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Cooking for the Crew: WW2 Ice Cream!

By Victoria Tolson

During a hot day, ice cream can be the perfect summer treat to help keep you cool! And the US Navy certainly agrees with that! In The Cookbook of the United States Navy, which was published during WW2 and used aboard our Battleship Wisconsin, there is an entire section of the cookbook devoted to ice cream! The Navy insists that “ice cream should be a ‘regular’ on the Navy menu.” And gives many different tips and tricks to ensuring the perfect ice cream is made. They even include variants on the recipe to switch it up from plain vanilla, some of these varieties will be familiar to you and some you may never have heard of! But when a skilled Navy commissary personnel was planning the menu for their ship; they had a lot of things to take into account and even a bit of math to do before they could relax and enjoy a bowl of ice cream themselves.

“Planning the menu, therefore, should be of primary importance to the commissary personnel, for upon it depends, to a great extent, the health and morale of the men in the general mess”

The Cookbook of the United States Navy, pg. 8

During World War II, our Battleship Wisconsin had almost 3 thousand men aboard! This put the ship well over the 1900-person capacity it was built for. And feeding this crew was quite a monumental task. Meal planning at home is hard enough even with our easy access to grocery stories and restaurants. Messmen at sea only have what was already in their pantry to feed their crew with! They have to carefully plan ahead to make sure their crew are getting a well-balanced diet, full of all of the vitamins and minerals they need to remain in fighting shape. And when a ship has multiple mess halls and thousands of crew members, that planning isn’t as easy as packing a lunch for yourself the night before and calling it a day. It takes a skilled team of commissary personnel, also called messmen, to carefully plan, prepare, and execute their menu!

For example, here is a simple issue that messmen run into on the daily, 10 mess halls of 100 men each require 1000 portions. But if you prepare that same amount of food for a mess hall of 1000 men, you will have a lot of leftovers. Why is that? It’s the same amount of men, shouldn’t it be the same amount of food? 1000 portions for 1000 men! The Navy Cookbook warns us of this phenomenon, saying that larger messes are slightly more efficient so they have less food waste. This means that you need to cook less food to meet the same demand, 10% less food for any mess over 1000 to be exact. Here is a recipe for Knickerbocker Bean Soup that has been scaled to feed 1000 people.

Our recipes for Ice Cream are a little more-straight forward and easier to follow, since ice cream could be prepared ahead of time and stored in a freezer until ready to eat! But it still follows that format of being written for 100 portions and then needing to be scaled to your crew or mess size. This basic recipe calls for an ‘Ice Cream mix, dry’ that could be mixed with cold water, which made a very quick and easy to prepare recipe. The Navy could just stock a ship with the dry mix that could easily be whipped up and have different ingredients added to create a variety of flavors. For example, ’12 vanilla tablets’ are dissolved in water and added to create vanilla ice cream! A more exciting flavor like Coffee Ice Cream requires 6.5 pints of coffee brew to be added in place of plain water, which honestly sounds delicious! They also have recipes for Pineapple Grape Ice Cream and Date Nut Ice Cream, if anyone is feeling curious!

And finally, for the ship without Ice Cream mix, the Navy Cookbook contains a recipe for Ice Cream (Using powdered whole milk and powdered eggs). If anyone is feeling adventurous and wants to recreate this recipe at home. Please send us some pictures of your creations! For everyone else, I hope that you enjoyed learning about how BB-64 crew enjoyed ice cream even during WWII. We hope you are staying cool this summer and invite you to come visit our Battleship to learn more about the talented messmen aboard our ship!