Sunday, October 14, 2012

You're In The Army Now

The Manual for Army Cooks, published by authority of the Secretary of War, 1896

This interesting document contains instructions on how to properly clean various utensils including coffee mills, tin and copper saucepans, and knives and forks;  with the additional stern admonition that before being used for cooking purposes, all utensils should be thoroughly clean, a statement that one finds, surprisingly, in a lot of 19th century cookbooks, and not just those written for men who – in most cases – one could safely assume would find the kitchen an alien environment (although the practice has fallen into disuse, punishing recalcitrant troops by assigning them to mess duty was for decades a cherished American military tradition, which meant that the people staffing the kitchens often were there due to a talent more for raising hell than cooking).

The chapter on beef includes a list of what the prudent army cook would look for in a beef delivery, with preference given to 1) spayed heifers from four to seven years old, 2) steers or bullocks (never worked) from four to six years old and 3) Free-martin (or barren heifer, a term I’ve not run across before) not over eight years old.  There are some interesting insights on how supplies and equipment were procured – the Army expected cooks to make up deficiencies from company or “mess” funds, indicating that the soldiers, non-coms and officers clubbed together to provide themselves with certain items the Commissary Department did not see fit to offer.

There is a section on how to render rancid butter edible.  Ick.  Several sample bills of fare are helpfully posted (one Sunday breakfast menu lists beef stew, mush and sirup, bread, and coffee).

Vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, okra, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, peas, winter squash, summer squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, corn, beets, string beans, lima beans, boiled greens, tomatoes, turnips, salsify, spinach, celery, eggplant, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and mushrooms.

Recipes range from the mundane – boiled beef and carrots – to the surprisingly cosmopolitan, reflecting perhaps the ethnically diverse nationalities that made up the rank and file.  Beef a la mode, kebabs and Turkish pillau are there, as well as an entire chapter devoted to “Spanish” recipes, including estofado, frijoles con queso, tamales, tortillas, chile con carne and (somewhat out of place) jambalaya.

The following recipes would not be found in a civilian cookbook.  At least not under these names.

BOMBSHELLS (Sufficient for 22 men)

16 ½ lbs meat
6 lbs flour
3 oz salt
1 oz pepper
Sweet herbs

Cut all the meat from the bone and sinews, reserving 1 ½ lbs of fat for the paste.  Chop up the meat like sausage meat with the onions an herbs shred fine; season with one-half the salt and pepper  (In India it is the custom to mix spices, capsicums, fruit, etc., with the meat.)  Make the paste as follows:  Place on the table the flour, make a hole with the hand in the center, in which place the chopped fat and the remaining salt and pepper, then put some water in the hole; gradually stir the flour into it until it is all moistened and forms a stiff paste;  work and roll it well for two minutes; let it remain as a ball for ten minute, then roll it out to the thickness required.  Have some very clean pudding cloths ready; their size must depend on the size of the shell; divide the past according to the size, for either 12 or 32 pounders*; form it into a ball, and roll it out round; divide the chopped meat and place it in the paste; add a little water; gather it round like a dumpling; bring the cloth around it, and tie it tightly, and boil according to size; a 12-pounder, for one person, one and three-quarter hours; 32-pounder, for two, two and a half hours. The bones and cuttings must be made into a gravy, and served separate.  The meat must be made into balls the size of bullets, and placed in it.

*an inside joke.

CANNON BALLS (sufficient for 22 men)

6 lbs flour
1 ½ lbs suet
3 pints molasses
1  pint water

Chop up the suet, mix with the flour, mix the molasses with the water, put the flour into a bowl, and pour the molasses gradually upon it, mixing it with the flour; when the whole is well mied, not too soft, form it into any size balls required, flour some cloths, tie up each ball separately in cloth, not too tight, and boil from one hour and upward, according to size.  NOTE. – These, with lime-juice sauce, are an excellent anti-scorbutic, and will keep good for twelve months and longer.  They could be made before going on any long voyage, and given out as rations.

Scurvy was a concern not restricted to Navy doctors, and the War Department put a great deal of thought into prevention.  Sometimes mis-directed, as in the case of the scurvy epidemic at Ft Laramie in what was then the Department of Kansas (later Wyoming Territory), in 1858.  The Medical Department insisted that the soldiers were getting scurvy because they had access only to dried vegetables.  The Commissary Department replied that it had to be something else – there couldn’t possibly be scurvy at Ft. Laramie because, after all, they had a plentiful supply of dried vegetables.  In this as in many things, the rest of the Army sometimes wondered if the Quartermaster Corps was in the pay of the enemy.

ARTILLERY PIE  (Sufficient for 22 men)

8 lbs bread
1 lb suet
4 dozen apples
2 lbs sugar

Melt the suet in a frying pan, cut the bread into slices one-quarter of an inch in thickness,dip each piece into the melted fat, and place them in the oven to dry.  In the meantime get the apples peeled, boiled, and mashed with the sugar.  Cover the bottom of the baking dish with the bread, cover the bread with some of the apples, then some more bread over that, then the apples, and thus until all is used; place it in an oven and bake for twenty minutes.  This may be made with any kind of fruit.

The Manual for Army Cooks can be found at the wonderful MSU site, Feeding America.

1 comment:

Ladytats said...

a free-martin is generally born a twin to a bull calf. the testosterone produced by the bull calf interrupts the growth process of the female calf's reproductive system and renders her sterile, as often parts are never fully developed.
Learned this during the years we milked cows, as we had a few.