Dinner is Served

"Gentlemen, decorum must be maintained in the dining room". This was our messman's customary request when his customers became a bit noisy. Harry was an older, crusty guy from New York who served the navy enlisted men. Yes, served. Being passengers on MSTS, the navy's own steamship company, in 1962 and '63 Harry was our waiter.

Harry's domain seated perhaps 16 to 18 at a time. There were four tables covered with red checked tablecloths, and real chairs. Each table had a little steel rim around the edge to keep plates from sliding off. Yes, plates, rather than steel trays found on navy ships. No chow line here! The breakfast menu included eggs to order, pancakes and sometimes even that famous creamed beef on toast. There were always three entree choices at lunch and dinner on the printed daily menus. Meat dishes could be ordered "wet" or "dry", which meant, in Harry's messroom vernacular, with or without gravy.

A can of Norge Fiskeboller (fish balls).
The ship's chief steward took on fresh fruit and vegetables at our ports of call, but after three plus weeks at sea we were eating canned and frozen stuff. Michelson had the original 1944 walk in fridge and freezer so we were well provisioned, but after a week the fresh fruit compote became canned fruit cocktail, a/k/a"fruit compost". 

One of the cooks was also a baker, so we always had fresh bread, cakes and pies. The cooks left out cold meats and cheese plus plenty of coffee for those on watch at night. Overall,  MSTS food was pretty good. One could easily gain weight. Nevertheless, some grumbled about the food quality, blaming the chief steward's close attention to budget, referring to him as the "cheap steward".

There was one no sale menu item. Somebody had over provisioned on canned "norge fiskeboller" in Bergen. This codfish product appeared on the dinner menu at least once a week. I'm the only one who ever ordered norge fish balls with brown gravy. Kind of looked like those IKEA meat balls but were not very appetizing. They dumped what was left of them in the galley after the ship reached New York.

When the seas got really rough, Harry (the messman) would add extra anti-sliding protection by soaking the tablecloths with water. Unlike the ones based in Oakland, MSTS Atlantic cooks were always able to produce hot meals even in the heaviest of seas. 

A mess assistant helped Harry serve then washed dishes in the adjacent scullery. The navy chief petty officer(s) had a little one table mess room next door. Messmen never get a day off, even in port, as the crew and passengers need to be fed. Sometimes they would get someone else to cover for them so they could go ashore during the day.

Despite his gruff manner, Harry was fond of classical music. Whenever he requested it, we played an LP record of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade on the ship's entertainment audio system. He said that it was his favorite music. 

Clicking on the elegant menu cover (at right) will reveal the repasts served on two nights in 1961 aboard Michelson, as posted by Lyle Hildebrand on the TAGS website, shamefully liberated. Neither dinner menu included norge fiskeboller. Apologies to Cunard Line for lifting their 1908 RMS Mauretania menu.