Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Tools of the Trade: Tips from the Galley
When boiling water, always cover the pot to avoid spillage. Ideally, a large tea kettle was used.
Keeping foods like yeast and salt dry was always a challenge in the damp of a wooden ship. Many cooks doubled up glass jars to accomplish this. The food stuff was placed in a smallish jar with a locking lid which was then placed in a larger jar or crock with a secure lid. The creep of moisture was still inevitable, but not quite as immediate.
Vermin were a constant issue aboard ship. Even the most spick and span vessel would have a certain level of infestation. Most bulk items like rice, flour and sugar were stored in barrels but old Slushy had a time tested method for keeping them relatively weevil and cockroach free: add bay leaves. The bugs don't like the odor, evidently, and the leaves won't harm the edibility of the foods even if they do make them taste slightly like pasta sauce.
Speaking of spick and span, more than one navy commander has been known to judge the orderliness of his ship's galley by the shine of her copper pots and pans. These were polished to a blinding sheen with either lemon juice or, more often on long voyages, vinegar. Those shiny pans were degreased with the help of another common item: coffee grounds.
Slushy made sure to tar or otherwise waterproof his apron to avoid being burned by sloshes and spills. Burns were unavoidable in the galley, however, and more than one sailor in the 18th and 19th centuries noted their scars as the sign of a good cook.
With space at a premium, storing large items could be tricky. Some were gotten out of the way by wrapping them in old cloth and suspending them from the bulkheads. This was particularly handy with large cuts of cured meat such as ham or bacon.
To keep pots and pans from slipping about on whatever surface might suffice as a counter, wet cloths were set down first. Most modern galleys are equipped with non-skid mats for this purpose.
And what about any glass jars and crockery that had to be packed cheek-by-jowl in available cupboard space? Wasn't breakage a constant concern? Not for the clever cook. Simply wrapping the jars in paper or, even more efficiently, slipping them into old socks or mittens before storing them actually did the trick pretty well. One has to imagine the ship's cook as a great collector of cast-off stockings - or a pilferer of those not quite ready to be given up. What a remarkable, and amusing, sub-plot that would make in a story of nautical bent...
Header: Saturday Night at Sea by George Cruikshank c 1840 via Wikimedia