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A Tribute to the Swedish American Line
Baker, Pastry chef, Cold-buffet manager, Confectioner
MS Kungsholm 1970-73
My life before SAL
The elementary school was only seven years in the 1950’s. Towards my final years in school my mother received a phone call from the local baker. He asked her if any of her sons might be interested in working some afternoons after school, cleaning and scraping the baking trays. That’s how it all started…! Soon I worked at the bakery school holidays too, and gradually I got more and more involved in the production. After finishing school I continued there as an apprentice. Next I got a job at Jarl’s Confectionery in the neighbor town Skara, where I stayed for a year and a half. Then I moved on to Söderström’s Confectionery in another neighbor town, Lidköping, where I got master confectioner Lennart Albertsson as my teacher. He taught me a lot of things that I have found useful throughout my career. For example, he taught me how to make chocolate bisquits with the right quality and perfection for attaining a truly successful result.
After a learning period of three and a half years, working with Lennart Albertsson, I got my journeyman’s certificate as a confectioner and pastry cook. Towards the end of that time I was drafted to do compulsory military service at the artillery regiment A6 in Jönköping. Thus, I had to apply for a leave of absence from the confectionery. During the time I served the military forces I applied to the Swedish American Line for employment as a restaurant pastry cook. Soon I got an appointment with Captain Tistrand at the SAL headquarters in Gothenburg. In due course, after some waiting, I received a letter with an instruction that I should get prepared to sign on the MS Kungsholm on the 1st of September 1970.
When I was demobbed from the military I returned promptly to the confectionery in Lidköping, only two weeks remaining before the Kungsholm’s departure. Clearly, I had an itching of bad conscience for letting down my master teacher. As a gesture of friendship and good will I offered him to work for free the final weeks before boarding the Kungsholm. But on my last day at work my boss Lennart handed me a gift, an envelope that contained more money than I had expected. He thanked me for good work, wished me good luck and said I was welcome back whenever I wanted to. He made me feel like a lucky guy...!
Later that week I told my friends in my home town about my upcoming adventure: ”…next week I will sign on a ship named the Kungsholm. My first trip will go to New York and after that we will make a cruise all around South America”. However, none of my friends believed me. Why not? Well, at that time I had not even been to Stockholm yet...(!)
My life on the Kungsholm
The work hours in the confectionery followed a fixed schedule, daily between 5 -11 AM. When we were at sea we also worked between 3 -7 PM. During the days at sea we tried to prepare as much as possible for the days ahead, in order to meet the demands for various kinds of pastry during the next days in port. This implied that we, the confectioners along with the potato peelers, were probably among the most fortunate crew members in getting plenty of fee time ashore in each port of call. We just had to make sure that one confectioner returned aboard shortly before each meal to see to that the right cakes and pastries were delivered.
How did we know what pastries prepare? Well, the menu gave us daily directions on what we had to produce in terms of confectionery. The first confectioner in close coordination with the chef de cuisine decided which pastries we should make. They planned the menu. In addition to that we often received special orders for birthday cakes, farewell dinners, ice sculptures, and various kinds of racks for building ”a special creation” for parades into the dining room, etc. We carved the ice sculptures out of big ice blocks. This work was carried out in the carpentry workshop, and the sculptures were then kept in our freezers.
A confectioner gets many opportunities for developing his own creativity. I used to start working before my colleagues in the morning, making more advanced Danish pastry than what had been the practice onboard so far. That was very much appreciated by the passengers.
One time in heavy sea we were building a gingerbread house and we tried to give stability to the construction with a framework. A big wave hit the ship and the entire rack with the ready built gingerbread house fell down onto the deck and collapsed. OMG, what a mess…! We had to start all over again. This was one of the few backsides in my work onboard: When the sea was rough we had to fend against swells and backwash all the time. That made our work difficult and arduous at times.
There were three workplaces for me onboard: The bakery on C-deck; the confectionery on A-deck; and the cold buffet kitchen – also on A-deck.
The bakery was manned by two second confectioners, one third confectioner, and a cleaner. Furthermore, there were two night bakers that started in the evening and baked all the night until 4-5 o’clock in the morning. The confectionery on A-deck was manned by a first and a second confectioner. The first confectioner was the boss of all of us.
The cold buffet kitchen was supervised by a first cold-buffet chef. In addition, there were also a salad chef, two second cold-buffet chefs and a third cold-buffet chef. The cold buffet kitchen had a mix of female and male employees, while the crew in the bakery and the confectionery was male staff.
Friedrich Mair and I shared cabin C-110 in the aft section of portside C-deck. Both of us played in the ship’s soccer team. In my leisure time aboard I assisted in the crew bar that the storekeepers managed. Now and then we spent time playing dart with the typographer and the printmaker in their print shop on D-deck. On occasion, we also fried sausages on a little hotplate they had down there. Sometimes the Swedish paramedics, Tage, joined us too.
Among the most memorable places I visited with the Kungsholm is the South Seas. Especially the Polynesian island of Moorea where Friedrich and I got a ride with a German who owned the island’s only jeep at that time. Other fantastic places in my opinion were South America, Valparaiso in Chile, and New York of course!
After the Kungsholm
My duties at Margarinbolaget implied plenty of travels all across Sweden visiting bakeries and acting as a problem solver. During one of my duty travels I met Pierre Friman from Frimans konditori [Friman’s Confectionery] in Helsingborg. Pierre worked in the crew kitchen on the Kungsholm at the same time as when I was onboard. We ended up having a nice chat about good old times.
Furthermore, I have been active in the Swedish Industry Association where we selected and nominated individuals to “…forward the pastry into the future”. That was an honorable assignment.
After all the years I still keep in contact with Hasse Nystedt, Olle Bertilsson, Friedrich Mair, Janne Hahne, Kalle Kli, and Majvor Christl who all worked on the Kungsholm at the time when I was working there. After the Kungsholm Friedrich Mair had a small confectionery in Lidingö, Stockholm. I was there once and made a complex pastry [krokan; croquembouche (fr.)] as an exhibition show for his customers.
My motto in life has always been, and still is:
Greetings to all,
This story is the result of telephone interviews and email exchange with Karl-Gösta Ekblad in the spring of 2016. The text was compiled by Tommy Stark and later edited and translated by Hasse Gustafsson for publication at www.salship.se. Tommy and Hasse served as deck waiters on the Kungsholm in the early 1970’s when Kalle Tårta was working onboard. Many of the photos have been contributed by Kalle himself and many also by courtesy of his work mate Olle Bertilsson. Kalle has checked and approved this story for publication in his name.
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