Monday, March 16, 2009

Camping Candy.

Once upon a time, in the bad old days, the kitchen was the exclusive preserve of women. The only men-who-cooked were professional chefs or men outdoor-of-doors (hunting, shooting, fishing, exploring, war-making etc). “Camping” was a very different experience, I expect, in the days before super light-weight materials, freeze-dried foods and mosquito repellent – especially for men with no experience of the domestic arts. One supposes that other, more war or wilderness-wise men would mentor these novices in the outdoor culinary arts, and presumably, most of the time, this is what happened.

Occasionally, the advice was given by ladies, who almost certainly had no experience of rough living, but understood the principles enough to feel their methods could be adapted. In 1917, a little book called the ABC of cooking for men For men with no experience of cooking on Small Boats, Patrol Boats, in Camps, on Marches, etc. was published for the benefit of the Knitting Committee of the American Defence Society.

The foreword clarified the connection between women who knit and men who are forced to cook.

“It is hoped that both cook-book and knitted garments may help to make more comfortable the men who are only too ready to do their bit.”

The knitting ladies made no assumptions as to the existing skills of their proteges, and they included instructions for elementary kitchen tasks such as how to boil potatoes. They clearly assumed however that a well-equipped pantry would be available, as the following recipe shows:

If starving for a taste of candy, make fudge.
1 cake unsweetened Baker's Chocolate
4 cups of sugar
2 cups of milk, piece of butter about the size of an egg (little generous)
Boil for half to three-quarters of an hour, then take off the fire and beat till it gets
a little thick, and pour into a buttered tin.
You can tell if it is done by stirring a little in a saucer.

My questions are these. Why would the hungry hunters not simply eat the chocolate from the pack? How did they store the generous hunk of butter in the absence of refrigeration? Are not saucers a little namby-pamby for the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ sorts of men to include in their packs?

Quotation for the Day.

There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process.
Paul O'Neil.


Shay said...

Was this book intended for the use of the Armed Forces rather than hunters, fishermen, etc?

Hunters & fishermen get to go home after a day or two. When one is stuck on a patrol boat or an observation post for weeks/months at a stretch, I reckon something to shake the monotony of military issue rations (and military life which in wartime has been described to me as 99% ennui and 1% sheer terror) would be warmly welcomed, even if it is just killing an hour or so making candy.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Shay - I understood that the benefits of the sale of the book went to the armed forces, but that the recipes were for the edification of all culinarily challenged men who wanted to cook at camps, on small boats etc.
I love the quote about rations being 99% ennui and 1% sheer terror! I would have thought the sheer terror might have been a bigger percentage though!

Anonymous said...

It is soothing to do & as comfort food, they all deserve it.