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Arabia Museum, Port of Kansas City

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Old 10-18-2013, 05:43 PM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,573

*Jim Reising's steamboat photos*
Steamboating colleagues:
Again, Jim Reising moves to the head of the class with his great photos on the theme of 'steamboat food and cooking.' I can assure you the men on the CITY OF CINCINNATI but a small number of the near squadron who manned the boat's main cabin for meals. Women were employed as 'chamber maids' but the cabin men serving table also doubling up cleaning, dressing passenger cabins. The mere work in setting up and breaking down the main cabin three times a day for meals daunting; then came general cleaning, dusting.

Dinner on the guards of the GOLDEN EAGLE may look quaint and fun, but think again. Chilly or wet weather causes me to ask what they did then? The GOLDIE may have had her dedicated following, but the usual run of travelers would, no doubt, have cringed at the eating arrangements. Chefs and culinary historians today look back at some of the old menus mentioning certain dishes and have positively little or no idea as to what they were or how they were prepared. Generally what was cooked, eaten ashore was found on boats and ships--within reason. There were at times steamboat menus but not as common as we think today. Waiters usually knew the menu from A to Z mentally and would 'announce' the various offerings. Many prided themselves on being able to remember each order without writing down on paper. Most of those Black waiters had far more sophistication and knowledge of good food, manners and etiquette than most of the passengers they served.

The gentleman swinging the big butcher knife in the GOLDEN EAGLE cook house appears to be dressing down a fine ham to 'get to the meat of the matter' while saving some of the fat for other cooking needs. I note the bare light bulb above, a large window hinged back for ventilation. If there were window screens for insects they are not visible. The cutting board he's using not unusual but the work surface underneath would give any present day city, state or U.S. Public Health inspector indigestion. And simply ONE violation of consequence can lay up any present day ship or boat. That working surface was often plain wood with cracks and seams catching globs of fat, crumbs, dirt. Other galley work surfaces a kind of metal or tin molded down and nailed. This hopefully for cleaning. Today's working surfaces smooth stainless steel with rounded edges required for sanitation. Big 'blue water' cruise ship galleys I've toured are totally wiped down four times a day for all surfaces, bulkheads, decks, appliances. In the old 'romantic steamboat days' washing was done with old brown TAG Soap [Who here remembers that? It was often used for medicinal purposes] and lots and lots of elbow grease as Ted has mentioned above. Clear and soapy ammonia for general cleaning purposes along with vinegar for windows and glass. Chlorine bleach for cleaning, disinfecting didn't appear until around 1913 and World War I.

Restaurants, clubs, public food emporiums, vessels now often subscribe to the newer look, design in interiors much lighter in appearance avoiding the ponderous heavy look so common with faux steamboat designs. A hint of 'boat' but lighter in color and textures. Diners often subtly feel the over-stuffed, heavy appearance of some decor in hot weather. The decor on the then new MISSISSIPPI QUEEN was far from 'steamboat' in look, feel and appearance. There's a formula to it and one can only hope they get it right. Well, again, what do I know?

R. Dale Flick
Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.
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