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Research info help needed for Steamboat menus

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    Some of us white folks like that kind of cooking, but they must've gotten over it by the time I got there (on the DQ). And Mexican food was unheard of unless you could luck into someone selling hot tamales on shore.

    Back in the old days, in spite of, or maybe because of, the bad food, there was no obesity problem. Hm.


      *RE: Steamboat food/Menus/Calories*
      Dear Steamboating colleagues:
      Fascinating postings above from all of you who were there THEN with us all here NOW. Alan's and Shipyard's comments/observations on the money. Those old formal menus were not common. Steamboat 'legends' over the years have given a romantic slant to the history--not that the big gold braid 'brag boats' didn't offer all and more. In later years a number of travel articles on cooking by food writers 'tripping' on the DELTA QUEEN blew their visions of what they'd heard or read. Yet, I found the food good. The working crew victuals just as reported above. Today the big blue water ship/cruise lines dish up food 24 hours a day. Cruise ship crews today generally eat about the same--with certain limitations, naturally, as the passengers in their own dining rooms with added ethnic dishes. I observe many of the present officers, crew eating lightly so unlike most of the passengers. Crews on cruise ships today also have their own gyms with equipment to exercise.

      John Burns, son of old Jim Burns who designed/built the DL/DQ, recalled the rich foods on the C.T. Co. boats on the Sacramento. Old Jim Burns early on had some kind of digestive problem causing him to eat carefully over the years. John recalled the cook houses on their company boats keeping large "cans to collect the ham and fat drippings for later use...many of those men were hitting 300 lbs." Capt. King on the DQ was not one of them. John, while working for his boiler license, ate sparingly and "kept a wood crate of fruits and vegetables under my bunk to snack on." John also was even then a physical fitness advocate who exercised, boxed and "did pull ups using deck beams while on the boats." Diabetes, sugar/salt intake problems were as common then as now but not all that well understood with no insulin available. Doc Hawley, Shipyard, Alan recall the famous plate of bread on the AVALON'S meal tables. The top piece of the bread never eaten as "that was for the flys" and the 2nd piece down being taken. Poor refrigeration or lack of sanitation made "the complaint" common aboard especially in the warm summer months. Steamboat enginner Charlie Dietz had lots to say about "the complaint" from food and what the remedy was back then.

      The 'night boats' generally dished up the same food day in and day out with little variation except for fruits, vegetables in season. Remember, most until recent years never ate oysters or other sea food except for the months of the year with an 'R' in the name. The DK/DQ hired about 14 young Philipino men to tend all the boat cabins while standing duty in the boat's dining room. Schedules and brochures Judy Patsch and I have reveal that meals on the DK/DQ didn't come with your basic fare. The menu quoted prices for meals that seem low by our standards today. The Japanese and Chinese deck passengers--and others--riding on the cheap up the Sacramento to the towns and agricultural fields to work--received nothing. Quick in and out landings there called 'brush landings.'

      Ice for food cooling and other beverage needs was an expensive commodity then. Refrigeration/freezing appeared in the very late 1880s to 1890 on some steamboats and ships. Europeans were horrified seeing Americans consume ice in drinks except for punches etc. along with passengers gulping down their food in record time and jumping up from table. I've uncovered one old account from the 1850s in which a testy lady passenger demanded the 'Mud Clerk' run up town at a landing to find fresh milk for the dog she had aboard. In the 1840s/1850s accounts also mention passengers noting drinking water taken directly from the river with a dark appearance for the cabin tables. Bottled table water did exist but was a luxury item for the most discriminating who could afford it. Well, what do I know?

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


        Like a Taste ...?

        It wasn’t that some of us didn't like a taste of soul cookin', but twice a day? Before long, we, at the Captain's table, looked over at where the intended recipients of the specialized cuisine were seated and saw their plates were piled high with the "good grub" they got at the back door of the kitchen from their pals who manned the stoves and served the meals on the passenger deck. The “grand culinary scheme” dreamed up at the Cincinnati office didn’t last long after that, and we went back to the regular fare that included lots of fried chicken, greens, and white beans … my favorites.

        The best, and only, Mexican meals I enjoyed on the river were aboard the DIAMOND LADY, in Bettendorf, Iowa where the Hispanic cooks made special dishes for themselves and their friends. Once they got to know you, the cooks were more than delighted to share.


          To lapse into the contemporary food scene. The Belle of Louisville borrowed cooks from the Louisville Fire Department for Tall Stacks and those guys could cook. While at Tall Stacks we ate what Alan Bernstein fixed for passengers. I do not recall the menu, but it was rich.

          Kadie Engstrom, the gift counter lady, went up the hill in Cincinnati and brought back an enormous bag of fruit - bananas, apples, oranges, pears and the like - for the crew. They disappeared in an hour or two, for the crew were full-up with cheese cake and murky strawberry gravy, potatoes au gratin and good cuts of meat. You'd have thought we were coming down with scurvy! All were much relieved when we departed and the firemen resumed.


            On the last (so far) DQ trip, the menus became slimmer and slimmer as the trip wore on--and even then the Menu was quite a bit of "what's not available." We referred to them as "faux menus."
            Also, our first trip was also MAL's first one (March, 07) and we were greatly disappointed in the menu--it was mostly California cuisine--hey we could have stayed home for that stuff!
            David D. (in N. Calif.)


              Wow, once again, allow me to thank you all. This information is overwhelming and invaluable! Thanks so for the work y'all do! :)



                When you're done, Bonnie, please post all, or some, of what you've written.


                  You'll find a little info in the book "River Boats of America" by Frank Donovan. On page 108 he talks about food on steamboats in the 1840s, and quotes the infamous Mrs. Trollope on table manners on steamboats (not pretty). On page 110 he says: "the deckers' diet was whatever they could bring aboard, usually sausage, fried herring, cheese and crackers--and, of course, whiskey. Captains frequently understated the length of a voyage to attract passengers, and boats were held up by low water, accidents, and ice. When such delays exhausted the deckers' meager stores they went without for the rest of the trip, unless kind-hearted rousters let them share the grub pile."