Housekeeping on an Ocean Steamship, 1899 Article by Helen C. Candee
THE largest of the Atlantic liners carries as many as nineteen hundred persons when filled to its utmost capacity. How to care for all of these people and provide for the countless needs of each is a problem which might trouble a housekeeper on land ; but at sea, where there are no resources except those contained within the vessel itself, the difficulties are more than doubled.
It might, even at sea, be a trifle simpler if all the persons to he provided for were served together and alike, but matters are complicated by the numerous distinctions of passengers and crew. Putting the aggregate of passengers, including steerage, at fourteen hundred, the persons actually employed on a big ship number five hundred in the summer season when ocean travel is heaviest. It is a mistake to suppose that these are all under one head, for-they are employed in three very different departments.
The captain is, of course, the supreme ruler of the ship, and in emergencies he exercises his command in every department, but ordinarily he confines his attention to the sailing of the craft and leaves the two other great divisions of the ship's labor to their legitimate heads. Closely connected with the sailing is the engineering, and of that the passengers know but little except the throb of the engines and the churning of the screws in the water. The third department of the ship's labor is the housekeeping and all that goes with it, in charge of the, chief steward. So perfectly is the work in the housekeeping department done that the passengers give no thought to the matter.
Twenty Thousand Pieces for the Weekly Wash
LONG before the sleeping passengers have dreamed of morning a large army of workers is effacing from the ship all traces of the disorder of the day before, and all of the public parts of the ship are being put in order. At five o'clock in the morning all the ship's workers are called, and are given a steaming cup of coffee, and rolls to eat with it. Then work begins, and is continued vigorously until seven-twenty, when a hearty breakfast is served.
After that the passengers begin to appear, the cleaning of the ship ends, and a new line of duties commences, that of attending to the travelers' wants, which are apt to be many at sea, where there is little to divert the attention from self. It must not be supposed that the servants of the ship are in any way neglected or made uncomfortable. On the contrary, they are provided with excellent quarters and are served with the best of food, and, more than that, have servants to wait upon them.
The ship's housekeeper secures his servants, not by the month or week, but by the trip, and they are obliged to sign papers for the round trip ; therefore, to leave before the end of the voyage is desertion. Servants are engaged on the European end of the trip, for the reason that they can be hired there for smaller wages than in America. Wages paid to dining-room and bedroom stewards are from fifteen to twenty:five dollars a month, and cooks receive from fifty to seventy-five dollars.
The ship is ahead of the house in one matter—the laundering of the weekly wash. The enormous number of pieces soiled in one week during the season of summer travel is twenty thousand. A beautiful system orders the care of the linen. It is all washed at " the works," a building on shore, where hundreds of workers are employed. After laundering, the linen is sorted and tied into bundles according to its kind.
To stock the ship with linen for the entire trip means that enormous supplies are kept on hand. On a ship of large size one thousand tablecloths are carried to keep the tables fresh. As napkins must be frequently changed it takes a stock of fourteen thousand to keep tidy the finger-tips of the passengers. When it comes to towels the figures grow absolutely startling. Two hundred a day are used in the men's lavatory and about fifteen hundred daily in the staterooms of first and second cabins. With great care the dish-towels can be kept down to ninety a day.
How the Nineteen Hundred Persons are Fed
AS COMPLICATED as all the system of cleaning a ship is, it cannot compare to the work of what soldiers call the commissary department. Every one knows perfectly well that the first requirement of mankind is food. How to feed nineteen hundred persons daily when markets are far behind or ahead, with a waste of waters between, is a problem which can only be met by the wisest of forethought coupled with a system which is strictly pursued.
The task of writing out the menus belongs, of course, to him who on land would be called a housekeeper—the chief steward. He has a little den in a convenient situation, where lie sits at his desk and each afternoon writes out the menus for the next day. Getting this work accomplished so long before is a bit of forethought which might help the wheels of the domestic machinery to run smoothly on land as well as at sea. At the very smallest computation the chief steward plans for twenty-four meals every day, and some of these contain as many as thirty dishes.
Of first importance are the four meals of the first-cabin passengers. Then there are four meals to arrange for the second cabin, four for the officers, three for the engineers, and three each for the steerage, stewards and sailors. In addition there is early coffee for the workers, and hot broth and tea served morning and afternoon to passengers.
After the chief steward has arranged the meals for the next day he calls his cooks and shows them the bills-of fare. Each division has its own cook, so to the steerage cook he gives his particular list, and to the first-cabin cook the menu for the most fastidious class of passengers, and so on through all the divisions.
This is not merely that the cooks may know what labor is before them on the morrow, but for a more important reason. Having received their bills-of-fare, the cooks fall into deep calculations and reckon how many sweetbreads they are going to require for croquettes, how many eggs will go to the composition of omelets, and how many cans of mushrooms will be needed for a certain sauce.
Each cook has a book in which he writes the results of his calculations as to how much is needed, and these books are all handed to the chief steward, who carefully compares the items therein with the corresponding menu, and if the cook's idea of quantities matches his he signs the book, and the cook is privileged to draw the goods from the sources of supply, or storerooms. Perhaps it is a miscalculation on the part of either cook or chief steward that brings back the unpleasant reply, " All out," from the dining-room steward when a passenger gives an order for some particular dainty.
Tons of Meat and Fowls Stored in Refrigerators
THE question naturally arises, How are supplies obtained to fill the elaborate bills-of-fare? The great markets which send daily supplies to hotels are far away across the waste of waters, and even sea food is impossible to pluck from the ocean through which the screws are pushing the vessel. Away down in the bottom of the ship the chief steward has a market of his own, one which he has stocked and from which he draws, thus serving in the double capacity of merchant and customer.
The way into his market is down a winding stair, if one may paraphrase the song of the spider and the fly. The cavern at the bottom is brilliantly lighted by electricity, and is as interesting as the Mammoth Cave. Corridors turn at every few steps, and are lined with doors. One of these opens and shows a fair-sized meat market, a room as cold as winter, all hung with sides of beef and mutton.
It is simply an enormous refrigerator, and is presided over by a steward who is responsible for every pound of meat within it. Before the ship slips from the dock this room is stocked, for a full ship, with twenty thousand pounds of beef, two thousand pounds of veal and three thousand pounds of mutton. Along the corridor another door opens—the same kind, about a foot thick—and here we get an idea of the poultry consumed on one trip of an ocean steamer.
From hooks along the walls and ceiling hang bunches of birds, very much as dried corn and peppers hang from the rafters of old farmhouses. As many chickens as can be tied together are hung until four thousand pounds are stowed away. Ducks are not as popular as chickens, nor do they enter into the composition of so many dishes, therefore seven hundred pounds only are provided—about one hundred pounds' allowance for each day.
Turkeys are liked, and one thousand pounds must be provided for the demands of the cook. Pigeons, squabs and other small birds, these are reckoned in pieces, and it is calculated that the family which floats across the ocean will devour sixteen hundred birds.
Two and a Half Tons of Butter ; Thousands of Eggs
ONE tidy little refrigerator about six feet wide and twice that depth is the butter-man's stall in this market under the sea. Little tubs of butter are arranged on shelves to the amount of five thousand pounds, and are in company with that other popular product of the farm—eggs.
The chief steward, knowing the inconvenience of keeping house without this necessary article of food, buys the enormous number of twenty thousand eggs. Milk and cream are stored in a separate room, all having been sterilized. In olden times I am told that a live cow was part of a ship's stores.
Fancy the herd that would be required to furnish twenty-five hundred quarts of milk and cream, the amount used in a trip across the Atlantic and back. This market has a room especially for salt meats, and here are hams, bacon and tongues to the amount of four thousand pounds.
There are some articles of food without which the epicure would be unhappy, and which must be alive when cooked. Chief among these are oysters, of which sixteen thousand are carried to meet the wants of the passengers. Clams are only provided to the number of fifteen hundred, which shows the way of the public taste. Lobsters are not abundantly supplied, perhaps because they are becoming more and more expensive as their extermination is threatened. Seven hundred pounds is all the storeroom shelters.
This market in the bottom of the ship contains, besides the things mentioned, fruits, green vegetables, and an enormous stock of groceries. The latter is only limited by space, for groceries are not perishable goods and will keep from one voyage to another until used.
Over Eighty Pounds of Tea and Coffee Daily
AS AN indication of public taste it may be interesting to know that while thirty-six bottles each of tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce are used, only five of curry are required. The ' little snack that so many passengers like to take before going to bed at night makes ravages on the supply of sardines, nearly three hundred boxes of which are eaten in one voyage. Water is stored in great tanks which are built in out-of-the-way places, for distilled water is not pleasant to drink.
Tea and coffee are used in large amounts—about thirty-three pounds a day of tea and fifty pounds of coffee. More tea is used on English ships than on others. Perishable supplies are taken on board in proportion to the number of passengers booked, and anything of this kind which is left over when the ship reaches port is eaten by the crew. There is a law in England requiring passenger ships to carry provisions for a period over time, but in the large liners, crossing in six days, three weeks' provisions only are necessary, and these need not be of a perishable nature.
Cooking for the passengers begins at about seven in the morning and continues all day and evening, for meals are innumerable and one is being prepared while another is being served. The head cook of a galley is lord of his department, and in cap and apron moves about with masculine directness. He has not the humility that would make him content with makeshifts in the way of utensils, but demands the best of everything.
Perfect Equipment of a Steamship's Kitchen
THE long range in the ship's kitchen is of the very finest make, the cook's vessels are of shining copper or light platinum, and he has every modern appliance for making his work easy and perfect. He has assistants who relieve him of all work not requiring a master hand and a gourmet's taste. For instance, there is the vegetable cook, and the scullion who prepares food in its initial processes ; and there is the baker, who has charge of a very large department in the ship, for he must bake all the bread eaten by every one.
There is for each division of the ship a separate kitchen, but the same bakers bake for all. The ovens in the ranges are used for meats and made dishes, but the baker's oven is exclusively his own, as indeed it ought to be, for he has to bake during one crossing ten thousand loaves of bread.
It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the completeness of the arrangements of a ship's kitchen. The soup, instead of occupying valuable space on the top of the range, is in huge caldrons, heated by steam ; sauces and other delicate dishes which may be spoiled by standing in too hot a place are in a bain-marie; and coffee is made in two colossal urns holding about ten gallons each.
Besides these is a carving-table, an ingenious affair with a metal top in which shallow basins are sunk. During the time of serving meals a roast of some kind occupies each of these basins and is there carved, the juice being caught and served with it. A coil of steam pipes keeps the table hot, and the under part is filled with plates which are thus warmed for use.
As many as two thousand plates are kept constantly heated at just the right temperature. Provision for the rolling of the ship is made in the kitchen by racks fitted on top of the range, just as wooden racks are fitted on the dining-room tables, and in rough weather the coal is not heaped high in the ranges. Through these means no inconvenience is felt, for the ship's servants are all good sailors.
Enormous Quantities of China and Silverware
A BOARD a big passenger ship the system of washing dishes lessens the labor and robs the work of much of the unpleasantness that women find in the task at home. First, all the dishes are sorted and scraped. Glass, silver and cups are laid aside for different treatment. Then all plates and service dishes are laid in a basket, which is hung on a hook and plunged into a vat of boiling, soapy water. When lifted out the basket is unhooked from the machine, the dishes are clean and hot, and dry almost before they can be wiped.
Glass and silver are washed more carefully by hand by the pantry stewards. The pantry is a place which glitters with silverware. There is little space for putting away the table fittings which must be removed from the dining-room tables between meals, and so they are hung on the pantry ceiling in close rows, pitchers and castors touching each other. In cabinets the small silver is stored, one kind in each drawer.
As for spoons, there are a thousand for soup, the same number for tea, and half that number for coffee and dessert. The heaviest fork-drawer contains a thousand dinner forks, and next to that is the same number of breakfast forks. For raw oysters there are three hundred forks provided, and for fish about the same number. Knives follow closely the same figures, one thousand each of dinner and breakfast sizes, six hundred for dessert, and two hundred and sixty for fruit.
The pantry is lined with shelves which are fitted with racks in which stand high piles of china, secure from the motion of the stormiest sea. The plate-warmer holds many of them, but there are enough left to stock a china shop. There are twelve hundred cups and saucers for coffee, tea and bouillon ; there are over four hundred water tumblers, and other glasses in smaller proportion.
The plates of the popular size number twenty-two hundred, and the soup-plates are only four hundred and fifty. Of course it is probable that some of all these fragile things get broken every voyage in the handling. Naturally the owners of the ship do not care to be the losers through the carelessness of others, so a fair and effective measure is resorted to : each man is taxed a certain percentage for breakage, and the amount of the tax expended in replacing broken glass and china.
Renovating a Vessel at the End of Each Voyage
WHEN at last the big ship reaches the other side of the ocean ferry and the passengers have hastened away on business and pleasure a change takes place in the housekeeping. The family to be catered for suddenly shrinks to five hundred—a mere bagatelle—and, relieved of the important work of pleasing passengers, the chief steward plunges into a housecleaning more exhaustive than is ever seen on land, except perhaps in some Holland cottage.
Scarcely have the passengers gone when the ship is stripped of adornments as a deck is cleared for action. Every carpet is taken up in the public places and in each stateroom, beds are stripped of all coverings, and mattresses stood on end to air. Then a process of scrubbing begins, and floors, walls and ceilings are washed except where decorations prevent.
The steerage is emptied of everything except the wood of which it is built ; the beds are sent to be burned and the blankets to be washed ; and holystoning begins. The " glory hole "—the crew's quarters—is sometimes, but not always, treated to a sulphur candle, with the hatch battened down, lest dirt or disease get a foothold. The kitchens are more thoroughly treated than any other part of the ship, for they offer the greatest inducements to dirt and water-bugs.
They are emptied of all utensils, thoroughly scrubbed, and then given into the hands of persons whose business it is to exterminate insects. The thing about all this that most strikes a housekeeper is that housecleaning, which is a semi-yearly affair on land, occurs semi-monthly on ship, and is more thorough each time than land folk make it. Two days before sailing all is put in order for the reception of passengers.
In the staterooms the carpets are laid, the tanks of the washstands are filled, beds made up, and all dusted. In the public rooms everything is replaced. Then begins an extremely rigorous inspection by the chief steward of the interior of the vessel. Every under steward is at his post and must take blame and reproof if any is deserved.
This outline of housekeeping on a big steamship gives some slight idea of the labor of furnishing the comforts of home and the enjoyments of travel to them that " go down to the sea in ships."