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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

From dandyfunk to cracker jack?

Among the treasures in the Library's Krummes Collection of Steamship Fiction are selected issues of rare pulp magazines such as Adventure, containing maritime stories and poetry. Not all of these stories are fiction; some are memoirs by sailors-turned-authors, and in cataloging them, I'm learning a lot. (Since many of these stories are written by noted authors and never reprinted, we decided to create individual cataloging records for each maritime story, poem, or article, so they would be easier to locate, and so far I've created cataloging records for the issues we hold of Adventure magazine from 1919 through mid-1930.) One such memoir is Norman Springer's "Dandyfunk," which describes fondly the "lost and forgotten art" of how Old Donald made dandyfunk at sea. He is careful to delineate the proper steps in making dandyfunk, and to distinguish it from cracker hash, which anyone could make. The ingredients are listed in great detail:

  • hardtack placed in a dandyfunk bag which was laid on the iron anchor stock and beaten with a blub, oaken belaying pin, or heavy sheet pin, and emptied onto a plate
  • water, "not too much and not too little" added to the heap of crumbs and carefully stirred
  • and other ingredients added, "everything a hungry man could lay hands upon that looked edible."

Although sugar and molasses are mentioned, and he calls it a "candy-sweet, greasy, lead-heavy sailors' delight," Springer doesn't state just what in fact it is--a pudding? A cake? A casserole? A big cookie?

Basil Lubbock in Round the Horn Before the Mast says that dandyfunk is a mixture between a cake and a pudding, and in Warren Harper's article, "Housekeeping on the High Seas" (in the Boston Cooking-School Magazine vol. 8, no. 10, May 1904), we learn on p. 483 that dandyfunk a kind of deep-sea gingerbread. Sounds tasty! But in Saltwater foodways : New Englanders and their food, at sea and ashore, in the nineteenth century, Sandra Oliver introduces her recipe on p. 116-117 by saying, "I don't know why you would want to make this, but here is an adapted recipe in case you do." The ingredients she lists are simply 1 piece of hardtack, 1 tablespoon of shortening, and 2 tablespoons molasses.

This version does not sound as appetizing, and doesn't sound like a "sailors' delight." Clearly, somewhere between "everything a hungry man could lay hands upon that looked edible" and the simplicity of Oliver's recipe is what Springer says "was something to remember and dream over." So how can we capture the taste of a dandyfunk today?

If you contact us, we can get a copy of Oliver's recipe to you as a starting point (as well as a hardtack recipe). Many sailors' snacks took advantage of hardtack and molasses, including midshipman's nuts, which is described in the Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge as made of broken up sea-biscuit and raisins, so maybe your dandyfunk would benefit from raisins. How about peanuts? Robert McKenna's Dictionary of Nautical Literacy does not have an entry for dandyfunk, but tells us in the entry for Cracker Jack, "The combination of caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts is believed to have been inspired by a number of sea dishes, including 'crackerjack,' a combination of preserved meat and broken biscuits, and 'dandyfunk,' a mixture of broken biscuits and molasses."

Could a taste of Cracker Jack hint at the dandyfunk of yesteryear? I have to say, I'm not sure. McKenna does not cite any sources for his assertion, and the Oxford English Dictionary says that the term "cracker jack" as a culinary term (definition 2) dates in print to only 1902 when it was mentioned in the Sears catalog. (And the OED does not mention any link between dandyfunk and cracker jack in its entry for dandyfunk.)

What do you think? Have you made dandyfunk? Would you like to? We'd like to hear from you if you do! And if you come across any more information on dandyfunk, please let me know.

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