The Cairo crew’s food preparation and eating utensils provide insight into 19th century navy foodways. Taking meals together was a social occasion. Enlisted men ate in messes or groups of 13. Each mess was assigned a wooden chest to house all the eating utensils. The chest typically held 13 tin mess cups, tin plates, spoons, a dishpan, a scrub brush and sponge, a coffee container and several bottles of Navy issued mustard and pepper. They also contained earthenware jugs of molasses. Two men served as cooks aboard Cairo, William Daily served as the Ship Cook and John Richardson served as Officer’s Cook.
Officers ate separately from the enlisted. They dined on white ironstone dishes with silverware and not tin plates and cups. Meals aboard were usually served three times daily. The morning meal was served at 6:00 a.m. The noon meal included salt beef and beans or salted pork and beans. The evening meal was served at around 5:00 p.m. Officers had wine and champagne with meals. Several bottles that had contained soft drinks, labeled “J. H. Kump, Memphis, Tenn”were recovered from the officers mess.
Sometimes, if it was deemed safe to do so, the men went ashore to hunt for deer or they could fish from the sides of the gunboat to supplement their meals. Records indicate that at least on one occasion, a landing party went ashore and killed a sheep to supplement their meat supply.
On August 29, 1842, Public Law No. 81 was approved. This act established and regulated the navy ration. A typical daily ration for naval personnel consisted of the following:
Monday - 1 pound of pork, one half pint of beans, 15 ounces of bread
Tuesday - 1 pound of beef, 8 ounces of flour, 2 ounces of dried fruit, 14
ounces of bread
Wednesday - 1 pound of pork, one half pint of beans, 14 ounces of bread
Thursday - 12 ounces of preserved meat, 14 ounces of bread, 1 ounce of
Friday - 1 pound of beef, 14 ounces of bread, 1 half pint of molasses, 1 half pint of vinegar
Saturday - 1 pound of pork, 1 half pint of beans, 14 ounces of bread, 2
ounces of dried fruit
Sunday - 12 ounces of preserved meat, 14 ounces of bread, 8 ounces of rice, 1 ounce of desiccated vegetables