National Geographic : 1944 Oct
The National Geographic Magazine in wire baskets and rolled on a small narrow gauge flatcar into the picking room. The entrance is through a vestibule large enough for the car and with double-screened doors at entrance and exit. Long rubber fin gers brush off any flies from the baskets, and flies have a hard time hitchhiking along with the shrimp into the picking room. Flies that do get past the doors become the prey of half a dozen boys armed with swatters. In the picking room the shrimp are spread on long metal-covered tables, where the shuckers, mostly Negro girls with flying lin gers and wagging tongues, remove the heads and shells. One can hardly follow the operation with the eye as the waste goes into a pile and the meat, or tail, lands in a metal flume in the center of the table en route to the next oper ation (page 511). This is a piecework job, and when I was there the girls were being paid ten cents for a 14-quart bucket of skins and heads. If the shrimp are averaging small, a smaller bucket becomes the standard of measure. Fifteen or twenty buckets a day is about average, but some shuckers do much better. The record for a day is fifty. The flume carries the shrimp meat from the picking room to the packing room, where it goes through a series of six washings and on to another inspection belt. The water used for the washing and fluming comes from 400 foot wells. After being treated with sodium aluminate and lime and filtered, it is consid ered as pure as possible. From this point all the handling of shrimp is done by regular payroll workers. Blanch ing is the next process. This consists of pan boiling in large wire baskets in water about three times as salty as sea water. Boiling Curls Shrimp Tails Shrimp to be dry-packed boil for ten min utes and those for wet pack for six minutes. This operation brings out the bright-red color markings in the shrimp and curls the tails as we see them later in a salad. A wide conveyer then carries the meats through a path of forced cold air which takes out a certain amount of moisture. From here the shrimp go through a mechanical grader which separates the four commercial sizes. Since these machines are only about 80 per cent efficient, each size must go through hand grading, which assures uniform size in each grade as demanded by the trade. Final grad ing keeps 80 to 100 girls busy. The standard No. 1 can holds 7 ounces of wet-pack shrimp meat and 62 ounces of dry pack. The count to the can of jumbo shrimp is 25 or under; large, 25 to 35; medium, 35 to 56. Small shrimp are those that go over 56. The final grading operation puts the shrimp into the cans or, for some classes of trade, into glass jars. They are then weighed and started on another conveyer to the capping machines. Those for wet packing now get a 25-parts-to-the-thousand solution of salt water. The capping machines, of which there are four, can vacuum-seal 320 cans a minute. In large metal containers the full cans are placed in retorts, where they are given their final cooking in steam. Upon removal from the retorts, the can filled containers are dipped into cooling water to stop the cooking instantly. They go then to the warehouse for labeling and storing on shelves for several weeks. During this last stage samples are constantly being tested as a final precaution. Prior to 1930, the refuse of heads and hulls from shrimp canning was usually disposed of by burial in deep pits. Nowadays a portion is dehydrated, ground, and converted into animal feed. Dehydrated shrimp meal is exceptionally high in lime content and in a form easily assimilated by dairy stock, hogs, and chickens. Therefore 55 percent of the shrimp bulk which used to be thrown away now brings $60 to $70 a ton as poultry and stock feed. Chinese Relish Dried Shrimp Dried foods have always been considered a great delicacy in China, dried shrimp being especially enjoyed. Lee Yim came from Can ton, China, to Louisiana some 70 years ago and started a shrimp-drying industry of his own. Soon others engaged in the business, and now dried shrimp create an annual in come of $300,000 in Louisiana alone. Shrimp to be dried are boiled in kettles of salt water for ten to fifteen minutes until the meat separates from the hulls. The boiled shrimp are placed on large wooden platforms along the marshy coasts and exposed for three or four days to hot sun (page 508). Up to a few years ago the hulls were re moved from the thoroughly dried shrimp by families of shrimp dancers, including women and children, who lived on the platforms. Shod with heavy-soled wooden shoes, they danced on the shrimp in a sort of shuffle, with a rotation of the heel at each step. The shrimp were piled in a ring and continually turned by men with shovels. Today mechanical beaters are used, and dancing is confined to Saturday night.