26 September 1580: Sir Francis Drake completes his circumnavigation of the world

Drake he's in his hammock an' a thousand mile away,  
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?)  
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,  
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.  
Yarnder lumes the island, yarnder lie the ships,          
Wi' sailor lads a-dancin' heel-an'-toe,  
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin'  
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago

 From ‘Drake’s Drum’ by Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)

The main part of the British Isles is but one landmass in an archipelago of 6,289 islands. Men and women have been sailing around and through them for more than twenty thousand years and we are often referred to as ‘an island nation’ - but really that should be a ‘nation of islands.’ Our relationship with the sea is written into our culture, our consciousness and our psyche.

Peter Ackroyd says in his book ‘Albion’, ‘The course of an adventurous sea-voyage represents one of the enduring myths of the English imagination,' and the recounting of fabulous journeys goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. However it was in Tudor England, when the world was opening up in such a spectacular and rapid way, that the idea of the ‘voyage’ really takes hold. Think of the number of sea journeys, islands and shipwrecks in Shakespeare.

In 1589, the cleric Richard Hakluyt, published the first edition of his masterwork ‘The Principall Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation.' Hakluyt made it his business to collect first hand accounts of his subject and for Sir Francis Drake, his source was Francis Fletcher who had been Drake’s chaplain and who had accompanied him on his mammoth excursion. Eventually Hakluyt’s book was two thousand pages long and contained the details of no less than 216 voyages. If anyone is responsible for turning the map of the word pink it’s an obscure Welsh cleric who never travelled further than Paris.

This is Drake as engraved by the Flemish cartographer Hondius in about 1585, it's probably done from life as Hondius was a great admirer of Drake and lived in London in the late 1580s.

Between the first global circumnavigation by Magellan in 1521 and Drake’s voyage of 1577-80, the Spanish and the Portuguese made several long distance journeys and had begun to colonise the Philippines and the Americas.  Hakluyt had little time for these foreigners, ‘pretending in glorious words that they made their discoveries chiefly to convert infidels to our most holy faith (as they say)’ He made no such pretence; it was all about trade, new markets and new products.

Drake as a young captain had accompanied his cousin Sir John Hawkins to exploit that most valuable commodity – the captured slave. The Spanish and Portuguese had been slave trading for years and not surprisingly the English wanted a piece of the action. Drake's reputation as an English hero, coolly playing bowls even as the Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel, has to be seen in the context of the times, which were brutal. The Spanish called Drake ‘El Draque’ and as so often before and since, one man’s hero is another man’s pirate. In fact when attacking Panama in 1576 Drake had made an alliance with the Cimmarroons who were escaped Spanish slaves and it was thought at the time that an alliance between England and West African states might challenge the might of the Spanish. Hence the symbolism on the jewel below.

Having sailed around the world harrying Spanish fleets and sacking their trading posts, Drake returned to Plymouth on the 26th September 1580 laden down with a cargo of spices and captured Spanish gold. Half the value of the cargo went to Queen Elizabeth I and Drake gave her a personal gift of a fabulous diamond. The Queen gave him a Knighthood and the Drake Jewel – here it is.

The great age of discovery brought significant changes to the dining tables of Europe. The Portuguese who owned the island of Madeira (which had been the main source of cane sugar in the early sixteenth century) switched production to Brazil. By 1600 they had 400 mills producing 57,000 tons of sugar every year; all on the back of (literally) the sweating labour of African slaves. Most of the sugar was brokered through London and the British nation developed its sweet tooth.

Drake died of dysentery (Hakyult called it ‘a scowring’) in Panama in 1596. He was buried at sea in a lead coffin wearing his suit of armour.  His legacy, like that of his slightly younger contemporary Sir Walter Raleigh, was Britain’s dominance of the seas and global trade. Tomatoes, squash, chilli peppers, chocolate, corn, potato, avocado, vanilla, pineapple and the mass production of sugar, we owe them all to those sixteenth century voyagers.

Vanilla scented apples with cinnamon meringue and caramel (for 2).

I find the best way to cook apples for a puree is to cut them in quarters and remove the cores but leave them unpeeled. I toss them in a little lemon juice and microwave until soft, then I can leave them to cool, remove the skin with a teaspoon and nothing is wasted. Even if you don't make this recipe, vanilla with apple is delicious and sweetens it wonderfully without sugar.

2 large cooking apples and 1 dsp of caster sugar
2 egg whites
3/4 cup of sifted icing sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (the real thing)
2 tablespoons of caster sugar

Make an apple puree and sweeten it to taste with a dessertspoon of sugar and the vanilla essence. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold in the icing sugar and cinnamon. Now you can do one of two things - spread the meringue over the apple in a shallow dish and bake until lightly golden, or you can make quenelles of the meringue and poach them in milk.  I meant to do the latter but I over beat my eggs and they collapsed as you can see in the picture above.

Make a caramel by melting the caster sugar in a heavy pan. When it is a nutty brown and foaming, take it off the heat and before it hardens drizzle over the meringue. It adds a nice crunch.

Soak the pan in hot water immediately!

Serve cool on its own or with thick cream.
FULL fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change      
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,—
Ding, dong, bell.

From ‘The Tempest’ Act 1 Scene ii by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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