Christmas Dinner At Sea - A Holiday Article from the Cunard Line
The Modern Kitchen Arrangements ensure Good Service, which is vastly different to the Old Days. In his " American Notes " Charles Dickens gives his readers an excellent impression of what Atlantic travel, with special reference to the dining arrangements, was like in the early 'forties. What a pity it is the famous author did not cross the Atlantic during the festive season of Christmas, for had he done so, we are sure that by means of his wonderful descriptive powers he would have presented succeeding generations with a vivid pen picture of how the Christmas dinner was cooked.
One thing is certain, that in those days, and, indeed, until comparatively recent years, many an excellent Christmas dinner intended for the passengers on board ship was spoilt by the inferior kitchen arrangements which then existed. There is no such danger nowadays, for surely no part of a passenger vessel, and particularly a Cunarder, has undergone greater change than the section devoted to the preparation of food.
The writer well remembers vessels of the Olympus and Marathon type carrying 100 first class and about 1,000 steerage passengers. The former dined in a saloon on the open deck. It was necessary for the galley, on account of its fires and funnels, to be placed somewhere near the smoke stack, which, in most cases, was a considerable distance away.
In fine weather the arrangement worked fairly well, but in the midst of Atlantic storms and freezing winds the passengers were fed under the greatest difficulty. Many's the Christmas Day that was passed without the customary roast beef and plum pudding, or if it did arrive on the table, was frequently cold and sprinkled with brine.
The pantries and galleys were remarkably small and badly equipped. Looking back from the present day one can sympathize with the cooks and stewards in the many difficulties they had to overcome, above all, with the passengers waiting for a hot meal that frequently arrived semi-cold.
When Mr. Guion was building his " Ocean Greyhounds," he was very sensibly advised to give a little more attention and far more space to this department, and in consequence he made better arrangements for the Oregon. After making a few voyages under the Guion flag, the famous vessel was acquired by the Cunard Company.
Her new owners were not slow to see the ad vantage of what had been done in the culinary department, and even improved upon it. A few years later they abolished the ancient gridiron in favour of silver grills, and after such a stride improvements came rapidly and continued until the catering department of a modern liner challenges comparsion with the best hotels in the world. Few passengers
give serious consideration to the amount of labour involved in catering for the very large numbers of passengers the mammoth liners of to-day carry. It is not a matter of a big breakfast, a comparatively small lunch, and half of the whole to dinner, but well filled tables for three big meals daily, to say nothing about deck lunches, afternoon teas, and evening refreshments in the lounges for people who have healthy sea appetites.
If one is interested in the subject. let him obtain permission to wander round what is in some respects, particularly to ladies, the most interesting part of a big vessel. He will be shown not alone huge ranges operated by oil, electricity, or coal, but beautiful grills, roasters, stockpots, bain marks, hot-presses, and all sorts of electrically controlled devices for slicing, mincing, mixing, peeling, triturating, etc.
In the bakers and confectioners department he will see steam-pipe or electrically heated baker's ovens, electrically driven dough making, ice cream. whisking, spice grinding, and other machines that greatly economize labour, and are decidedly cleaner.
In the service rooms and pantries there are wonderful hot-presses, bain marks, coffee apparatus, automatic egg boilers, etc., heated by electricity or steam.
When Her Majesty Queen Mary inspected the Mauretania, she was initiated into the mysteries of working many of these novel devices, and expressed herself as highly pleased, and equally surprised, with the ingenuity and carefulness bestowed upon everything to the smallest detail.
For many years ship's tea was looked upon as a thing better left untasted, but a Mincing Lane tea taster would be quite satisfied with the tea now provided from early morning till late at night.
Very homely but necessary parts of a big vessel are the sculleries. Those near the pantries are fitted with crockery washing machines for dealing with anything up to 10,000 articles per meal.
The kitchen sculleries are fitted with huge troughs, in which all the pots, pans, etc., are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized from meal to meal. These sculleries are fitted with vegetable peeling machines, which deal with anything up to half a ton per hour.
Bearing in mind all these modern arrangements, it is not surprising that Atlantic passengers who spend their Christmas at sea on board a Cunarder have lasting memories of a wonderful time. Charles Dickens would certainly say that there were other viands for passengers than " baked meats and potatoes in their skins."
Source: Cunard Magazine, Christmas Number, Vol. 13, No. 6, December 1924, Page 230