Eating on duty, on board

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jan 23, 2013 - 01:57 PM

Photo: Keeper Earl Crewe enjoys cake and coffee with two unidentified Coast Guardsmen. Photo courtesy Glenna Crewe Hudgins

Keeper Earl Crewe enjoys cake and coffee with two unidentified Coast Guardsmen. Photo courtesy Glenna Crewe Hudgins

When Becky Sue Epstein and Ed Jackson collaborated to write "The American Lighthouse Cookbook," they began a culinary journey across America, dividing it into eight regions: the Northeast, the Southeast Atlantic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the Gulf Coast, California and Hawaii, the Northwest, the Great Lakes and the Mid-Atlantic. They took in 47 lighthouses.

It’s the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast Atlantic that are most familiar; yet in this area so well known for its maritime history, locals have visited many of these other regions and they know them well.

The writers made Virginia the final entry in the Mid-Atlantic region and began the Southeast region with Currituck Beach Lighthouse in North Carolina. Cape Henry Light is the only lighthouse in Virginia mentioned. Somehow in their vast and well done research they missed Wolf Trap, New Point Comfort and Page’s Rock plus 32 others. (Of course it’s understandable they could not include them all.)

The book’s comments on the men and women who tended these lights before automation give insight to a lifestyle like no other, especially when it came to their culinary needs. For instance, "The strong brave lighthouse keeper pulls his boat ashore, hurrying home with a string of fish or a basket of seafood. That’s the romantic image of the past. In real life some keepers lived for months on their own. Married keepers with families often lived along side their lighthouse. Everyone helped with the duties, even the children had to hunt, farm and gather food for the family."

The earliest known reference to a lighthouse dates to 1200 B.C. The Egyptians constructed the tallest lighthouse that was ever built. It stood 900 feet tall and showed sailors the way for 1,500 years. In 1716 the first lighthouse built in the U.S. was the Boston Harbor Lighthouse. New Point Comfort Lighthouse began operating in 1805 and ceased operations in 1963. Wolf Trap Lighthouse was built in 1894 and operated by a keeper until automation in 1971. Page’s Rock was erected in 1893 and deactivated in 1967. Page’s Rock Lighthouse has been removed, but both New Point and Wolf Trap are still standing. New Point Comfort is now a historical landmark and is under preservation. Wolf Trap, while the light still shines, was sold by the government and is again listed for sale.