For over 100 years, salmon, halibut, cod, pollock and crab have fueled Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. These wild fish have fed Alaska’s canneries and provided summer jobs for people from around the world. But seafood has not always been the primary source of nutrition fueling the industry’s land-based workers over the century. Instead, cannery workers’ diets have consisted of many wonderful things like white rice, powdered milk, coffee, canned goods, doughnuts, salad bars and prime rib – all eaten at the cannery cafeteria, called the Mess Hall.
When our family ties our boat up to the dock to deliver the halibut we have caught over a four or five day fishing trip, we always visit the cannery mess hall in King Cove or Akutan. Serving four square meals a day at 7AM, 12PM, 6PM and 12PM and three breaks called Mug-up at 10AM, 3PM and 9PM, the mess hall is the center of cannery life. A worker’s day starts here and ends here, and offers moments to warm up, enjoy some food and company together during a long day of fish processing. Fishermen in from sea and cannery workers sit at long picnic-style tables, sharing stories of the biggest fish landed, the coming weather, and the village scuttlebutt.
Mug-up, in some ways similar to the Swedish tradition of of Fika, is a coffee break where everyone lays down their work, enjoys a cup of coffee or tea with a fresh pastry, and gets off their feet together. When the clock sticks 10AM, the cannery slime line stops and workers in rain gear and rubber boots squelch down the boardwalk to the mess-hall to enjoy the first mug up of the day. Maple bars, jelly doughnuts, cherry chip sheet cake, banana muffins, and oatmeal cookies wait for them on large trays. Pots of Folgers coffee steam and sizzle next to boxes of Lipton tea and Kool Aid circulates in its fountain like a never-ending red waterfall. Sometimes a barge from Seattle delivers apples, oranges, and cantaloupes to these remote places in Alaska. The long, picnic-style tables in the mess-hall are covered permanently in a collection of condiments–from hot sauce to maple syrup to fish sauce – and always large buckets of grape jelly and peanut butter for those who need pocket sandwiches between meals.
The tradition of putting our work down at a certain time every day to enjoy a hot drink and a yummy treat with the people we work with is a tradition that we savor, on and off the water. You don’t need a cannery mess hall to start your own mug up; whether you work from home, on a boat, or in an office – start looking forward to this daily ritual.
Make your own mug up:
- Brew some coffee or tea (try the Salmon Sisters x Kaladi Brothers Mug Up Roast).
- Make a yummy treat (try Chocolate Chip Banana Bread or Overnight Caramel Pecan Rolls from the Salmon Sisters cookbook).
- Set a regular time and place and invite your family, friends, roommates or co-workers to join you. In time of social distancing, set up a standing weekly virtual mug up with your people and have a good chat over video call. Have everyone bring their own cup of coffee and treat, and enjoy the company.