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Lumber Camp Cooks

More on lumber camp cooks and cookees! Although the cook was in charge of the camp cookhouse, the cookee (next in the hierarchy and often had lesser cookees performing other tasks under his direction). I found all this interesting as I was told my grandfather Wyman was a cookee at a camp on Moosehead Lake in the early days.

Often the cookee had served an apprenticeship for a time. The “head cookee” had important jobs such as putting the codfish to soak, preparing the meats, changing the water on the beans and supervising the setting of the table. His job was to actually serve the meal as the cook was not seen during the meal…his job was done once the meal was cooked.

The cookee received newcomers at the door and showed them where to sit and immediately produced the necessary plates, dippers and utensils. If a newcomer tried to make conversation with his seatmates, the cookee would deliberately point to the “No Talking” sign. Talking was discouraged to speed up the eating process and allow time for clean the eating area and get the dishes washed.

During winter, the head cookee peeled potatoes, cut bread or cake and enjoyed the warmth of the cookhouse while the lesser cookees were outside splitting wood or hauling food-laden sleds to where some men were still at work cutting. In the heat of summer, again, the head cookee remained inside perhaps playing solitaire with the cook.

The article from The Northern Magazine also mentions that “there is one duty the cookee will relegate to no one however distinguished. It is the ceremony known as ‘drying the silverware,’ otherwise the knives, forks and spoons. The technique of placing those articles in a large white bean bag sacredly kept for that purpose and of shaking them vigorously up and down and from side to side until dry is one of the things that no mere upstart without years of experience to his credit could be expected to master.” The article mentions a GNP employee who was head cookee for twenty-five years. It was a comfortable job “aside from the fact that log floors are hard on the arches!”

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