Haute Cuisine, Ten Mile
River 1950s Style
Suanhacky Lodge WWW Chief, 1959-1960
The culture of Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camps in the 1950s was
defined by many influences: earning merit badges, attending campfires,
participating in songfests, aquatic activities, handicrafts, nature
projects, latrine cleaning and more. But no activity was more
central to TMR life than the thrice-daily mess hall experience.
Of course, three meals a day is ingrained into the broader American
culture, but the TMR dining experience had fundamental characteristics
foreign to anyone whose expectations had been shaped by mama's kitchen.
To the adolescent male, food is ultra important. Adolescence is
by change: psychological, social, intellectual, physical. Part of
physical change--the physical growth spurt bridging boyhood and
manhood--directly correlates with the intake of food, often in
extraordinary quantities. Therein lies a central part of the
Ten Mile River and its 1950s participants. These observations are
primarily on the writer's memories, albeit almost sixty-five years
after the fact, of dining at Camp Man/Camp Lakeside, first as a camper,
then as a staff man (Summers 1953-1956) and at Camp Chappegat as a
man (Summers 1957-1958). Memories of occasional stops at Camp
and Camp Keowa--and even an unplanned visit to the Camp Aquehonga mess
hall after getting hopelessly lost on the Red Dot Trail while
satisfying the requirements for Hiking Merit Badge--are consistent with
the Lakeside and Chappegat experiences.
The TMR mess hall was a world of its own. The "boss" of the mess
was a staff man designated "the steward". He was the all-powerful
authority of the facility. At Camp Lakeside, one's troop did not
enter the mess hall proper until the ringmaster of eating authorized
the beginning of the thrice-daily activity. Particularly on
mornings, waiting to be admitted to breakfast, the Scouts would get
antsy and rebel in our own fashion; that is, we would break into
"Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness,
birds in the wilderness, Here we sit like birds in the wilderness,
waiting to be fed". The same spontaneous eruption of song would
accompany our dissatisfaction once inside the building, when the food
service was too slow.
Of course, there were the cooks. They generally stayed behind the
scenes--presumably for their own protection--but, upon occasion, were
called forth by the chant, "We want the cook". Only one cook
usually appear, decked out in "cook's whites" and the Scouts' cheering
became intense. The cook would rapidly disappear into the safety
kitchen, particularly when aware that some of the assembled Scouts had
added the word "shot" at the end of the chant.
But, in the heart of every camper, the hero of the kitchen staff was
the "pot boy". In the Nineteenth Century British upper class
the scullery maid held the lowest status. The TMR "pot boy" was
spiritual descendant of the scullery maid and therefore was viewed as a
great hero by the democratic minded Scouts. No staff member opted
this lowly position, so it was rotated each camping period with the
understanding that no one would have to serve in this capacity for more
than two weeks. The candidate served at the pleasure of the camp
director, presumably with the approval of the mess hall steward.
not uncommon for the assembled Scouts to chant, "We want the pot boy to
lead us in a song," rather than calling for a staff man serving in a
more conventional position.
A particular 1950s "pot boy" comes to mind: Larry Edwards.
perhaps because of his service as "pot boy" while a Camp Lakeside staff
man, Larry went on to become Suanhacky Lodge Chief. He was
to have served in that role with particular distinction, demonstrating
mastery both of personnel and administrative issues. He was
Vigil Honor upon completion of his term. Does service as "pot
garner profound skills and sage insights? To this day the
the subject of fierce debate by the great minds of western
Suffice it to say, "pot boy" Edwards went on to become a New York City
high school social studies teacher, a high school assistant principal
and finally, Chief of Pupil Personnel Services for the entire New York
City Board of Education, a position just a few levels from the
Superintendent of Schools. Evidently, Ten Mile River "pot boy"
Physically, the Lakeside mess hall was a utilitarian dining area but
was made more attractive by the addition, in the 1950s, of murals
depicting Scouts in a myriad of activities. These paintings were
product of a talented artist and Scouter, Danny O'Neill, who brought
his troop to Camp Lakeside for one camping period each summer and spent
his personal time in mess hall beautification.
The floor of the Lakeside mess hall was wooden. On a weekly basis
required deep cleaning. The task was undertaken, involuntarily,
several staff members--to the amusement of the rest of the staff--who
were instructed to report in bathing suit and rubbers to perform "Swiss
Navy". This process involved mops, squeegees and buckets
highly caustic cleaning solution. The floor looked pristine after
such treatment, but the "Swiss Navy" participants needed considerable
time to recover from their labors.
The major difference between the Camp Lakeside and the Camp Chappegat
mess halls was architectural. The menu was identical as it was in
virtually all of the other camps' mess halls, but the Lakeside mess
hall was fully enclosed. It even had screen doors to keep the
from partaking of the haute cuisine. No such comfort at the
mess hall, which boasted a structure devoid of outer walls, vaguely
resembling an immense log cabin. This architectural feature meant
not only were insects likely to enter, but so was wind, rain and frigid
air. The knowledgeable staff men invariably sought a table as far
the outer railing as possible. On a warm day the open air
was tolerable. On a wet or windy day the elements had no place to
but into the mess hall and the occupants had no real refuge from
mandatory alfresco dining.
Lakeside Campers, including the writer of this article,
experienced the joys of serving as a KP and as a dishwasher. The
bugler would sound the call, "KPs Report" twenty minutes before the
start of each meal. Those fortunate enough to serve in this role
given day would enter the mess hall, secure the basket of dishes and
utensils assigned to their particular table, and set up for the meal
according to posted instructions. During the meal it was the task
that very KP to enter the kitchen, but only when instructed to do so,
and secure platters of food and pitchers of beverage. That was the
relatively pleasant part. The onerous part began once the Scouts
dismissed from the meal. The KP, briefly working with the table's
dishwasher, would scrape food particles from the dishes with a rubber
squeegee and place this waste in the infamous slops barrel. He
then secure a large sponge and a #10 can of hot soapy water and proceed
to clean the table. Then came the non-soapy water to rinse the
followed by sweeping the floor in the area. These tasks, once
completed, would be followed by instigating the check-out procedure
wherein one of the steward's minions would run his hand, roughly but
systematically, over the purportedly clean table surface. If even
infinitesimal film of grease was detected, the KP was compelled to
repeat the entire process. This posed a problem for the slowpoke KP
because if he were too delayed in his subsequent checkout attempt, he
would be assigned an additional task. Carrying out the slops
with the help of another Scout was tolerable, but potentially
The nightmare of all nightmares was being assigned to clean out the
mess hall slop sink. The tool called for in this process was the
hand. Allow your imagination to picture this scenario.
While the hapless KP was performing his clean up chores in the
mess hall proper, the dishwasher was toiling in the "dishwashery" under
the stern eye of the staff man who was the steward's second in
The process involved removing any remaining solid food particles from
plates and utensils, washing the plates and utensils in a bin of hot
soapy water, rinsing the items, placing all items in a metal carrying
basket, and immersing the full, very heavy load into the sterilizer for
at least sixty seconds. Upon returning to his workstation with
basket, the dishwasher would request a checkout. If successful,
would run as fast as possible out of the dishwashery, muttering various
unprintable comments. If unsuccessful, he would be called upon to
repeat the entire process, making him a candidate for a late check out
and thus invariably being assigned tasks as onerous or more so than
those being performed by the slop sink cleaner in the mess hall.
Although those washing dishes would wear rubber aprons, it was common
for them to emerge from the dishwashery thoroughly soaked. In
scalding from the water in the sterilizer was not uncommon, despite
dire warnings from the overseer. Once a week, all the dishwashers
would, unexpectedly, draw the dreaded short straw because the plates
and utensils needed, as usual, to be soaped and rinsed, and then,
additionally, had to be "Palcoed". Palco was a strongly abrasive
powdered cleanser. The harsh chemicals in Palco gave new meaning
phrase "dishpan hands". All of these procedures were done in the
of good health, proper sanitation and food safety.
Everyone loathed serving as KP or dishwasher yet every camper was
required to take his turn. Each Scout invariably vowed, once his
was over, to never again participate in such activities.
us as young Scouts, such skills would serve very well when marriage
came into our lives. After all, despite earning Cooking Merit Badge,
how many of us were actually called upon to do the cooking later in
life? But most of us did do kitchen clean up and did it with the
skills, which were involuntarily honed at TMR. No one can
many marriages must have been saved by the husband's willing and
skillful participation in such chores. When the wife said, "Take
the garbage," we obediently answered "Yes, dear". Thank you TMR for
teaching us to play by the rules.
Finally, and with some trepidation in this remembrance of mess hall
culture, one must address the ultimate issue: the nature and quality of
the food served at Ten Mile River in the 1950s.
What immediately comes to mind is the name Royal Scarlet Foods.
names of the food brands familiar from our moms' kitchens, such as
DelMonte and Campbell, were a given in our society. Royal Scarlet
different matter altogether. By starting with foodstuff not of
highest quality, even the great chef could go just so far.
to say, the canned products marketed under the Royal Scarlet label
--all manner of vegetables, juices, canned meats, fruit desserts--were
of less than superb quality. However, all of these products came
cans, the cans which, once empty, could be fashioned into fire buckets
or something called a hobo stove. So, even down to the packaging,
were at the mercy of the Royal Scarlet Foods Company. The wits among us
fashioned a song in recognition of the quality of the company's food
products. Although the song is remembered well, being a constant
of great laughter, this writer will refrain from reproducing it here,
in the name of propriety and good taste. Sadly, Royal Scarlet
products did not have good taste!
The most commonly served beverage, known as bug
juice, was a mystery drink. It was produced from a powder, which
mixed with water in a large vat with a device resembling a canoe
paddle. Those of us taking Canoeing Merit Badge did not fail to
humor in this likeness. At the time, Cool-Aid, a standard brand
popular warm weather drink and was considered pretty palatable.
with TMR bug juice the proportions of powder to water were at fault or
it may have been the poor quality of the powder itself. Whatever
explanation, many of us went without beverage at meals.
The quality of chicken, one of the most frequent
menu items, was not up to the standards of many a New York City home
kitchen, but TMR kitchens were in Narrowsburg, New York and, anyway,
the cooks had no input about the raw materials. They dealt with
they were given. As diners in the mess hall, the campers' options
even more limited, so the Scouts did what they did best: burst into
song. "The chicken served at Camp Man, they say it's mighty fine,
jumped right off the table, and killed a friend of mine. Oh, I
want no more of Camp Man Life, Gee ma I want to go home."
Since actual butter was available only on those occasions when
the U. S. Government's warehoused food stocks were rotated, and camps
such as ours, free of charge, were given the butter which anyway was
soon to expire for safe use, we were regularly given apple
was a product which few of us had previously tasted. Whatever the
brand--even the despised Royal Scarlet--most of us loved it. Many
meal consisted of two pieces of white bread with apple butter between
the slices. This was often the option preferable to the official main
There were several dishes which caused a particular reaction--
laughter. Pancakes were a frequent breakfast food. It
helped as long as
you favored pancakes with a rubbery consistency. Numerous Scouts
claimed that the pancakes would actually bounce when dropped onto the
floor. Bread pudding was a frequent dessert, covered with a
sauce. To its credit, it was filling. Those Scouts in the
that if you watched the purple sauce carefully, you would notice that
it moved of its own accord.
Coffee was available only to staff men and Scouters. Not that any
of the campers were coffee drinkers, but the Scouts intensely believed
in equality for all. After watching a line of staff men leave
tables and seek coffee from a central urn, the campers invariably
erupted in song...perhaps the precursor of the protest songs of the
1960s. "The coffee for the staff men they say is mighty fine, it smells
like citronella and tastes like turpentine. Oh, I don't want no
Lakeside life, Gee ma I want to go home."
There was one wonderful meal served each week: roast turkey with all
the trimmings. It was straight out of a Thanksgiving feast and
anticipated. Turkey was always served as Sunday lunch...that is
the parents were visiting. The aroma wafted out to the place
parents were eating home packed sandwiches. Needless to say, many
parent was impressed by these wonderful aromas. By Sunday supper,
parents were off the property, so the Sunday evening meal was
invariably the least popular meal of the week. Canned hash was
frequently served, as was canned stew, as well as something resembling
Spam. But it really did not matter to the Scouts whose parents
them with CARE packages. At the close of World War II, people
sent packages though the agency known as CARE to refugees in
The name stuck. Our homemade CARE packages, more often than not,
contained cake and candy. Hence, we regarded the Sunday night
meal as an inconvenience before we ate the good stuff.
Truth be told, food portions were generally small.
Invariably, as soon
as the Scouts were dismissed from the evening meal, there would be a
universal declaration that starvation had set in and, hence; there was
a mad rush to the camp canteen. After waiting in a line
the fact that many were feeling the same hunger, we would place our
order. It was always the same: beer and a male Hershey bar.
the beer was birch beer, a soda flavor none of us had tasted in New
York City. But, we liked calling it beer...it made us feel grown
Use your imagination why the Hershey bar was male. We were
growing into young men, but it was an uneven transition, despite a
newfound self-awareness of maturity. The source of our laughter
placing the canteen order was strictly juvenile, because, at the same
time we were maturing, we were still kids.
Among 1950s TMR staff men, the invariable topic of conversation was
where to go on the day off. To the uninitiated this seems to
the staff men's search for sightseeing destinations. No such
existed. The query contains one strong thrust: where, off the
reservation, will we be able to eat and eat well! True, there
have been secondary interests, such as getting a haircut, attending a
motion picture or "standing on the corner, watching all the girls go
by". But the crux of the issue was eating food of our choosing.
For Lakeside staff men on their day off, there were two plausible
destinations: White Lake, New York and Monticello, New York. The
Lake of the 1950s was but a dot on the map, with little to offer staff
men on the town. Monticello was the preferred destination,
among other things, a good choice of restaurants, none of which,
purportedly, using Royal Scarlet Brand. The town even boasted a
York City style deli, with pastrami and corned beef sandwiches piled
high and Dr. Brown's cream soda in abundance. The challenge was
to Monticello and the greater problem was being able to return to camp
before taps. The staff man was invariably at the mercy of whoever
car and was also amenable to visiting Monticello. The other
the BMT--not the New York City subway line, but, "By My Thumb".
is, hitch hiking. That was usually doable leaving camp, but the
trip was always questionable. So, while we wore "civilian"
also wore our staff neckerchief in the hope that someone returning from
Monticello to the Scout reservation would acknowledge us and take
Sometimes this approach yielded only a partial ride followed by a long
hike back to Lakeside.
The Chappegat staff member, being at the "Brooklyn" side of the Scout
reservation, faced a very different scenario. Staff men could walk,
albeit over two miles, from Chappegat, downhill, to the paved state
road where there were three attractive destinations.
The most anticipated was an Italian restaurant named The Staten
Islander...no need to explain where the owners hailed from. It
wonderful meals with no hint that the owner had even heard of Royal
Scarlet Foods. The hike from camp was well worth it, what with
excellent meatball hero sandwiches, availability of beer--not birch
beer--and flush toilets. Since we arrived well before the dinner
the owners graciously allowed us to linger as long as we wished. There,
this staff man ordered the first beer of his life, but only because
everyone else ordered beer. The discovery, which has applied life
is that the taste of beer was not to my liking. On subsequent
the choice of drink was soda. Bug Juice was not a menu option, to
Upon leaving The Staten Islander, the staff men visited Nick Dales'
Trading Post which was subsequently sold and became Bob Landers'
Trading Post. We perused the Scouting related merchandise and
occasionally actually made a purchase. A flush toilet was
Next, the staff men walked to The Donut House, which we called The
Donut Farm. Even though our stomachs were full from The Staten
fare, we believed that at least two donuts and some apple cider were
mandatory on each day off. They also had a flush toilet.
The remainder of the day off was literally an uphill climb, once we
entered the unpaved road which lead to Chappegat. More often than not
we were given a ride part of the way by a passing Scouter or a TMR work
truck. On those occasions when we had to hike the entire uphill
we arrived at Chappegat winded, but very satisfied in the culinary
Staff men were not the only ones craving non-mess hall fare. Part
this staff man's job was to organize the buses which transported Scouts
at the finish of their camp stay. It was a serious and precise
procedure in order to account for everyone who should be aboard.
my work as headcounter, I repeatedly overheard one conversation.
Scouts craved what the day off staff men had yearned for: non-mess hall
food. So, conversations focused on what to order when the bus
stop at The Red Apple Rest. The 1950s was a time before The NY
Quickway was constructed so the camp buses traveled Route 17. The
cynics aboard the buses never failed to comment that the bus drivers
were "paid off" by the restaurant for delivering busloads of ravenous
Scouts. But, that observation did not prevent even these cynics
lining up and gorging on what would now be called "fast food".
than being "paid off," it is likely that the bus driver himself
desperately needed to recover after enduring nonstop singing of that
classic bus song, "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall".
It was diverse activities at Ten Mile River Scout Camps that helped
boys become men. The mess hall experiences were viewed with great
amusement so perhaps it is partly through those experiences that many
of us cultivated a sophisticated sense of humor. And, all of
lifelong benefits became ours for under thirty dollars for a two week
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Last Updated: April 10, 2016
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