Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854-1863

By George Byron Merrick | Go to book overview

Chapter XVI
Mississippi Menus

It was a saying on the river that if you wished to save the meals a passenger was entitled to on his trip, you took him through the kitchen the first thing when he came aboard. The inference was, that after seeing the food in course of preparation he would give it a wide berth when it came on the table. It would be unfair to the memory of the average river steward to aver that this assertion was grounded upon facts; but it would be stretching the truth to assert that it was without foundation. Things must be done in a hurry when three meals a day are to be prepared and served to three or four hundred people; and all the work had to be accomplished in two kitchens, each ten by twenty-feet in area—one for meats and vegetables, and the other for pastry and desserts.

The responsibility of providing for meals at stated times, with a good variety, cooked and served in a satisfactory manner, devolved upon the steward. Under him were two assistants, with meat cooks, vegetable cooks, pastry cooks, and bread makers, and a force of waiters and pantrymen conditioned upon the boat’s capacity for passengers. While the steward was in the thought of outsiders rated as an officer of the second class, he was as a matter of fact in the first class. When the pay of the captain was three hundred dollars per month, and that of the mate two hundred, the average steward of any reputation also commanded two hundred, while a man with a large reputation commanded three hundred, the same as the captain, and his services were sought by the owners of a dozen boats. Likewise, he earned every cent of his salary, whatever it might be.

Unlike the other officers he had no regular watch to stand, after which he might lay aside his responsibility and let the

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