Posts Tagged ‘zwieback’

Save Our Ship

Zwieback

good for what ails you

“You can’t set her on fire, you can’t sink her, and you can’t catch her.”

You’re reading a blog about baking, so your mind must be wondering: who on earth could this quote describe? Julia Child? No. The answer isn’t a “who”, it’s a “what”, although if you’re a sailor or naval-type you will debate the latter point.

The quote is attributed to William Francis Gibbs, the preeminent naval architect of his day, a man who designed over 5000 US Navy ships and the famous World War II “Liberty” ship fleet. So, which of those mighty battle ships was Gibbs describing? None. He was describing what I have always thought is the most beautiful ocean liner ever built, the s.s. United States.

It is not hyperbole to describe the United States as the culmination of Gibb’s life-long dreams, and, perhaps, the love of his life. (When asked which he loved more, the ship or his wife, his unblinking answer was, “The ship — a thousand times more.”)

Gibbs was many things: tough, profane, a self taught naval architect, and perhaps, as he has recently been labeled, the Steve Jobs of his day. That’s an apt description of Gibbs; the technological advances he built into the United States were true shipbuilding game changers.

A tough old salt he may have been, but it is worth noting that his firm employed women in key jobs, including the one who designed the propellers for the s.s. United States. (No small job by the way. The ship set records for speed that stand to this day, yet was noted for its lack of vibration, something that is usually caused by the propellers.)

After a couple of high profile ocean liner fires, he built the Unites States to the very highest standards of fire safety. Advertising for the ship often noted that the only wood on board was in the butcher’s blocks and the grand pianos. (Gibbs wanted aluminum pianos, but William Steinway proved that his wood pianos wouldn’t burn by inviting Gibbs to the Steinway factory, dousing a piano with gasoline and lighting a match. The piano smoldered a bit but didn’t burn, and Gibbs was satisfied.)

The s.s. United States was launched in 1951 and her career was heavily subsidized by the U.S. government until 1969 when the Nixon administration pulled the plug, sending her into a sudden and surprising retirement. Over the years she has changed hands many times, had her sleek mid-century interiors stripped away, and for the last seventeen years been tied up at a pier across from an Ikea in Philadelphia.

the s.s. United States: rusting,abandoned, but still beautiful

the s.s. United States: rusting,abandoned, but still beautiful

What’s amazing is that she still exists and hasn’t been sold off for scrap metal—yet. Now in the hands of a group that is trying to save the ship, she sits rusting, yet still as beautiful as ever. The group, the SS United States Conservancy, seeks to make her an integral part of a waterfront development, with New York, her former home, seemingly the favorite location. Personally I think she’d be very cool in New York City, docked next to the air craft carrier Intrepid, sporting her red, white, and blue smoke stacks, two sisters standing as testament to the highest examples of twentieth century American engineering and craftsmanship.

Unfortunately cobbling together the deal to recondition and place the ship in the right setting has been taking more time than the conservancy has money, so a trip to the scrap yard is a constant threat. (The conservancy reports they have only about two months in reserve for the ship’s current upkeep.)

In addition to the usual fundraising route, they have devised a very creative crowd-sourcing scheme—to which I am proud to say I have contributed. Save the United States is a great site where you can learn more about the ship and contribute to the conservancy by “buying” pieces of a virtual version of the ship. (I “own” fifty square inches of the First Class Observation Lounge. Please remove your shoes when passing through.)

Even if you don’t want to contribute, I recommend a visit to that site and to the conservancy’s main website, http://www.ssusc.org/ to learn about this great American creation.

You need not worry about getting seasick: it is a pretend ship, and I have baked an old seasickness remedy standby that was always available on ocean liners—including the United States.

Zwieback may be more familiar as a teething cookie for babies, but this mildly sweet, nutmeg infused toast is light as a feather, and its crunch can be intensely satisfying—and stomach settling. The recipe is available from the King Arthur Flour site. I recommend the full dose of nutmeg, but make sure to let the Zwieback cool thoroughly before eating or the nutmeg can be a little overwhelming. Try these dipped in some New England Clam Chowder. Or plain if you’re a little queasy.

And Bon Voyage!

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