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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Many have tried and many have failed in the “Cannonball Run,” a U.S. Naval Academy tradition.

Named for a dessert served at the academy and an illegal cross-country race that inspired a Burt Reynolds movie, the Cannonball Run event consists of two steps:

• Eat a dozen baked apple dumplings and the big bowl of hard sauce served with them.

• Try not to throw up.

“I’ve seen it tried. I’ve never seen anybody pull it off,” said base spokesman Mike Chase, an academy graduate. “Cannonballs are notorious because they taste horrible.”

“I had two of them,” said Cmdr. Tito Dua of the USS Gary, also a graduate of the academy in Annapolis, Md. “Halfway through the second one I asked, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and stopped.

“I don’t know of anybody who’s ever gotten it. One guy ate 11 and three-quarters. He ended up losing it all in the grass. It’s kind of a disgusting dessert.”

Nonetheless, they’re fondly remembered.

Four years ago, Chase and the then-director of the base Morale, Welfare and Recreation program dreamed up the idea of serving cannonballs at the Officers Club.

They were to be offered just once yearly, during the televised showing of the Army-Navy football game.

This year’s game is to be broadcast at Yokosuka beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday.

“This is the only place in the entire world outside of the Naval Academy itself where cannonballs are made,” Chase said. “At least, as far as I know.”

Chase said cannonballs provide a small, unpalatable taste of the academy.

The first year, Officers Club bakers followed the original instructions — and thought there must be some error when they sampled the result, so they changed the recipe.

The alteration made the cannonballs taste too good, Chase said. He referred them to the original, explaining, “They’re supposed to taste bad.”

The club usually makes 65 cannonballs for the event, and they all get eaten, said club operations director Nette Hoot.

“According to the people who’ve attended, we actually make better cannonballs than the ones at the academy,” she said. “Maybe we don’t make them the right way.”

What makes the cannonball — a mere apple dumpling — dreadful seems to be a matter of individual taste.

Chase, for instance, cited the “flour-like substance” surrounding the apple.

“They’re really heavy,” he said.

Lt. j.g. Ryan Easterday said it isn’t the pastry, it’s the hard sauce.

“I never really could figure out what it was made of,” Easterday said. “I think maybe it was just some whipped butter with some cinnamon.”

First-year academy cadets who eat the sauce and all 12 cannonballs — the number served for the 12 cadets at table once a month and more often during the holidays — are awarded a “carry on.”

“It’s a highly desirable thing, trust me,” Chase said.

Among their other duties, plebes usually must jog wherever they’re going, keep to the middle of any hallway, turn square corners (not round them) and, at each corner, shout “Go, Navy, Sir!” or “Beat Army, Sir!” (their choice).

A carry on exempts them from those requirements.

“Then you can just sort of carry on like a normal person,” Easterday said.

It may sound like legend, but someone at Yokosuka claims he successfully made the Cannonball Run.

His name is Lt. Kyle Turner of the USS Gary.

It was the summer of 1995, probably August, Turner said, when he decided to do the run.

“First of all, I was kind of trying to eat as much as possible because I was playing football and I wanted to gain weight. Second of all, I liked them,” Turner said. “And third, you were supposed to get a carry on.”

Turner did put on 65 pounds, although not all of that was from cannonballs, he said.

“It was a lot of apples and a lot of dough,” he said. “At about the fourth one, it started getting pretty bad. And the hard sauce … ”

He didn’t throw up, but he wanted to, he said: “I liked cannonballs when I started. Afterward, I didn’t.”

Turner did get his carry on — sort of. “You were supposed to get it for a week,” he said. “I think I got it for a day.”

A day, he recalls, he spent feeling sick from eating all those cannonballs.

If you dare …

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Frank Roberts Edrington II’s Web site:

U.S. Naval Academy Cannonballs

• 6 apples, cored and peeled• ¼ pound (one stick) butter, softened• 6 oz. pie dough• ½ pound of granular sugar• Cinnamon sugar (ground cinnamon and sugar mixed to taste)• Vanilla or rum flavoring, to taste

Roll out a 1-ounce piece of pie dough into a circle approximately 6 inches in diameter. Place the cored, peeled apple in the center.

Fill the center of the apple with cinnamon-sugar mix.

Fold the pie dough around the apple and put it on a greased cookie sheet.

Repeat with the other apples.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes or until the apples are soft. If needed, cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the crusts from burning.

Hard Sauce

Place the granular sugar and butter into a mixing bowl; beat until thoroughly mixed. Add vanilla or rum flavoring to taste.

Serve apples with hard sauce.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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