Past Times

New kitchen improved the taste of prison food

Central Prison as it appeared in the 1930s.
Central Prison as it appeared in the 1930s. ALBERTYPE CO. COLLECTION OF NORTH CAROLINA PHOTOGRAPHS, NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES, THE WILSON LIBRARY, UN

Prison food may have a reputation for being pretty bad, but in 1935, diners at Central Prison enjoyed cooking and eating in a newly renovated, modernized facility.

“Even the same old beans taste better.”

Thus spoke a convict at Central Prison after eating food cooked in the new kitchen, the most modern that can be had, which was installed as part of the extensive program of renovations now underway at the penitentiary.

About $75,000 of an allotment of $125,000 made possible by the 1933 Legislature has been spent on remodeling the old prison buildings. Two bright new dining rooms have been inserted between the walls, a light airy printshop has been built, a modern bakery – one of the finest in the South – has been installed and various quarters in the prison have been modernized.

Work still to be done includes installation of an ice plant and cold storage system, improvements in the hospital quarters and construction of dining rooms for prison employes....

All the work being done serves to fireproof the old building, once a fire trap from top to bottom. Prison labor is being used as far as possible....

Of all the renovations, the kitchen and bakery are the greatest source of pride to officials of the penitentiary. Both are perfectly spick and span and contain the most up-to-date equipment that money can buy. The dining rooms, with perfectly ordered tables and convenient built-in cabinets for condiments, dishes and the like, are kept spotlessly clean and a multiplicity of windows let in the cheery sunlight.

Warden H. H. Honeycutt, who has been at the prison since 1902 (warden since 1929), is particularly gratified at the change from the old, grim, dingy kitchen and dining room, and so is A. E. Cole, chief steward, who has been associated with the penitentiary for 19 years.

The large kitchen, with its high walls and tiled floor, utilizes steam cookers and a large range with two fire boxes. It cooks 1,800 meals daily, and it cooks them well. Three suction pipes ventilate the kitchen, in which nine cooks are employed.

It opens directly on the dining room for white prisoners, and a dump waiter lowers food to the Negro dining room just below.

A large aluminum coffee urn, with a capacity of 80 gallons, boils 65 gallons of coffee a day for the prisoners and the employees, all of whom are served the same fare.

The menu for Thursday was: Breakfast, meat, creamed corn, gravy, light bread and molasses; dinner, kidney beans, boiled meat, saurgraut, baked yams, corn bread and ginger snaps; supper, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, beans, light bread and molasses.

At one meal, Mr. Cole said, the 575 prisoners and 25 employes will consume five bushels of potatoes and 50 pounds of dried beans. When eggs are served with each person getting two, 100 dozen are needed. A meal with greens as the principal dish requires 500 pounds of cabbage or salad, and it takes 400 pounds of meat. Thirty pounds of coffee are used daily, as well as four gallons of molasses and 40 gallons of whole milk.

The diners put away about 600 1-1/2-pound loaves of bread and 50 dozen rolls a day, all coming from the new bakery which gets heated from a furnace in the basement and is, like the kitchen, absolutely free of soot. Five bakers are employed to turn out the bread, which includes whole wheat loaves, and the pastries. On week-ends the baker cooks, for the Sunday meals, cookies, buns, pies, cakes and puddings. A Raleigh baker has declared the output of the prison bakery as good as his own.

Prisoners are grateful for the new kitchen and bakery, as well as the new dining room, because the food is better, served by convicts in neat white uniforms and eaten in a large, well-lighted room. The N&O March 17, 1935

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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