Cook’s Cook – book review

Cook’s Cook, by Gavin Bishop

Cook's Cook Gavin Bishop

Cook’s Cook is a picture book story of James Cook’s journey on the Endeavour, told through the eyes of his one-handed cook.

I’ve just come off a voyage on the replica Endeavour, sleeping in a hammock next to the stove where much of the action in this book takes place, so it all seems very real to me. We heard the stories of the salted meat being dragged behind the boat to wash off the salt and soften the meat, and we checked the barrels for remnants of rum. There was none. It had been licked clean by sailors long ago. Cook’s men subsisted on a diet of poorly packed supplies from home—by today’s standards—and things they scavenged on the way. Gavin Bishop has uncovered recipes that filled bellies. Along with the inevitable pease pudding hot or cold, treats included:

  • Albatross with prune sauce, ground ginger and a sprinkle of sugar.
  • Dog and breadfruit stew: First, kill and skin a medium sized dog.
  • Kangaroo soup, turtle stew. Stingray soup with sauerkraut, served over crushed biscuits.
  • Crocodile steaks, emu pie, roasted rat.
  • Goose pie (only they were really gannets), cooked in a soup of beer, rum and wine.

Lots of detail here to bring kids into 18th Century issues that will fascinate them, and stories that will lead to questions that can be teased out over years of re-reading. Secret instructions from the Admiralty? Why did everyone start dying in Batavia? Why didn’t Cook name anything after his cook? Why did the Tahitians want nails? What’s long pork? Why did the woman pour sugar into the creek? Why did some men have servants? What’s sauerkraut?

Gavin Bishop’s illustrations tell stories themselves, full of delightful quirks that give this book a long life. Enjoy this with your kids, and put it on your shelf for 4-90 year old readers.

The Endeavour mess deck, illustration by Gavin Bishop from Cook's Cook
Gavin Bishop’s Endeavour mess deck. Last week on the replica I slept in that hammock in the middle. Looks the same, except we didn’t have a fire, and didn’t wipe our hands on the rope tassels. Yeuch.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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