part to clean-off.  
The head was already missing and the innards had been removed. The toenails had also been cut off. 
Note the fingers, up front. The skin just pulled off of them. Also note a lower portion of the tail at the back and to the right. The skin is quite roughed up, evidence of the difficulty removing the skin from it. 
The belly side of the iguana. The cut mid-torso and the cut at the base of the tail were already there.
Cut into pieces and ready to insert into sous vide bags.
The iguana was easy to separate into pieces with kitchen shears. The ribs were separated by a cut down the spine. Olive oil was spread evenly over each piece and then pink Himalayan sea salt was sprinkled over the top. The iguana pieces fit into two sous vide vacuum packed bags. 
The pieces fit into two vacuum packed bags.
The sous vide cooked at 60 degrees centigrade for 9 1/2 hours. The long cooking time made it easier to separate the flesh from the small bones. 
One of the bags after it has done cooking.
As company arrived, the bags were pulled from the sous vide, the iguana was cut into smaller pieces and they were arranged into a serving bowl. The back legs and the tail provided lots of meat. 
The iguana cut into smaller pieces and ready to eat.
A piece of iguana leg along with bbq pork, salad and potatoes and beans. 
Judy, who watched the iguana preparation, said she was going to pass on this dish. But once it was cooked and separated into small pieces it looked more appetizing. Everyone enjoyed it, including her. Iguana is very mild and has a look and taste very similar to dark chicken meat. The olive oil and sea salt was the only seasoning needed. We had an additional friend join us, and all five went back for seconds or more of the iguana. 
One of the missionaries ready to dig in.
Another missionary holds up the iguana skin. 
I liked it so much that some day I'm going to have to do a larger iguana. It was fun to prepare and very good to eat. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cape Coast Castle - Ghana

It appears that George Cannon and the Eliza spent the next 22 months along the Gold Coast in the vicinity of Cape Coast Castle and Anomabu Fort collecting slaves. We do not know any particulars other than that more slaves were obtained in Anomabu than Cape Coast. But an examination of some details of those two forts give us some insight into the types of experiences George Cannon had while he was there. The numbers in the text of this post are end notes. The referenced end notes, found at the end of the post, gives the sources for the provided information.

British Administration of Gold Coast Forts

The Royal African Company (“RAC”) originally had a monopoly on the British slave trade in Africa. The RAC was abolished by Parliament in 1750 and the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa (“CMTA”) was established in its place. The CMTA was given the RAC assets, including Cape Coast Castle, the forts and its employees, and was also given an annual grant of £15,000 to £22,000 from the British government to maintain the buildings and staffing in Africa. The CMTA was governed by a committee of slaving industry leaders from London, Liverpool and Bristol, the three slave trading ports in England. The law prohibited the CMTA, or any of its governors or officers, from buying or selling slaves on their own account, directly or indirectly. Instead, the CMTA was to act as a facilitator or accommodator between British slave merchants and African slave merchants who were to negotiate their own deals. The Castle and fort facilities were available for British ships to temporarily store their barter goods, for African merchants to temporarily house their slaves, and rooms were available for both sides to conduct negotiations.

The governor of Cape Coast Castle was the governor-in-chief and president of a council that ran the CMTA settlements in Africa. Archibald Dalziel was governor when the Eliza arrived. The governor of Anomabu (also known as Annamaboe), the English fort nearest the Castle, was his deputy and usually succeeded him. Other members of the council were the governors of Tantumquerry (also known as Tantamkweri and Tantam), Winneba (also known as Winnebah), Fort James at Accra, Whydah (which was much further east on the Slave Coast) and senior staff at the Castle. Governors of the other English forts, including Apollonia, Fort Metal Cross at Dixcove, and Komenda were not on the council. Overall, the CMTA employed about 50 officers, about half at the Castle and the other half at other forts. There was a chaplain, a secretary, a deputy secretary, an accountant, a deputy accountant, a surveyor who maintained the buildings, a deputy surveyor, two officers of the guard, one at the Castle and one at Anomabu, a deputy warehouse keeper, a chief surgeon, five assistant surgeons, seven factors, who kept records of the trades, and ten writers, who copied documents and learned the business. The number of soldiers, all British born, was about the same as the number of officers. The combined number of officers and soldiers at the forts, other than the Castle, was usually about six. 

The CMTA paid monthly rent for the Castle, and for each fort, to the local African political and military leaders, known as “caboceers” and “braffoes,” where the facility was located. The CMTA and slave ship captains also had to pay fees for the use of water from streams and ponds, customs duties on the slaves that were purchased, fees to the canoemen who helped load and unload the ships that anchored off the coast and they also had to make frequent presents in gold and goods to the caboceers.[1]

Aside from the slaves held in the Castle and fort prisons for sale to British slave merchants, known as “slaves in chains,” the largest group of people at the Castle and forts were “public slaves” or “Castle slaves.” They did most of the physical work at the Castle and forts and most of them lived off-premises, in the case of the Castle, in the village of Cape Coast. A 1749 list of 376 Castle slaves lists carpenters, blacksmiths, brickmakers, bricklayers, goldsmiths, cooks, doctor’s servants, coopers, and canoemen, among many other trades and jobs listed. Although 27 canoemen were listed, many more were needed and they were free Africans contracting directly with the Castle and with the ships anchored one to four miles offshore. 
The modern town of Cape Coast just off the Castle.
Contrary to law, the governors and officers regularly traded for their own accounts, directly competing with the British ships they were supposed to serve. They illegally bought, sold and exchanged slaves with the neighboring Dutch and Danish forts on the coast, as well as French, Portuguese, American and Brazilian ships.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle is located on a rocky outcrop along what was called Cabo Corso (short cape) by the Portuguese. Large rocks front the Castle and the ocean along the coast is shallow, with complex currents, hidden rocks, a reef, and a strong breaking surf. Ships coming to the Castle had to anchor far offshore in what was called “the roads,” a stretch of water with some shelter from the wind and deep enough that a loaded ship could avoid hitting the reef or getting stuck in sand. Smaller ships could anchor about a mile offshore, larger ships about two miles, and when it was windy, generally from May to August, the time the Eliza arrived, ships would anchor up to four miles offshore to avoid being blown by the wind toward the coast and damaged. 
Sea view of Cape Coast Castle when the surf is high.
Waves and rocks in front of the Castle.
Looking west down the beach. Elmina Castle is on the point barely visible in the background. 
The Castle itself was built of small stones held together by mud and lime, and painted white. Dozens of heavy cannons, on a large platform, pointed out to sea in three directions. The third floor housed the governor. The second floor had apartments for officers and a dining hall which was also used for palavers and religious services. The ground floor had barracks for soldiers and house slaves, a cookhouse, a hospital, large warehouses to hold imported goods and a prison for slaves. A narrow gate at the east end opened on to a rocky beach and was the access point for slaves and goods in barrels ferried back and forth between the Castle and ships anchored in the roads. On the opposite side of the Castle was a garden with fruit trees, a stockyard, and the African village of Cape Coast.[2]
Guns along the sea wall.
Looking in the opposite direction. 
Sea gate to the Castle. Also a set of steps to the left which provide a different entrance. 
Looking up the sloping entrance into the Castle from the sea gate.
Rocks and Castle walls near the sea gate.
Near the staircase that leads down to the beach. Looking out into the Gulf of Guinea.
Beach view of the Castle from the west.
The top two floors of the Castle had ocean views and the trappings of wealth: mahogany furniture, Turkish and Indian carpets, silk wall hangings, paintings, clocks, china, silverware, and even a pool table with balls made from ivory. Of particular benefit for visiting ship captains, there were charts, maps, globes and telescopes. The “public table” in the second floor dining hall, where visiting captains, surgeons and African merchants joined with the governor and officers, provided an impressive amount and variety of spirits, as well as food. A list for one month, in 1750, shows the consumption of 124 bottles of Malaga wine, 56 bottles of beer, 11 bottles of red port, 8 bottles of “Bristol water,” 52 gallons of rum, 212 bottles of “government’s beer,” 104 bottles of claret, 6 bottles of cider, 12 bottles of small beer, 2 bottles of old stock and 7 bottles of arrack. In addition, they ate chocolate, 3 cheeses, 70 pounds of raisins, 89 pounds of currents, 3 firkins of butter, 200 fowls, 4 sheep, 15 goats, 4 hogs, 5 ducks, 1 barrel of beef, 1 barrel of pork, 4 hams, 1 keg of sugar, 120 pounds of refined sugar, 6 pounds of common sugar, 646 pounds of flour, 2 gallons of palm oil, and 2 pounds of tea. Much of the drink and food was provided by an annual store-ship from England. But the nearby stockyard also raised cows, sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea hens and the garden provided various types of fresh fruit. 
An upper floor in the Castle.
Various levels of the Castle. The exit to the sea gate goes down at the center toward the end of the building.
Despite these luxuries, even the second and third floors of the Castle could not escape the terrible stench that arose from the proximity of hundreds of slaves in chains and the “necessary,” a small house on the parade ground near the sea gate. To help mask the smell, lavender, rosewater and perfume were used regularly and the apartments were smoked with pitch, tar and tobacco every three months.[3] 
I believe this building is the "necessary."
The primary purpose of the Castle was to facilitate trade. Slaves brought in by African slave merchants were held, shown and then sold to British slave ships which would then transport them to the Americas. That was one side of the transaction. The Castle also held goods brought in by the ships used to barter for slaves. That was the other side of the transaction. However, because the slave gathering process took a long time, there was often bartering the other way. If prices were high and a captain intended to stay for awhile, he might sell slaves he already had on his ship to another ship, or take them back to the Castle for sale. A captain getting ready to leave for the Middle Passage might pay a premium for just a few slaves to fill-up the ship and leave more quickly. Children slaves, added at the last minute were valuable, because they did not need to be chained up below deck, but were allowed to wander around on deck. Because space was not budgeted for them, they were mostly pure profit.[4] The Castle prison, which held slaves, was protected by a heavy iron grille at ground level, then descended steeply below ground to five vaulted brick chambers connected to each other by internal doors. The prison had no windows, and only small air vents in the ceiling high above, so the slaves were in the dark and chained continuously. To keep the slaves healthy and the stench down, the slaves were marched down to the ocean twice each day for a wash, while the brick floors with gutters were flushed with water to clean them. The prison was also regularly smoked and sprinkled with lime and vinegar.[5] 
Entrance to the prison on the ground floor.
From the inside looking back: the entrance to the prison descends quickly underground.
Brick prison chamber.
Succession of brick prison chambers.
Warehouses at the Castle, on the ground level, held goods brought in by the ships used to barter for slaves. This made room in the ships for slaves, which were taken to the ship as they were purchased. As an example of the types of goods brought in, a ship in 1779 brought £10,000 worth of goods, including brandy, rum, tobacco, muskets, gunpowder, various small manufactures, scissors, knives, brass basins, pewter vessels, clay pipes, umbrellas and luxury goods.[6] The warehouses also held commodities produced by Africans for use at the castle and for sale to the slaves ships. Corn was produced locally and was used to feed the shipping slaves and sold to ships for the Middle Passage. A 1779 inventory included 4,200 gallons of corn at the Castle.[7]

Slave ships were anchored in the roads, off the Castle, or one of the other forts, for months at a time, even as long as a year or more. It was not unusual to have 20 or 30 ships anchored at the same time.[8] Because the ships were so far off shore, some basic signals were worked out to allow the ships and Castle to communicate with each other. A ship arriving to trade would fire at least nine guns (cannons) and the Castle would respond similarly. The Castle fired a gun at the same time each morning and evening so that the captains could synchronize their watches. A few weeks before a ship was going to leave for the Middle Passage, it put up a special flag. Then in the last few days before it left, the ship fired a gun each morning. This put the Castle, African merchants and other slave ships on notice that negotiations and paperwork had to be completed and that the governor needed to complete any correspondence he wanted the ship to forward on to its next destination.[9]
Cape Coast Castle and the village of Cape Coast to the right of it. 
Ships moored in the roads of Cape Coast.

Negotiations for slaves (and other goods) took place on the ship, at the Castle and presumably on other ships and in the local vicinity as well. It was the norm to have half a dozen African merchants on board the ship bartering with the captain and his officers. Normally only the captain and surgeon went to the Castle for onshore negotiations while the rest of the crew stayed to guard the ship, do maintenance, and guard slaves that were purchased and brought out to the ship. While onshore, the captain and surgeon were given private apartments on the second floor of the Castle, ate at the governor’s dinner table, and exchanged news and talked with other ship captains and surgeons and the governor and his officers. The crew might get ashore occasionally for brief periods to help load or unload, or obtain water.[10] It appears that the Eliza surgeon (ranked third on the muster roll), with the last name of Bowness, died on July 11, 1790, about two months after the Eliza’s arrival on the Gold Coast. About a month later, the Eliza’s first mate (ranked second on the muster roll), with the last name of Murray, died on August 7, 1790. George Cannon, ranked fourth on the muster roll, become first mate and in that capacity, particularly with the loss of the surgeon, may have accompanied Captain Bernard to the Castle.

Slave ship captains tried to time arrivals in Africa during the dry season, although there was less concern for ships going to the Gold Coast as fort officials had slaves and corn available most months. The Gold Coast has two rainy seasons, a longer one from April to mid-July, followed by a foggy season that lasts two or three weeks, and a shorter one in October. The rainy season is characterized by short, intensive storms, high humidity and cooler weather. August is the coolest month with an average temperature of 76.5 degrees. Dry harmattan winds, blowing down from Sahara Desert, start in February and make March the hottest month with an average temperature of 82.4 degrees. However, because it is less humid, the winds often make it feel cooler than the rainy season.[11] The Eliza arrived in Ghana in the rainy season. This was probably not a concern to Captain Bernard and the owner, John Dawson, because of the fort system and availability of corn. We visited Ghana during the rainy season and the heat and humidity were stifling. The conditions the slaves lived in in the castle prison and in the holds of ships are beyond conception. During our visit I had to walk out of the prison and one of the warehouses, as the lack of moving air and humidity created an overwhelming claustrophobia. Imagine being naked, chained, sandwiched together, and lying in vomit, urine and feces. Unimaginable.

There was a very high death rate for those new to Africa, whether sailors or working for the CMTA. The annual death rate was about 25% for officers of the CMTC. Those who survived were “seasoned” and their probabilities for survival increased. In 1790, the year that the Eliza arrived, ten officers died, including one that drowned in the surf coming ashore.[12] As previously indicated, the Eliza lost two of its officers within three months of its arrival on the Gold Coast.


Slave ships carried longboats and used them extensively along the African coast. Some had masts and could sail, all could be rowed. However, along the Gold Coast longboats were supplanted by local canoes operated by African canoemen because the canoes were easier to maneuver and held up better among the reef, rocks and heavy surf of the Gold Coast. The canoes were made from the hollowed-out trunk of a single tree, which made the canoes stronger and more bendable. But even with expert African canoemen, about one in ten canoes capsized crossing the surf, which was frightening and dangerous for the British sailors, most of whom could not swim. Everyone got soaked, even without a capsize, and when they did capsize, some men did drown and waterproof barrels and casks, which held the goods, were lost or damaged, despite the fact that the canoemen were expert in righting the canoes and bailing out the water.
Modern canoes and fishing nets near the sea entrance to Cape Coast Castle.
Because most local journeys, between forts, or between ship and fort, were made by canoe, and because the African canoemen, good swimmers and very skillful, were indispensable, they had great negotiating power and they were well paid, usually in cloth, gunpowder and rum. They might refuse to work for a captain they didn’t like and they occasionally went on strike. Sometimes contracts were with the Castle, or with a ship, for a single trip. For example, in 1804, an eleven hand canoe (the number of crewmembers it took to operate it) was paid £1.50 in goods (a half gallon of rum and a romal cloth) for taking the governor of Anomabu on a trip to the Castle and back. Sometimes contracts were for the entire time a ship was anchored in the roads, which required many round-trip journeys. In 1765, two 15 hand canoes and one 17 hand canoe worked for three weeks and were paid £52.75 in goods to unload the cargo of a ship to one of the forts on the Gold Coast. For large items, such as cannons, platforms were lashed across multiple canoes, like a catamaran, and the surf was crossed when it was low. The Castle did have a few public slaves that were canoemen, at least sometimes, but they were probably used for transporting officers between nearby forts and in transporting letters, notes, packages, invoices and receipts between the Castle and ships in the roads.[13] 


[1] Professor Marshall C. Eakin, Professor at Vanderbilt University, Conquest of the Americas (The Teaching Company, 2002), chapter 4, “Europeans and Africans” and chapter 13, “The Atlantic Slave Trade”; Memoirs of the Late Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool, pp. 180-182; Paul Bohannan, Africa and Africans, pp. 37-39, 68-69, 89, 95, 105-107; Rise of African Slavery, pp. 133, 138, 146-149; William St. Clair, The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade, pp. 39-40 (hereafter “Door of No Return”).
[2] Door of No Return, pp. 13-14, 108-112, 128-129, 132-135, 145-146, 211-213, 225.
[3] Door of No Return, pp. 63-66, 72, 103-105, 125-126.
[4] Door of No Return, pp. 214-215.
[5] Door of No Return, pp. 78-81, 114, 143.
[6] Door of No Return, p. 70.
[7] Door of No Return, pp. 76-77.
[8] Door of No Return, pp. 2, 19.
[9] Door of No Return, pp. 17-18, 21.
[10] Door of No Return, p. 23.
[11]Bruce L. Mouser, editor, A Slaving Voyage to Africa and Jamaica: The Log of the Sandown, 1793-1794 by Samuel Gamble (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 2002), pp. 39-40, n. 150, p. 51 and n. 189; Behrendt, Stephen D., “Human Capital in the British Slave Trade,” Richardson, David, Schwarz, Suzanne and Tibbles, Anthony, editors, Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool: 2007), p. 74.
[12] Door of No Return, pp. 98-101.
[13] Door of No Return, pp.23, 26, 47-48, 76, 135.