Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Tips from the Galley

While a ship's galley in this day and age will have all the modern conveniences, even if they are a bit smaller than the average person is used to, challenges still arise for the cook at sea. Imagine, then, just how taxing trying to wrangle up large meals for hundreds of men in sailing ships must have been at one time. Staying organized and keeping clean were absolute priorities for Slushy in the Great Age of Sail. Knowing a few tricks of the trade couldn't hurt at all. Here are just a few of those little tricks, none of which have lost their effectiveness with time.

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


Le Loup said...

Excellent post pauline, thank you. I will post this link on my blog & our group's forum.
Regards, Keith.

Pauline said...

Thank you, Keith; very much appreciate it. Some good stuff here, even for the modern boat owner. Take care!

Timmy! said...

It's like "Kitchen Confidential" at sea, Pauline...

Noelia said...

I didn't know that about the lemon juice or vinegar to clean the pans! :)you learn something new every day. By the way, did they also clean the dishes with a vinegar solution?

Pauline said...

Timmy! No fish on Mondays doesn't apply here, though.

Noelia: I love the copper penny in lemon juice trick, especially for kids. Just putting an old penny in a little cup of lemon juice and watching it come out sparkling really lights up a room full of preschoolers :)

As to the dishes, most seamen had their own "mess kit", so washing tankards and trenchers after a meal was usual up to the individual. It's probably best not to imagine how those dishes were actually cared for.

With the officers, however, stewards and/or ship's boys were often responsible for dishes (sometimes china) and flatware (sometimes silver). More than one source mentions vinegar or lye soap for clean up.

Blue Lou Logan said...

The sock plot idea really is brilliant. Next time I do laundry and I have an unmatched sock, I'll think to myself, "Damn, Slushy got another one."

Pauline said...

I thought that too! Excellent; great minds think alike :)