“The Lesser of Two Weevils” or A Decision to Bake or Not
By: Garland Davis
Two weevils crept from the crumbs. “You see those weevils, Stephen?” said Jack solemnly.
“Which would you choose?”
“There is not a scrap of difference. Arcades ambo. They are the same species of curculio, and there is nothing to choose between them.”
“But suppose you had to choose?”
“Then I should choose the right-hand weevil; it has a perceptible advantage in both length and breadth.”
“There I have you,” cried Jack. “You are bit — you are completely dished. Don’t you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils? Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”
For those unfamiliar with “the Canon” as Patrick O’Brian fans are prone to call the Jack Aubrey novels, the above exchange comes from The Fortune of War.
What were these weevils, lesser or greater?
This is a story of more than two weevils. I won’t name the ship or the year. There may be someone out there reading this with whom I served. They may be able to figure it out. I am pretty sure the mess cooks spread the word. It didn’t seem to lessen the demand for the items that I baked.
The ship was at sea and I was preparing to start the night’s work in the bake shop. The Jack of the Dust had left my breakout in the shop. I put the items away except the flour. There was a flour bin built under the work counter. I opened the bags of flour and emptied them into the bin when it was empty. There was enough flour in the bin for the night’s products. Then I would clean and refill the bin. As I was moving the bags of flour I noticed something that looked like a worm on the bags.
I thought, “Oh no, weevils.” I grabbed a pan and opened the bag into it. I closely inspected the flour and saw many of the worms. The worms that we call weevils are actually the larval stage of the Flour Beetle.
The female beetle deposits eggs into food or into crevices in food packages. The larvae hatch and make their way into the product to eat. Many people find these larvae in the flour and call them “weevils.” Hence, the name “flour weevils.”
As larvae, all flour beetles are light brown, six-legged, wormlike creatures. Within as little time as one month, beetles are capable of developing into adults. The average life span is one year, although some specimens can survive for up to three years in warm, humid conditions.
I went to the First Class lounge and asked for the CS1 and told him about the problem. He ran off to the CPO Mess to tell the Chief. A few minutes later they came bursting into the Bake Shop to verify what I told them. We ascertained that the flour in the bin wasn’t infested only the new breakout from the storeroom. They sent me for the Jack of the Dust.
He came up from the movie and told them that today’s breakout was the first from the batch received from the last unrep. He also said that was all the flour we had on board. Off they went to the storeroom. They came back looking depressed. They were envisaging answering to the command and the crew why there would be no baked products for the next couple of weeks.
I told them that I knew a way to get rid of the weevil worms and beetles. I recommended that we move all the flour into the freezer. The worms would all move to the center away from the cold and freeze. The beetles would die. Cut the bags open, throw away the ball of frozen worms. Sift out the weevils and remaining worms. Use the flour.
The Chief said, “I’ve got to tell the Supply Officer.” We ended up with the CS1, the Chief, the two Pork Chops, the XO, the CO and me all in the Bakeshop. I again explained my solution to the problem. I was asked how I knew this. I told them that I had read it in a book during my vocational school studies in baking and bakery science. I couldn’t name the book.
The Captain thought about it for a moment and then put me on the spot. “Petty Officer Davis, if I approve your solution and you can sift out the weevils, would you be willing to eat bread baked from the flour.” The only answer I could give was, “Yes Sir.” Although, the idea made me a little queasy. Just a little, after all, I once ate a cockroach on a dare.
I have since talked with other bakers who told me they just sifted the flour and used it without letting anyone know. Evidently it happens more often than we realize.
When I was the Leading MS in Midway, we had an entire storeroom infested. We put six tons of flour over the side.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.