Christmas Dinner At Sea - 1924


Christmas Dinner at Sea - Cunard Line


The Modern Kitchen Arrangements ensure Good Service, vastly different from the Old Days. In his " American Notes," Charles Dickens gives his readers an excellent impression of what Atlantic travel, with particular reference to the dining arrangements, was like in the early 'forties.

What a pity the famous author did not cross the Atlantic during the Christmas festive season, for had he done so, we are sure that by utilizing his extraordinary descriptive powers, he would have presented succeeding generations with a vivid pen picture of how the Christmas dinner was cooked.

Indeed, in those days, and until comparatively recent years, many an excellent Christmas dinner intended for the passengers on board ship was spoilt by the inferior kitchen arrangements.

There is no such danger nowadays, for indeed, every part of a passenger's vessel, particularly a Cunarder, has undergone a greater change than the section devoted to food preparation.

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 well. Still, the passengers were fed under the greatest difficulty amid Atlantic storms and freezing winds.

Many Christmas Days passed without the customary roast beef and plum pudding, or if it did arrive on the table, it was frequently cold and sprinkled with brine.

The pantries and galleys were tiny and poorly 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 sensibly advised to give this department a little more attention and far more space. Consequently, he made better arrangements for the SS Oregon. After making a few voyages under the Guion flag, the Cunard Company acquired the famous vessel.

Her new owners quickly saw the advantage of what had been done in the culinary department and even improved upon it. A few years later, they abolished the ancient gridiron in favor of silver grills. After such a stride, improvements came rapidly. They continued until the catering department of a modern liner challenged comparison with the best hotels in the world.

Few passengers seriously consider the amount of labor involved in catering for the large numbers of passengers the mammoth liners of today 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 around what is, in some respects, particularly to ladies, the most exciting 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, and ice cream, whisking, spice grinding, and other machines that considerably economize labor, and are decidedly cleaner.

The service rooms and pantries have excellent 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. She 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. Still, a Mincing Lane tea taster would be satisfied with the tea 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 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 equipped with vegetable peeling machines, which deal with anything up to half a ton per hour.

Considering all these modern arrangements, it is unsurprising that Atlantic passengers who spend their Christmas at sea on board a Cunarder have lasting memories of a wonderful time. Charles Dickens would undoubtedly say there were other viands for passengers than " baked meats and potatoes in their skins."


"The Xmas Dinner At Sea." in the Cunard Magazine, Christmas Number, Vol. 13, No. 6, December 1924, Page 230


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