Why We Did Some Things That Way
By Garland Davis
“Fucking shit on a shingle again.”
If I have heard this once, I have heard it a million times as a cook in the Navy.
There were a number of dishes called SOS. There was creamed ground beef and creamed dried beef. There was a beef and tomato concoction Minced Beef, sometimes called Train Smash but mostly known as red SOS. Then there was the least favorite. Hard boiled eggs in cream sauce, called Scotch Woodcock also known as egg SOS. When I was at Lemoore, the cooks on the line never missed the opportunity to yell back into the galley, “More Cock on the line.” Whenever they spotted a WAVE waiting in line for breakfast.”
In the early sixties, the Saturday morning staple for breakfast was Baked Beans, Cornbread and French Toast. There were staples for other days of the week. This is the only one I remember. Once in Vesuvius, the Chief put Baked Beans and Cornbread on the menu for Friday. After breakfast the BM1 left the ship in Dress Blues and was gone until Sunday. He was placed on report for being UA for forty-eight hours. At Captains Mast he told the Skipper, “I went to breakfast and they had beans and cornbread, I thought it was Saturday and went ashore.” Case dismissed. Supply Officer was chewed out for deviating from standard menu system. I am sure the Suppo wanted to say, “I just submitted it, you approved it,” to the CO, but probably didn’t. As always, shit rolls downhill, the CSC got jumped on by the Suppo.
During my early years in the Navy, Eggs to Order were usually limited to Sunday mornings. I’ll be honest, I never ate eggs the entire time I was in the Navy. Cold Storage Eggs were procured for the Armed Forces. These eggs were dipped in linseed oil and, supposedly had a shelf life of six months. I have cracked eggs where every other one was black and stunk to high heaven. I have received eggs as old as nine months during unreps.
I never did it, but as a seaman, I saw a CS3 empty a case of eggs into a mixing bowl, stir them with a wire whip and strain out the shells. These eggs were scrambled and served for breakfast.
The Navy received beef as, “Beef Six-Way.” It was issued by units. One unit of six-way consisted of:
One case of Steak
Two cases of Oven Roast
Two cases of Pot Roast
Two cases of Swiss Steak
Three cases of Stew Beef
Four cases of Ground Beef
The steaks were generally good as was the oven roast. The pot roast was palatable if properly cooked as was the stew beef. The swiss steak was “tenderized” and contained a lot of gristle. It was best served in a gravy and cooked for a long time. The ground beef was the most versatile of the beef items.
There was always the complaint, “You guys never serve steak.” Looking at the breakdown you can see that for each steak meal there would have to be four roast meals, two swiss steak meals three stew beef meals and four or more ground beef meals. Navy recipes called for thirty pounds of ground beef per hundred people and fifty pounds of steak per hundred people. It isn’t that we didn’t want to serve steak more often. We couldn’t.
The U.S. Army Veterinary Corps was tasked with inspecting all meat packaged for the Armed Forces. Any meat packer with a government contract had one or two Veterinary Corps Sergeants posted there to inspect and approve meat packed under contract. During the Viet Nam War, a number of these Sergeants were court martialed for taking bribes to “look the other way.”
Beef was graded as follows during this period. These grades have changed in recent years. The military was contracting for Grade Good beef. While the corrupt Sergeants were “looking the other way” the packers were foisting Commercial and Utility grade beef on the military.
- U.S. Prime – Highest in quality and intramuscular fat, limited supply. Currently, about 2.9% of carcasses grade as Prime.
- U.S. Choice – High quality, widely available in foodservice industry and retail markets. Choice carcasses are 53.7% of the fed cattle total. The difference between Choice and Prime is largely due to the fat content in the beef. Prime typically has a higher fat content (more and well distributed intramuscular “marbling”) than Choice.
U.S. Good– lowest grade commonly sold at retail, acceptable quality, but is less juicy and tender due to leanness.
U.S. Standard – Lower quality, yet economical, lacking marbling.
U.S. Commercial – Low quality, lacking tenderness, produced from older animals.
U.S. Pet Food
And it wasn’t only with beef. Chicken eight piece, Cut-up, RTC (Ready to Cook). Cut eight pieces per chicken one would expect two wings, two breasts, two thighs, and two drumsticks per chicken. I have counted out the pieces and discovered that somewhere they are growing chickens with four wings.
During the Viet Nam War, President Johnson promised the Australians that the U.S. would buy a large amount of Australian Lamb. U.S. and Australian definitions of Lamb differ. The retail meat industry shunned the Australian meat. It was decided that the military and the prison system would use the lamb. The supply system was told to “force issue” so many pounds of lamb per unit of six way beef.
I was told by one C.O., “I don’t care what you do with that fucking lamb, but don’t cook the stinking shit on my ship.”
I started writing about breakfast, but it looks as if I have taken the time to explain why the cooks did some things and why some of the meals weren’t as good as they could have been.
It wasn’t always the cooks fault.
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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.