Kitchens are tucked away in places most of us never would have thought of — test kitchens, cab yard kitchens, floating kitchens. In our latest story, we descend into the galleys of the vessels that travel the Great Lakes. The Kitchen Sisters and independent radio producer Shula Neuman explore the watery world of freighter food.
Calvin Statham Sr., freighter steward on the M.V. Oglebay Norton.
Special thanks to: Lee Murdock; Archie Green; Flawn Williams; Paula McKenna; Calvin Statham Sr.; John Duning; Wayne Bratton; Arlene Earl; Chris Gilcrest; Suzy Thompson; Pamela & David Sobieski; Joseph Mandel; Kalman Muller; Brett Myers; Kate Cunres; Sumi Freets; The Michigan Historical Society; Inland Seas Maritime Museum; WCPN in Cleveland; WNMU in Marquette, MI; WNNG in Georgia; WFAE in Charlotte; WSOO in Sault Sainte Marie, MI; Joe Grimm, Detroit Free Press.
Listen: Hear Statham on the Ups and Downs of Freighter Cooking
Listen: Hear Statham on Hazards on the Water
Listen: Hear Ship Steward John Duning on Isolation Out on the Lakes
Get recipes for New England Clam Chowder, Cranberry Glazed Cornish Hens with Wild Rice and other freighter favorites.
One of the sea chanties recorded in the 1930s by Ivan Walton, during his documentary tour of the Great Lakes.
Folk musician Lee Murdock sings the tale of a famous wreck on Lake Superior.
Listen: 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald'
Among the many people who have worked to document life on the Great Lakes was professor Ivan H. Walton. In 1932, he traveled 2,200 miles around Lake Michigan collecting hundreds of songs — ocean songs, work chanteys, disaster songs, legends and lore.
Despite dead ends and disappointments, Walton found many men who recalled hundreds of songs. Folklorist Alan Lomax helped him record some of these songs and interviews. "The Red Iron Ore," recorded in the 1930s, tells of the mid-September trip of the E.C. Roberts and the race to Cleveland it partook in with a fleet of other ore carriers.
"Meals broke the monotony of life, and sailors became keen critics of culinary skills, such as they were," Walton wrote. "All but the best cooks found themselves the butt of the shipmates' jokes and songs."
Robert "Brokenback" Collen supplied a version of "The Stomach Robber," which in one stanza describes the food served:
"Lobsters a la carte from Point Pelee,
[meatballs — reputedly seasoned with sand]
Birds' nests from Skillagalee
Slumgullion made from rattlesnakes,
An' snails from Manistree."
[hard, dough patties filled with meat and vegetables]
Many of these songs can be found in the book Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors, edited by Joe Grimm, and in his forthcoming book The Journals of G.L. Folklorist Ivan Walton, from Wayne State Univ. Press.
— The Kitchen Sisters