Over the past 70 years, the name “Hindenburg” has become synonymous with disaster. Footage of the fiery end of the great German airship over a field in New Jersey still fascinates modern viewers, and theories as to why the zeppelin caught fire are debated even today. But the Hindenburg completed 14 months of transatlantic service by May 1937, and carried hundreds of passengers in comfort and style. And those people had to eat, of course, which provides the subject of this week’s Hungry History.
Cooking aboard the Hindenburg presented a unique set of challenges. Of course, when dealing with an enormous balloon full of highly flammable gas, open flames were strictly forbidden. The galley of the ship was fully electric, from stoves to ovens. A head chef had a team of five assistants to help with all the duties of serving three meals a day to a hungry crew of 60 along with the 40 or so passengers. Roughly 440 pounds of meat and poultry were brought aboard, along with 800 eggs and 40 gallons of milk, among other supplies. Even though the average Zeppelin voyage only lasted three days, extra food was carried, in case of delays due to storms or other dangerous weather conditions.
No breakfast menus exist for the Hindenburg trips, as voyagers dined on the now-ubiquitous “Continental” style breakfasts—a spread of pastries, eggs, meats and fruits. As both German and American passengers flew on the ship, breakfast eggs could be prepared in two ways: soft-boiled in the shell for Germans, scrambled or fried for the Americans. Bread was baked freshly every day. Lunch and dinner had proper menus, so we know exactly what the passengers ate. Travelers on the airship were well-heeled, well-traveled individuals, often sports or film stars or leaders in the increasingly powerful Nazi government. As such, they dined on a glamorous mix of French, German and English cuisine. Lunch was always a first course of soup or salad (different types of consommé were especially popular), followed by some kind of roast meat with a couple of vegetable sides, a tart or cake and coffee. On the ill-fated last day of the final trip, lunch was English style roast beef with turnips, stuffed tomatoes and roast potatoes, with a French-style rice pudding for dessert.
Dinner was more elaborate, with separate fish and cheese courses added to the proceedings. Halibut with mousseline sauce and roast capon were on the menu for the final dinner, along with traditional German pumpernickel and rye breads. The Hindenburg had its own wine cellar, full of bottles of German Rieslings and Mozelles. And for after dinner drinks, the ship featured a fully stocked, elaborately decorated bar, directly next to the most popular room on the ship: the smoking parlor. How did they get away with a smoking section on a hydrogen ship, you might ask? The room had a double door airlock, and was kept pressurized at a higher level than the rest of the ship to keep flammable hydrogen from entering the room. The bartender’s main job wasn’t just pouring cocktails – he was also the first line of defense for the ship in case any tipsy passengers wandered in with flaming cigarettes!