By Naval History and Heritage Command staff
When it comes to the three “Cs” on Thanksgiving menus over the years, one might think corn, cranberries and collard greens. But in 1907, it was cigarettes, cigars and cider (no mention as to whether that was hard or regular) for the crew of USS Kentucky.
Navy commanding officers knew then what they know today, NOTHING sinks morale faster than bad food or raises it like good food. So during the holidays, when most Americans enjoy spending time with their families and when many Sailors of America’s globally deployed Navy are often serving on the opposite side of the planet from their loved ones, it’s especially important to serve great chow and to make meal time as enjoyable as possible.
The actual food items have remained fairly constant throughout the years, no matter whether on ship or shore. While the menus still featured turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and a smattering a vegetables, mess officers took creative liberty in how they fancied up the names.
For example, USS Augusta, which was the flagship of the Commander Amphibious Force on Nov. 26, 1942, appeared to have special names for almost every food item. They had just come through the Naval Battle of Casablanca during Operation Torch, and it was also the opening night of a little Humphrey Bogart movie called Casablanca.
The Casablanca (battle, not the movie) engagement pitted American allies against the French Vichy government, which had surrendered almost immediately to the Germans. The Vichy regime controlled Morocco (just as the movie depicts….like Austria in Sound of Music without the nuns and music). The three-day naval battle saw 174 Americans casualties, while the Vichy French lost 462 and a Nazi submarine.
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure the relief and blessings felt by the survivors of the battle when Thanksgiving rolled around a couple weeks later.
So let’s round up the usual suspects on the naming of this Thanksgiving menu: There’s little to wonder about Cream of Tomato Soup a la Casablanca. But what better way to honor Rear Adm. Henry Hewitt, Commander Amphibious Force onboard his flagship than to name the main dish after him: Chicken and Turkey en Casserole a la Hewitt.
It was probably with a tweak at the Vichy French they named that mystery meat entrée the delightful Baked Spiced Spam a la Capitaine de Vaisseau, gussied-up with the rank of a French navy ship captain. The buttered Asparagus Tips a la Fedala makes reference to a city on the west coast of Morocco, home to a large oil refinery and the buttered June Peas de Safi was another city in French Morocco that was part of Operation Torch.
Chantilly Potatoes a la Patton gives a tip of the cover to the Army commander Gen. George Patton, while hot Parkerhouse Rolls du Lyautey is likely a reference to the Marechal Lyautey, the resident-general of Morocco.
The Vichy French Navy commander also got a piece of the menu pie – literally. Apple pie a la Michelier was named for Vice Adm. Francois-Felix dit Frix Michelier.
With yet another tongue-in-cheek poke at the French, the menu offered Mixed Nuts du Jean Bart, a reference to the unfinished French battleship that was harbored in Morocco during Operation Torch but still used her five operational guns. Although she fired off one shot that nearly hit Augusta, USS Ranger bombers sank her right after.
One wonders if they played “As Time Goes By” as they sipped their Café (coffee) Noir and smoked their cigars and cigarettes.
Of course USS Augusta’s menu isn’t the only one with interesting tidbits. To view a variety of Navy menus from throughout the years, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command’s web site a real holiday treat: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/special/menus/menus.htm.