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Cooks

Today's Navymen are among the best fed people in the world, but back in the days of the sloop, frigate and corvette, a sailor's stomach had to be nearly as strong as his back. A typical week's bill of fare in the Navy in the year 1799 left much to be desired. It read something like this: Seven pounds of bread, two pounds of beef, three pounds of pork, one pound of salt fish, one quart of fish, one and a half pints of peas or beans, twelve ounces of cheese, two pounds of potatoes or turnips, and six ounces of molasses. One gil (four ounces) of oil could be substituted for four ounces of butter and further lubrication was provided by the daily issue of one-half pint of rum.

Some of the principal foods consisted of "salt junk" and "hard tack." Salt junk was a term used for partly dried pork, pickled in brine, but sometimes the same name also applied to either salt pork or salt beef. Hard tack accurately described the biscuits baked without salt and kiln-dried.

Generally, however, the sailor of bygone days was content to sink his chops into a meal that was called "lobscouse," "daddyfunk," or "plumduff." Then for an after dinner demitasse he would wash it down with "pale ale." As an added attraction, if the menu did not suit his culinary taste he could try some "schooner on the rocks." The term "lobscouse" came into being as a byword for what we now call hash. It was a concoction of meat, vegetables and hardtack, and was usually stewed. "Daddyfunk" was a messy concoction of hardtack soaked in water and bake with grease and molasses. "Plumduff" was originally a plain flour pudding containing raisins or currants, boiled in a bag or cloth. "Schooner on the rocks" was the nautical name for to a roast beef surrounded by potatoes, and "pale ale" is known to us today as water.

Commissarymen today put out a mighty fine menu when compared to years-gone-by. A couple of centuries ago, qualifications for a man to become a cook were quite simple. It seemed to be a rule that no sailor who had not lost eye or leg in battle could be eligible for this office, though all were required to have two arms. Whether or not a man could cook apparently was overlooked in the qualifications for that position, and an exalted position it was, for all the men tried to get on the good side of "cookie," although, in private, less complementary nicknames were used. During this time the cook was in most cases an unscrupulous individual, and it was often found that cooks could be bribed into giving double rations to the messes. Instructions drawn up for sea cooks in the middle 19th Century were few and included: (1) He is to take upon him the care of the meat in the steeping tub, (2) In stormy weather, he is to preserve it from being lost, (3) He is to boil the provisions, and to deliver them out to the men. And that's about it.

There was no refrigeration aboard ship in olden days. Foodstuffs were apt to spoil easily, and as a result the cook's tasks were made even harder. Fresh meat was carried only in small quantities and fresh vegetables were almost unheard of. When ships were in foreign ports hunting parties were organized to seek fresh meat. In larger ships and on short passages, live beasts were carried for fresh meat, but on long voyages oxen, like men, could get scurvy too, or at any rate thin down to uselessness, and sheep took poorly to the sea life. In good weather hens prospered and about the only animal to prosper at sea was the goat, and the goats prospered always.

So from the chow served during the early U.S. Navy to the present time the Commissaryman's qualifications have advanced to the point where today's meals are prepared in such a fashion that they will activate the taste buds of any connoisseur of good cooking.


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Information Courtesy of Naval Historical Center

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