Remembering Pan Am flight food

Sep 25, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. ET

The new drama series, Pan Am, premieres Sunday on ABC, and while those elegant dinners and classic cocktails seem like pure fiction today, there was a time not so long ago when you could fly with an ice cold martini and a nice cut of prime rib.

Christina Ricci Pan Am

With the premiere of ABC's new series, Pan Am, audience members can harken back to a day when men wore hats and women wore gloves wherever they went. Remember when people got dressed up just to board an airplane and when the seats were sectioned into smoking and non-smoking? Yes, there was a time when the meals were equal to a fine dining experience. Since it has been several years since domestic flights even served meals, we asked Anke Bode, a stewardess with the classic airline from 1967 - 1986, if the rumors were really true or complete fiction. She said yes -- all those ice cold cocktails and delicious looking entrées were in fact standard on any and all Pan Am flights, especially those that traveled around the world.

Five star first class

While meals were served in all three sections of the airplane, first class was the place to be. "It was very elegant", Bode says. So elegant in fact that they not only had a caviar cart, but they also had prime rib which was made to order. Bode says they received requests all over the spectrum from rare to well done, but those who requested their prime rib well done "usually got an end piece." If you didn't like prime rib, though, you needn't worry. There were plenty of other options to choose from including lobster thermador, a cascade of shrimp, lamb curry and stuffed duck.

Like all fine dining establishments, desserts were on the menu. Passengers flying from Los Angeles to Hawaii were served macadamia nut ice cream, and for passengers flying to London, cherries jubilee was the dessert du jour. While cherries jubilee is known for its fiery spectacle, that was the one thing missing on board each flight the dessert was served. According to Bode, "there was definitely brandy, but no flambé" -- for safety of course.

Booze on board

With every great meal comes a great glass of wine or cocktail and Pan Am was ready to pour a glass. Just like today, the cocktails were served before the food carts made their way down those little aisles. Also similar to today, a little snack came with them. But, believe it or not, Pan Am never served peanuts on their flights. According to Bode, Pan Am only served almonds.

While all of these delectable options were available to the passengers in first class, the menu wasn't nearly as extensive in business or economy class, and nothing was made to order. For the less expensive sections, the stewardesses would walk down the aisle with the food cart and ask the passengers if they wanted chicken or beef. These meals were pre-cooked by a catering service at the airport and then re-warmed on the plane. Even though the chicken and beef were pre-cooked ahead of time, the quality was still quite high.

Girdles and weigh ins

With dishes like these, one can't help but wonder how the stewardesses kept their figures. In the ABC series, the stewardesses go through a weight check which Bode says was absolutely true. "It was really unfair," she says. The airline based the stewardesses' weight on a graph, so "if you were this tall then this is the weight," she explains. If they were over that weight, they were put on notice. Since the weight checks were random, Bode says the stewardesses were never grounded for being overweight, but they did need to lose the pounds by a certain date. "If you didn't comply, they took you off the schedule." And those girdles that were so popular back then? Bode admitted that "we were supposed to wear them all the time, but (after flight school) no one did."

So when you sit down to watch ABC's new series about Pan Am, why not whip up a little treat that they served on the planes back in 1963? Celebrate the premiere of this new drama with cherries jubilee, and since you'll be in the comfort of your own home, flambé away.

Cherries jubilee


  • 1 can pitted Bing cherries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • Vanilla ice cream


  1. Drain cherries and save the liquid.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, mix together the sugar and corn starch. Gradually mix in the cherry liquid and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for three minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in the lemon juice, cherries and butter and continue to simmer for another three minutes.
  4. While the cherry mixture simmers, warm the brandy in a small sauce pan.
  5. Transfer the cherry mixture to a chafing dish. Scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl. Pour the warmed brandy over the cherries and light with a match. Ladle flaming cherries over ice cream and serve immediately.

For more feature interviews with real Pan Am stewardesses, click here >>