February 5, 2015

Hemingway, ham, and apricots

COOKING ON A SMALL BOAT is rarely fun, and even more rarely when that boat is being tossed around offshore in heavy seas. I’ve often said there’s no more thankless task on a boat than that of the boat’s cook, the galley slave, but I recently ran across a description that makes my definition sound very tame.

It comes from an article called “Cooking for Fun Afloat” by Charles H. Baker, Jr. that appeared in The Rudder magazine in February 1938. Baker was truly an old salt, one who had racked up some quarter million miles in ships large and small, and this is what he had to say:

“We have seen our share of stove-side police. No one knows better than ourselves that thankless lot of any Galley Slave. He rates every aid and comfort. His life is just one round of damns, dishes, and duckings. He scarcely gets the evening meal cleared up and snugs himself down for a snooze when the midnight watch barges off to drip slickers in his slumbering face and command hot coffee — or else.

“Hardly is this cross borne, and once more parallel with the keel, when the four o’clock watch stamps below like a brace of fiends to drip more icy slickers down his pants and growl things about hot soup.

“Barely can the poor Slave doze again before it is a full day and the whole condemned ship’s company arises to a man and screams for ham, eggs, hot cakes, coffee — and the entire vicious parade marches on again. Combined with such minor addenda as scalds, burns, broken shins and toes, the whole business is a sort of marine mayhem without benefit of clergy or court.”

Well, despite his protests, Baker was obviously a skilled cook, and much in demand. He published a lot of recipes for sailors, and here is one that should satisfy my readers who felt that Commander E. G. Martin’s recipe for onion soup, which I published recently, was a little wimpy for a macho crew of working sailors. Those readers were wrong, incidentally, but no matter. They might like to try this Baker recipe instead:

Smoked or Sugar-Cured Ham Steak and Apricots

“This originated on a Bimini cruise to fish with Ernest Hemingway on his good ship Pilar in 1936.

“Slice ham at least 1 inch thick, stand for a while in water, or poach ten minutes to freshen. Brush with any good cooking fat.

“Make a paste of the following: one-eighth teaspoon each ground allspice and clove, one teaspoon hot dry mustard, two-thirds cup brown sugar, enough vinegar to moisten well.

“Put in greased pan, surround with two cups of soaked apricots and brown in medium oven around 350° for an hour. Baste frequently. Apricot likes ham very well.”

Well, that should quell those rumbling tummies for a bit; and if it was good enough for Hemingway it should be good enough for us.

Today’s Thought
My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.
— Nora Ephron

Then there was the Oriental wife who was most distressed because she produced white twins.
“There, there,” said her husband comfortingly. “Don’t worry about it. Occidents will happen.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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