Cooking To Feed The Navy
Monday, June 21, 2010
What does it take to cook dinner for 2,500 sailors on an aircraft carrier? We'll look at the history of cooking in the Navy over the past 200 years and dish out recipes for classic military meals.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. These Days recently did a live broadcast from the deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego Bay. And we found out that one of the most frequently asked questions from tourists on the aircraft carrier is how did the Navy manage to feed all the sailors on board, three times a day, 7-days a week for months? The task of keeping sailors fed has been a daunting one ever since the beginning of the U.S. Navy. It's taken incredible amounts of preparation, hard work and sometimes, strong stomachs. A new book charts the history of feeding the U.S. Navy. I’d like to welcome my guest, retired Chief Warrant Officer Rudy Shappee, a 20-year Navy veteran and author of “Beef Stew for 2500: Feeding our Navy from the Revolutionary War to the Present.” And, Rudy, welcome to These Days. Thanks for coming in.
RUDY SHAPPEE (Author): Thank you very much, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Now we want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you’ve eaten food prepared in Navy galleys, give us a call. Tell us your favorites or the food you hated. Tell us what it was like eating on board a Navy ship. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. So, Rudy, what was the food like on board ship when you were in the Navy?
SHAPPEE: Well, I served from 1957 to 1976 and when I went in in ’57, it was pretty bad, uniformly poor preparation, not much caring about what we ate. We were pressed men, though. There was a two-year active duty obligation so we had to serve. As the Navy changed, as it went to a more volunteer organization, they had to start catering to the tastes of the young people so you saw a definite improvement. Also, I moved up in rank over those years so as I – when I became a Chief Petty Officer, I ate the finest food I’d ever eaten in the Navy. And then I became a Warrant Officer and then it dropped down a few notches, so it’s according to where you’re eating and when you’re eating.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Now, just so we know, tell – what ships did you serve on and when?
SHAPPEE: I served on the USS Bennington in 1960. I served on the USS Constellation through the sixties, and the USS Independence in the early seventies.
CAVANAUGH: And you found – Do you think that if you had stayed and conceivably at the same rank all the way through that, indeed, you would’ve found that the food had improved just in general during that time?
SHAPPEE: Yes, absolutely, because Captain Ney of the Supply Corps implemented incentives for better feeding in the fleet, and we saw a definite change occur then. And there’s been other changes we can talk about since I retired that have improved it also.
CAVANAUGH: Now did you – Why did you want to write a book about Navy food? What inspired you to write this book?
SHAPPEE: Yeah, it’s really funny. I was a docent on the Midway and now I’m the Exhibits Manager, but I would take people to the galley, the main enlisted galley, and I would say 13,000 meals a day, and you could see the shades come down in their eyes. It’s just totally incomprehensible that that much food, being edible, could be served at one time. So I set out to actually write a small pamphlet about just the Midway and how the Midway served its meals. It was only after I began doing research that I found out no one had done a comprehensive study of feeding the Navy from the Revolutionary War to the present. So being a historian, I grabbed that bone and started running.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know we are taking your calls about Navy food. You can tell us what you liked, what you didn’t like, what got better. 1-888-895-5727, if you’d like to share your stories with us. Now, Rudy, your book “Beef Stew for 2500” starts, as you say, with the rations set out for U.S. sailors in the late 1700s. Did those early sailors really get very much to eat onboard ship?
SHAPPEE: There were only 13 items in the ration list for a week, so the food was very bland and it was very consistent. You ate, you know, you’re like, Mondays you ate ship’s biscuit with salt beef, and you might have a few other little things to go along with that and you made a pudding, a boiled pudding, out of that. On Tuesday, it was dried peas and pork. And on Wednesday it was beef and biscuit again, and it just went the same, day after day after day after day. So it was very boring food.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, we – I think that collectively we have this notion that the food for early – the early Navy was awful, that it was sometimes almost inedible with, you know, weevils in it and all sorts of terrible things. Is that actually how it was?
SHAPPEE: Oh, absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay, we were right.
SHAPPEE: They called it – they called the salt beef and pork ‘salt horse.’ And it was kept in a pickling cask up near the front of the ship. And the ship’s biscuit, the longer you served at sea, the more the weevils hatched and they ate it, turned the biscuit into powder, into dust. And I can tell you that in 1960 when I went to sea on the USS Bennington, we went on a six-month cruise and as you proceeded through the cruise, we started getting little dark spots in the sugar cookies and those were weevils. And we would break the cookies up and bang them on the table and shake the weevils out and then eat them because I can remember that in my early days at sea, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah, you wouldn’t forget that.
SHAPPEE: No. But they no longer have those.
CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about Navy food at 1-888-895-5727. My guest is Retired Chief Warrant Officer Rudy Shappee. He is the author of “Beef Stew for 2500: Feeding our Navy from the Revolutionary War to the Present.” And let’s take a call right now. Cassandra is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Cassandra, and welcome to These Days. Cassandra, are you with us?
CASSANDRA (Caller, San Diego): Yes, sorry. I was calling, I was a sailor on board the USS Nimitz from ’05 until about present. And we actually got shipments when we were underway of meat that the boxes were stamped rejected by this federal prison or rejected by the state penitentiary. It was actually meat that the prisons had sent back for whatever reason. We didn’t know if it was quality or what the reason was but they would actually sent it back and it would be given to sailors overseas while they were underway. I was just calling…
CAVANAUGH: To let us know. Well, thank you, Cassandra. I appreciate the phone call. Would that happen with any regularity you think now, Rudy?
SHAPPEE: I can’t speak to that. I’ve been to sea on the Nimitz just lately and I found that during my stay aboard, the food quality ranged from very, very good to disappointingly bad according to, you know, who was on watch and who was doing the preparation. I was very angry when I got bad food on a modern aircraft carrier because I know that there’s, you know, 6,000 young people on there that need to eat that. But I also was fed very, very well during the next watch or the next meal. So it varies.
CAVANAUGH: And yet just looking at the photograph on the very front of your book, it’s hard to believe that they can prepare good food on board a Navy ship, an aircraft carrier, because you have Navy guys who are virtually stirring vats—vats—full of food with this huge stick, and to be able to create recipes that are big enough to serve thousands—literally thousands—it’s amazing.
SHAPPEE: And that’s only one entrée.
SHAPPEE: When I speak of beef stew, I’m talking of one entrée, I’m not talking about the noodles that go with it, I’m not talking about the salads, the breads, the desserts, and all that sort of thing. So it’s a phenom – actually, it takes two days to prepare a meal on a carrier. One day just to accumulate all the ingredients and get them up to the cooking area so that they can be – begin to be prepared by the night shift, and the galley works 24 hours a day.
SHAPPEE: They’re cooking all the time. And then finally get it into that central area where it’s – the final preparation is done and it’s served.
CAVANAUGH: Before we leave these very early years that you document in your book, how was the food actually prepared on board ship in the early Navy? How did they do that?
SHAPPEE: Well, they were all puddings or duffs as the sailors called them. Ship’s biscuit was inedible. You could not eat it without dipping it in hot water or breaking it up. So they would take a marlin spike and they would draw a pound and a half of bread per day per sailor. And they would take that and pound it up with a marlin spike and turn it back into flour and then they would take the salt beef or salt pork that they were issued that day, which, by the way, had been taken out of the pickling cask, put in a net and drug behind the ship for 24 hours to desalinate it and the sharks wouldn’t eat it. Now the fish wouldn’t eat it. And then they would pull it back aboard and then they would give it to the sailors. And they would chop that up, add some other ingredients to it, and put it into a sock that they had made out of sailcloth that they stitched together, and they would put it in this sock and then they would take it to the cook who would suspend it in boiling water for about two hours. Then they would come back and get that and then roll it out of the sock onto a piece of sailcloth. They ate on the deck. They just – all they had, a square piece of sailcloth, they just rolled this thing out and cut it up into 8 or 10 portions, each 8 or 10 men had a mess together, and each person cooked on a different day of the week.
SHAPPEE: And they just sliced that up, and the senior person of the mess got first choice of the first piece, and then it went down according to rank. And the cook for the day got to clean up the mess. And that was very interesting.
CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about Navy food, that’s early Navy food…
CAVANAUGH: …up to the present day, and taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Donald, who’s calling us from North Park. Good morning, Donald. Welcome to These Days.
DONALD (Caller, North Park): Hi, Janine. Hello, Warrant. How’s it going?
SHAPPEE: Pretty good, Donald, thank you.
DONALD: Yeah, I retired about 7 years ago and I got to say, you know, probably Navy food is one of those experiences that if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. But anyway, yeah, sometimes you don’t want to know about the process but I really had a lot of respect for the logistics involved. You know, I had – I was on ship from like a cruiser, a light cruiser, actually, to even the Constellation but, you know, sure there were affects from some of the recipes but I wanted to know if you had a chapter about like foreign foods? Like for example, some of my favorite experiences was when we were able to make port calls and we brought on like exotic fruits like it was the first time I ever had a kiwi was while I was in the Navy.
DONALD: And then, you know, ever since, I love guava, papaya and like fruits like that. To me, the fresher the better.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you for the call, Donald. That’s an interesting point, the picking up what you get from foreign ports of call.
SHAPPEE: Yes, ever since the very beginning of the Navy they’ve had replenishment at sea. Stephen Decatur, fighting the Barbary pirates, was resupplied from France, so they got food from there. I agree with you. I always appreciated when we got – went into the South Pacific and passed by Australia. We got lamb and we got lobster. And near Hawaii, we always got fresh pineapple. So, yes, as you move around through the different parts of the world, you do get those exotic fruits and vegetables and meats.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to mention to people, I want to make sure that they know that one of the most intriguing parts of your book is the fact that there are recipes inside and I want to talk more about those recipes and how you compiled them but, first, some of the early ones include things called burgoo and sea pie. What are these things?
SHAPPEE: Well, a burgoo is a stew, and sea pie is officers only. The stoves on the ships had boiling pots for the enlisted people, for the crew, and ovens for the officers. So the officers could have baked food, so the sea pie is actually – they started out with ship’s biscuit and crushed it up and made a crust of – pastry out of it and then lined a container and then made a stuffing of meats and vegetables and herbs and spices and then covered it over so it’s a very nicely prepared pot.
CAVANAUGH: And, funnily enough, no fish.
SHAPPEE: Well, they do – they did use saltfish, they did have saltfish. And, by the way, the very first thing that Congress ordered for, as far as food is concerned, for the U.S. Navy is that every ship be equipped with an ample quantity of fishing equipment so they could get fresh fish. That fish was then to be fed to the sick first and then distributed evenly through the crew…
SHAPPEE: …so that was interesting. You had to have fishing gear.
CAVANAUGH: Now you’ve mentioned on several occasions the difference between what the sailors ate and what the officers ate. How did that menu differ through the years, and does it still differ?
SHAPPEE: Well, it started out it was quite a difference because the officers were paid income – just paid cash for their food needs in – for an upcoming crew. So it was not unusual for the officers to have live animals on the ship, to have pigs, and the goats traveled very well, much better than cattle but they would bring cattle in to butcher, chickens for fresh eggs. So the officers would have this little farm running on the back of the ship while the crew forward was eating salt horse and ship’s biscuit and dried peas and weevils. That has – The way they pay the crews has stayed the same. The officers have to pay for their meals at sea now in the modern Navy where the enlisted people, that money is taken out of their basic pay and set aside with them not having any control over it. And because of recent changes in the Navy, within I would say the last 10 years, we’re seeing that the officers are not eating anything different than what the enlisted are. We now have a 21-day cycle of menus and because we can’t remember what we ate 21 days ago, so you just say, oh, it’s ham again, you know. And – But the recipes are the same. And this has saved a lot of money for the Navy because at the end of World War II, they had a cookbook with 1700 recipes in it. Just think of the ingredients that you’d have to carry.
SHAPPEE: Yeah. Yes.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s – We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Harry is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Harry. Welcome to These Days.
HARRY (Caller, San Diego): How you doing today? Thanks for taking my call.
CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.
HARRY: I want to talk about the menus and I was Jack of the Dust on a ship and also a cook when I first entered. They used a card catalog. I don’t know if you mentioned that. You know, all the recipes are supposed to be the same. And back when I was in, ’72, you couldn’t veer from those recipes because it was like – unless it was like sheer death because they wanted to take – especially who was in charge of the kitchen. You have – can he comment on that?
CAVANAUGH: Sure. Yeah. Thank you, Harry.
SHAPPEE: Yeah, Harry, thank you. As a matter of fact, in the last chapter of the book, I use recipe cards to show that. And also when we did the exhibit of the main galley on the ship, we put a number of recipe cards out for folks to be able to see. And you’re absolutely right. That was – those were followed very strictly. And, Harry, you remind me Jack of the Dust is a great old term from the British Navy that’s very interesting. The Jack of the Dust was the enlisted person who assisted the purser—there wasn’t supply officers yet, there was a purser—in going down and getting the rations…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
SHAPPEE: …for each day and going down into the hold. And they called him the Jack of the Dust because the British called all sailors Jack.
SHAPPEE: And he was Jack of the Dust because he had to go down in a hold and get those big bags of ship’s biscuits which had been eaten up by weevils and were all dusty and everything so he would come up all covered with this dust as he was carrying everything up. Today, Harry is still serving as Jack of the Dust, and Jack of the Dust now is the guy who has all the keys, so he’s given the recipe cards with all the lists of ingredients and Harry knows where everything is stored and he may have a crew of as many as 20 or 30 people who then go down and find all the ingredients and get them all together at the right place so the chefs and cooks can then put them together and actually produce product.
CAVANAUGH: No small task when we’re talking about the quantity.
SHAPPEE: Oh, well, on an aircraft carrier, like there’s – it takes 40 people to do that. Phenomenal amount of work.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break but when we return, we will continue to talk about “Beef Stew for 2500: Feeding our Navy from the Revolutionary War to the Present.” And taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is retired Chief Warrant Officer Rudy Shappee. He’s author of “Beef Stew for 2500.” It’s a book about feeding the Navy from the Revolutionary War to the present. And we are inviting your calls. If you’ve eaten food in the Navy, you can tell us your favorites or the food you hated. Tell us what it was like eating on board a Navy ship. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Right now, I’d like to introduce our guest, Lieutenant Steve Lewis. He’s calling us. He’s Services Officer in Charge of Culinary Operations aboard the USS Carl Vinson. And welcome, Lt. Lewis. Thanks for calling.
LT. STEVE LEWIS (USN Services Officer, Culinary Operations, USS Carl Vinson): Thank you. Happy to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m wondering, we – I guess you’ve heard a little bit about the history of Navy food and so forth. What is Navy food like now? What are the changes that have taken place in order to serve modern palates?
LT. LEWIS: Yeah, I think some of the recent changes that have been, at least in the last 10 years, there’s been a big push towards healthy choice options, you know, largely with items that tasted good, that reminded you of home, and that were maybe not so healthy for you, and these days people would like those things to be that comfort food but also be healthy while they’re eating those, enjoying those foods.
CAVANAUGH: You know, a lot of people just going out to eat with friends and neighbors will find out that now a lot of people have health concerns, they – they’re lactose intolerant or they can’t eat certain types of food. How much of a choice do sailors have when it comes to what they’re going to be fed?
LT. LEWIS: I think these days they have a wide variety that are just proposed to them basically. I mean, on the main line, what we talk – basically, there’s two options as far as like two meats usually. Like a meat or a fish and a variety of other items as far as side dishes, and then there’s always these different types of salad bars or there’s different types of bars they offer. So say for today we’ll have a chili bar, a salad bar and a chicken bar, which will be largely with chicken wings and chicken breasts and things like that. And then we’ll also have a sandwich bar so if somebody wanted to make themselves a deli sandwich, kind of a self-serve type item. So that gives people a lot of different variety and then it’s kind of like what Rudy was talking about with that 21-day cycle menu. Since that does – since that actually can get repetitive when you’re out to sea, having those different bars can kind of switch things up for you.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, you said that the Navy used to concentrate on sort of like food that would remind sailors of home, and what changes now that it’s a healthier menu? Are there more salads? Are there more lighter foods? Are you looking at calorie content and things like that?
LT. LEWIS: Yeah, we are definitely looking at calorie content. Our – the 21-day cycle menu is approved by the Navy Supply Chef and also the Navy Supply Dietician to make sure that, you know, when – if somebody chooses the right portion, which we kind of advertise what the right portion is—that’s always an individual choice—but they can see that and – what a portion size would be and then they can also see right there at the serving line how many calories that they’re choosing to select.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s interesting. What if you’re a vegetarian? Can you survive on board ship?
LT. LEWIS: You know, you sure can. Actually, our chaplain is a vegetarian and there’s a lot of items that he’ll choose to get the – you know, there’s always different options at both lunch and dinner for vegetarians.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for bringing us up to date on this. Lt. Steve Lewis, thanks so much.
LT. LEWIS: Yep, no problem.
CAVANAUGH: And my guest who remains with us is Rudy Shappee. He’s the author of “Beef Stew for 2500.” So healthier and better for you, huh?
SHAPPEE: On the Midway, we have a sample menu of what was served back in the – even in the nineties and it’s filled with macaroni and cheese and fried chicken and meat loaf and heavy, heavy foods that we served those 19-year-old kids. And then when I went out to the Reagan and the Nimitz and dined there, the difference between on the Midway, a salad bar was a tray of head lettuce…
SHAPPEE: …and salad dressing. Now, a salad bar is a selection of maybe two different types of lettuces with tomatoes and onions and all kinds of condiments that you can put on and off. A taco bar next to that. And so there’s, as the lieutenant said, there’s a lot of options. If you don’t like the entrees that are on the main line – I had one sailor told me, I never eat the fish but I always have a good meal because of all the other options that they have available. So I was very pleased with that when I saw that, whereas in the older Navy it was heavy food. Our cooks would say I have to feed a man so he doesn’t have to eat for 12 hours.
CAVANAUGH: Aha. Aha.
SHAPPEE: So that was the big thing, is to load him up with carbs.
CAVANAUGH: Do you want some butter on that butter?
SHAPPEE: Absolutely. Absolutely. With gravy.
CAVANAUGH: Jack is calling us from Pacific Beach. Good morning, Jack. Welcome to These Days.
JACK (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hello. I was interested – I was listening to it. I was in the Navy from 1958 to 1962 and I was on a World War II Fletcher-class destroyer. And I just have to say bluntly that the food was terrible.
JACK: It was horrible. And one of the things that your guest isn’t speaking about is the different of the food between a large ship like an aircraft carrier and the smaller ships like the escort destroyers and the destroyers. And also he’s not speaking about how we eat during rough weather and how difficult that is. And I just have to say maybe that today’s Navy’s a lot better but in my day it just was horrible so…
CAVANAUGH: Well, J…
JACK: …thank you and I’ll listen to you offline.
CAVANAUGH: Hey, Jack, thanks for calling in. So let’s talk a little bit about those subjects. The smaller ships, how was food aboard the smaller ships? And during rough weather?
SHAPPEE: Yeah, Jack, I cover that in the chapter covering the second world war, that there was definitely an argument among the admirals about who should receive the best food. Of course, the hospitals received the very best in the Pacific war especially. But then we’ve all known that the submarine people, they always get the best food because they have the most hazardous work, yada-yada-yada. But then the admirals in the second world war said wait a minute, air crews aboard aircraft carriers are just as much in harm way as submariners so they should have better food. So, in fact, the aircraft carriers, everyone, ate better than the destroyers did. And I give menus, a day’s menus, for aboard an aircraft carrier and compare that to a destroyer. And it was Spam city on a destroyer when it was well-prepared food on the aircraft carrier. So, yes, Jack, I agree that there is a difference and, of course, that absolutely has to do with how much storage facilities you have. A destroyer’s a small ship and she can’t carry as much fresh food as an aircraft carrier can. And another thing is, you know, I’ve heard people say I was on a destroyer and it was – it had great food, so also I think we have another factor in there, it’s about leadership and pride…
SHAPPEE: …on the ship, and so we – I can’t make general statements, say on every ship it was like this. But I agree with you, Jack, in 1957 when I came in the Navy, the food ashore was wonderful but as soon as I hit the deck of a ship, it got pretty bad.
CAVANAUGH: And what about – what’s the difference in eating in bad weather? Because they couldn’t prepare?
SHAPPEE: Well, they couldn’t cook.
SHAPPEE: I mean, you have those big tubs of hot food sloshing about.
CAVANAUGH: Sloshing about, right.
SHAPPEE: So you ate baloney sandwiches.
SHAPPEE: And you were fortunate if you got mayonnaise on them sometimes. And I can even remember in the early days, my early days, they would feed us C-rations that our first caller was mentioning food that was rejected by some – we had C-rations that had been packed in 1945 aboard a carrier in 1960 and they were feeding those to us because they couldn’t heat in the galley.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Right.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Yeah, that’s where you need the strong stomach.
CAVANAUGH: Greg is calling us from East Lake. Good morning, Greg. Welcome to These Days.
GREG (Caller, East Lake): Good morning. I just want to give my comment. I’ve been in the Navy for 15 years now and I don’t – can’t compare it to what they’re talking back in the sixties and seventies and eighties, but I can say that I think that the food is great. It’s the best meal in town. I get per diem each day to eat out in town and blow my money, you know, but I’ve noticed that most people don’t want to go to the galley because they’re used to that fast food, fattening type of food. You know, I find great selections. I’ve been to the ASW galley, the 32nd Street, North Island, Point Loma. I used to be on the USS McKee. I used to eat at the Jason, so the salad bar was a great selection for people. You know, you had the boiled eggs if want to raise the protein, a lot of tuna, all kinds of selections of cuts and veggies. So I thought it was great. And I’m also the Command Fitness Leader so I think that people are just drawn to that fattening, good tasting food and that’s why they reject a lot of the Navy food.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Greg…
GREG: That’s my comment.
CAVANAUGH: …thank you so much. So we got a plus for this new healthier idea of eating on Navy ships. We also had a caller who couldn’t stay on the line who talked about his memories of snacks, midnight snacks. What would that be about?
SHAPPEE: Well, on an aircraft carrier, we serve four meals a day.
SHAPPEE: Three main meals a day and, by the way, our galleys are open, so you can get hot food 23 hours a day…
SHAPPEE: …because we go around the clock. Some of the smaller ships, they open and close the galley and use that area for other purposes, recreation and so on, but on a carrier, it’s food, food, food, all day long. And your – you have breakfast, dinner and supper, and then from about eleven ‘clock until about three in the morning, you have mid-rats. And mid-rats, or midnight rations, are the leftovers from all the three meals that you’ve had during the day, plus eggs to order, breakfast meat, usually a carbohydrate, so it’s almost like on a cruise ship. Sometimes the most interesting meal is the one they’re serving at midnight when everybody’s supposed to be asleep. So I know there were times when I would – we’d be having ham, which was one of my favorite things, and I’d say, well, I’m going to mid-rats tonight so I can get some more ham. So mid-rats was a pretty interesting place.
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Now, as I said before, the recipes in this book are really, really well done. Lots of them are for huge amounts of food. I mean, you give recipes for actually feeding a whole ship’s crew. But some of them have been reduced down so that you could, you know, maybe feed 10, 12 people. How did you come up with these recipes?
SHAPPEE: Well, the Navy did that for me…
SHAPPEE: …because the early recipes were for 8 people because that’s how many men there were in a mess.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Right, right.
SHAPPEE: And through the Civil War, they kept it about 8 people. But then when we modernized the steel Navy at the turn of the 19th century, they started general messing, so they had to make the recipes for 100 people because they were serving 800 people. The Navy went backwards and they said, yes, but on a small ship you’re not serving 100 people, you’re serving 30 people. On a patrol craft, you may be serving 12 people. So they did the mathematics. And I include that in the chapter where I start using the recipe cards. I say this is how to reduce it. This is the math. Very simple division and plus adding a little, 10%, or taking away 5% because not everyone eats every meal, and they don’t want to have leftovers. They don’t want to throw – they’re not in business to feed the fish.
SHAPPEE: So they want the last sailor to get the last ration.
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Now you worked with students of San Diego High School Culinary Arts. What did they help you with when it came to these recipes? Did they actually make them?
SHAPPEE: Yes, the – especially the early recipes. Are these things even edible? And so Linda Ross, God bless her, was the Culinary Arts teacher there and she volunteered to have her students do selections from each chapter and prepare them the way they were written and then make recommendations on – and comments on how they tasted, and then recommendations on how to improve them. It was a great opportunity for the kids to experiment and also follow directions and do these mass feedings. And so we had taste tests and that’s right in the recipes, that they recommend this is really bland, you need to add something here and add something there.
CAVANAUGH: That’s wonderful. You know, some of the modern recipes that you include, Honey-glazed Cornish Hens, rum chocolate ice cream, I mean, they look amazing.
SHAPPEE: Well, Navy doesn’t have cooks anymore. As Lt. Lewis mentioned, they’re Culinary Arts Specialists. Do you know that Navy chefs feed the president. And…
CAVANAUGH: That’s right. I’d forgotten that.
SHAPPEE: …so now instead of having cooks who had no future except to continue to cook, we now have Culinary Arts Specialists who are trained in the culinary arts by professional chefs. I’ve been working with people in Washington who, as part of the Ney Award, this annual competition that they have…
SHAPPEE: …for the best feeders in the fleet, the winners of those, professional chefs come aboard ship and teach fine dine – fine food preparation and dessert preparation. The chefs, the Culinary Arts Specialists, from that ship go to the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, and receive special training and move upward and have careers in the – and all this sort of thing. So it’s not the old one-legged guy…
CAVANAUGH: With his parrot.
SHAPPEE: in who’s cooking, you know, with the parrot on his shoulder. It’s now young people who have when they – at the entry level, they have whole careers ahead of them of excellence, as far as they want to go. So it’s – And that’s helped. That’s really helped.
CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating. My final question to you, and we don’t have much time left, but what was your favorite meal when you were in the Navy?
SHAPPEE: Breakfast, chipped beef on toast…
SHAPPEE: …with two over-easy eggs on top of it. Set me free. And we still serve chipped beef on toast at the galley aboard the USS Midway for the old timers to come back and get it.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much, Rudy. This has been fun.
SHAPPEE: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Rudy Shappee’s new book is called “Beef Stew for 2500: Feeding our Navy from the Revolutionary War to the Present.” If you’d like to comment, go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.
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