food, glorious food

life afloat

food, glorious food

Hi, Jane Pennington, retired Nurse, boater and food fanatic here, today I’m chatting about a subject that I love …food!

You know, I love food. I could not be further from a ‘Eat to Live’ philosophy, I am firmly in the ‘Live to Eat’ camp. I love thinking about food, shopping for it, planning meals, cooking and best of all eating it. The thought that food is merely fuel represents a total anathema to me!

In this article I’m going to explore some thoughts about food and how my life on board and boating culture has changed some of the ways I cook. I’ve also got a couple of recipes to share.

Firstly here’s a question – is cooking and eating on board a boat different to that in a land based dwelling? From my own perspective I’d have to say for the most part yes. On board I have a small but well equipped galley and at home a small but well equipped kitchen. It’s there for me that the similarities end. At home I have an induction hob and electric ovens, on board it’s a gas hob, grill/oven using propane. I find that when cooking on board the gas flames seem much hotter, things cook quicker and will tend to catch and burn on the bottom of pans if you’re not very careful. I also notice that the screws on panhandles loosen quite often too, a screwdriver being part of my essential kitchen kit. Maybe it’s due to being in the fresh air so much that it builds up a really good appetite, but I always think that food tastes better on board. The food is hotter for a start, and the flavours just seem deeper and more appetizing some how.

One of the nicest ways of cooking on board a boat is on top of the woodburner/multifuel stove if you have one. If you are running the stove anyway, it’s free cooking fuel! It’s difficult to give (or get) precise instructions for this, as there are so many variables – the stoves’ surface temperature being the main one, the area available for cooking on, height of the trivet if using one. Having said that, the greatest success I had was a ‘made-up by me’ salmon teriyaki-style dish. Here’s a rough idea of what I did:

Salmon Teriyaki

Took 2 salmon fillets, pin-boned and scales removed, placed in a shallow dish. Made a marinade of 2 tbs dark soy sauce, 1 tbs runny honey, large teaspoon each grated fresh ginger and fresh garlic (or pre-prepared pastes are fine). Mixed marinade ingredients and pour over the salmon. Leave for 15 – 30 mins (time not critical, as long as the fillets have a decent bath in it). Line a small metal roasting tin or similar with good quality tin foil, place the fillets on it and put on the stove top. Depending on the variables (temperature, trivet etc) leave to cook for 15 mins or so. I checked every 5 mins as I wasn’t sure how the fast cooking would happen. I flipped the fillets over after 10 mins, and this gave the top a nice glaze. Served it with rice, but noodles, a salad or both would be great.

Though I haven’t tried it myself, baked potatoes are brilliant when cooked in the ash pan under the stove.


Food storage is another challenge for boat dwellers, space is tight, and refrigeration sometimes a challenge. Domestic fridges and freezers are relatively inexpensive, £100-150) they perform well and don’t tend to cause too many problems. Using them on a boat though, when relying on battery power alone will be disastrous to your battery health. Fridges and freezers especially for boats (and caravans etc) are very expensive £500-1000. These are dual voltage so can be used when cruising without sacrificing battery wellbeing too much. I’m sure there are many ingenious work-arounds for these issues and here’s a few ideas I’ve found useful:

Cartons of longlife milk are a good standby to have in the cupboard, yes the taste isn’t the same as fresh but it’s ok.

Using olive oil instead of butter or spreads does away with the need to refrigerate and is far healthier. Lovely on fresh bread with a rub of garlic and some tomatoes.

Eggs don’t need to be in the fridge anyway, and stay fresh for up to 2 weeks after purchase (as long as they haven’t been in a fridge at all). Apparently you can eat eggs up to a month of them being laid, but they taste better within the first 2 weeks.

Most people who live on their boats or use them year round don’t usually bother with fridges in the colder weather, finding that storing milk and other perishables in the lower parts of the boat will keep them cool enough. Certainly any storage at floor level will usually be cool enough for wine, beer and so on.

Many boaters I know have chosen vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. It seems very much in keeping with a ‘close to nature’ philosophy, eschewing flesh and dairy consumption, whilst embracing ethical living standards where possible. Two of our neighbours at the marina who are vegan held a “Try Vegan Food’ evening on their boat earlier this year. It was fabulous. They cooked a beautiful meat/dairy free pasta ‘bolognaise’, there were about 10 people there as well as 2 cats and 2 dogs. It was such a fun evening, wine, chat, sharing ideas and generally having a great time. For myself, I don’t feel ready to embrace veganism as yet but it has opened my mind to trying different recipes that don’t involve meat or dairy. I’ve been surprised at just how much variety there can be in a vegan diet. In addition it’s very easy to store a huge variety of vegan goods on board that aren’t perishable, such as beans, pulses, grains, flours, dried fruits, and many more.

I love baking and set myself a challenge to make a decent vegan cake. I love lemon drizzle cake, so here’s my recipe, which worked really well:

Vegan Lemon Drizzle Cake:

Heat the oven 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
Grease and line a 500g tin.

100ml vegetable oil
275g SR flour
200g golden caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
170ml cold water
1 lemon zested and squeezed ( ½ to go in the cake and ½ to be mixed with 40g granulated sugar for drizzling)


  • Put all ingredients with ½ the lemon juice and ½ zest into a large mixing bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon or hand blender until smooth (it’s quite a liquid batter).
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 mins. May need slightly longer depending on your oven, but check after 30mins to see if a skewer comes out clean.
  • Whilst the cake is baking, mix the remaining lemon zest and juice.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and leave in the tin. Make holes with the skewer right through the cake at 2cm intervals. Pour the lemon sugar solution slowly all over the cake until it is all absorbed. (if you like a really lemony cake use the juice of a whole lemon and zest and 60g sugar)
  • Leave the cake in its tin until cold. Turn out and remove lining. It will make about 10 slices, or 6 if you’re very greedy!

I often make soup when we’re on the boat. I’ll use whatever vegetables we have to hand, but especially like a spicy sweet potato one. I don’t have a specific recipe, I go with what spices I have available, vegetable stock, and always garlic. I peel and dice a couple of medium sweet potatoes, throw in a pan with stock cube, and 500mls of water or so. Cook for 10-15 mins until tender and serve depending on how smooth you like your soup. I have a low wattage stick blender kit which is very useful for blending soups.( I’ve put in a link below to a similar one) If you don’t have one you can use a potato masher.

I also have a store-cupboard pea soup idea that is very handy for a quick lunch when we’re on board. It’s just one tin processed peas, a teaspoon of mint sauce from a jar, lots of pepper and water. Just heat the peas with a can full of water and the mint sauce. Blend or mash until the texture you like is achieved. Serve hot with crusty bread.


Barbecuing is really popular when out boating, I always think it’s such an appetizing smell when you’re cruising along and there’s someone moored up getting the ‘barby’ going! We usually have a couple of the small disposable barbecues on board so we can have an impromptu one whenever we fancy. They are quite inexpensive and widely available.

I have a confession, and it’s about one of my worst cooking disasters on board.

A couple of years ago I was out shopping and at the fishmongers I saw fresh sardines. We love sardines, bringing back fond memories of lovely holidays in Portugal. I bought some, having ideas of serving them hot from the grill with a simple chunky cut salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onions, herbs and oil. Crusty bread, roughly cut would make the meal complete. Well, the meal went wonderfully and with lots of chilled white wine made for a delightful evening.

Until the following morning when we woke up and the whole boat reeked of grilled sardines. It was bad. We gave everywhere possible a thorough cleaning, disposed of all food remains and wrappings, made sure windows were left open and went home from the boat hopeful that all would be fragrant on our return a week later. Ahhh, but it wasn’t. A full week later and there was no reduction in the smell at all, in fact it was a bit worse. Over the next few hours I scrubbed and cleaned everything possible, had all doors and windows open, used an odour reducing spray on all the soft furnishings and even scrubbed the ceiling.

I thought I’d take a break and put the kettle on the hob, threw my rubber gloves in the sink and sat down. Unfortunately the gloves had caught on the kettle and within seconds had caught light. Thankfully I managed to put the flames out and remove the remains of the gloves. Sadly not before the smell of burnt rubber pervaded everywhere in the boat, and on top of the remaining sardine-stink rendered our lovely boat very very unpleasant indeed! It took weeks for all the smell to go, and

I haven’t cooked sardines on board since... though a summer barbecue with them would be a better idea.

I’d love to hear about some of your cooking on board experiences, recipes or handy hints. Let me know on my email if you do.

Link to the mini blender/mixer:

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About Jane Pennington

I'm Jane Pennington, part-time boat dweller, wife to Alan, mum to Natalie and Nanna to Isabella. I'm a retired Consultant Nurse in Diabetes, and have a continuing passionate interest in health matters. I love cooking and am a very keen forager and jam maker.