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St Kilda Fulmars

Tom Steel, in The Life and Death of St Kilda. gives a vivid description of the fulmar catch on the island, that highly dangerous undertaking which provided the people with hair-raising adventures, but also with vital food:

" Every evening during the harvest, the fulmars were divided equally among the islanders, and after the division, each share was carried back to its respective home where men, women and children would sit up often all night plucking the birds and preparing those that they wanted preserved for winter consumption. The feathers were carefully put aside for sale to the factor ; the vile-smelling oil, of which each bird yielded normally half a pint, was squeezed out and put into canisters, also for export; and the bird was then split lengthways down the back, the viscera removed and put upon the refuse heap to be used as manure at a later date, and if the islanders did not want to eat the flesh of the bird in the immediate future, the body was filled with salt. Thus prepared, thousands of birds were packed in barrels, like herring, for the winter."

Martin Martin in his account of a visit to St Kilda (c. 1695) makes intriguing mention of the vast numbers of sea-birds' eggs habitually consumed by the inhabitants of that island. " We had the curiosity after three weeks' residence to make a calculation of the number of eggs bestowed upon those in our boat, and the Stewart's birlin, or galley; the whole amounted to sixteen thousand eggs; and without all doubt the inhabitants, who were treble our number, consumed many more eggs and fowls than we could. "

What of St Kilda's favourite beverage, the most remote outpost of all? In 1695 Martin Martin wrote: " Their drink is water, or whey, commonly. They brew ale but rarely, using the juice of nettleroots, which they put in a dish with a little barley-meal dough; these sowens (i.e. flummery) being blended together, produce good yeast, which puts their wort, pre-fermentation liquor, into a ferment, and makes good ale, so that when they drink plentifully of it, it disposes them to dance merrily. "

Martin Martin visiting St Kilda around the year 1695, mentions the use of sorrel leaves, and at the same time gives the earliest account of a weight-reducing diet known to the present writer. " One of them that was become corpulent, and had his throat almost shut up, being advised by me to take salt with his meat, to exercise himself more in the fields than he had done of late, to forbear eating of fat fowl and the fat pudding called giben, and to eat sorrel, was very much concerned because all this was very disagreeable, and my advising him to eat sorrel perfectly a surprise to him; but when I bid him consider how the fat fulmar eat this plant he was at last disposed to take my advice; and by this means alone in few days after, his voice was much clearer, his appetite recovered, and he was in a fair way of recovery."

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