Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bread, or Beer?

The people of Britain were faced with a particular dilemma early in 1917. The First World War was dragging wearily on, and there was a serious shortage of grain. In January, the Food Controller had warned that it was ‘really a question of bread v. beer.” A choice between bread and beer - the two great products of fermented grain, and the two great staples of Europe for millennia – an ominous situation, and a very difficult choice, Yes?

A letter to The Times from Mr. Duncan Miller, M.P, was printed in the edition of April 28. Mr. Miller made his choice quite clear, and also reminds those of us who read his words today of a more sinister use for alcohol.

“The public cannot be expected to take seriously the appeals made to them for economy in bread and sugar while the Government is allowing the consumption of 367,220 tons of barley and 44,700 tons of sugar in the manufacture of beer during the present year, and also of 425,000 qr.of grain in the manufacture of spirits, not a gallon of which can be consumed under the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1915, for three years. In view of the serious shortage of cereals, and of the growing submarine menace, the first duty of the Ministry of Food surely ought to be to lay aside the 1,000,000 qr. of malt at present in the hands of the brewers, and the further large quantity of malted barley in the hands of the distillers, for the production of bread and other food for the people. If the Food Controller’s statement in January was true, i.e., that it was ‘really a question of bread v. beer,’ it is much truer today, and the use of malted barley in various forms would provide a valuable additional food supply. Alternatively, the Food Controller might at least ration all consumers of grain and sugar on the same footing, whether consumed in the form of bread an sugar or of beverages in the manufacture of which sugar and grain are employed.
The nation is now beginning to realize that, if compulsory rations are to be introduced, this will be due in no small degree to the unlimited consumption of malt liquors and other spirituous beverages permitted in the past, and the large quantity of cereals still allowed to be used for their manufacture.
Another valuable saving might readily be effected by the use of such quantity of the 156 ½ million gallons of bonded spirits as may be suitable for the manufacture of explosives. This would at once release for the food of the people a further considerable supple of grain and other materials presently employed in manufacturing alcohol for explosives.”

If you have both bread and beer, then you are indeed blessed. You can even combine them, if you wish, as in the following recipes, taken from the book Soups, by S.Beaty-Pownall, (London, 1904)

Beer Soup (German)
Bring two quarts of bottled beer to the boil, remove a little of the froth, sweeten to taste with brown sugar, add the rind of a lemon cut in fine strips free from pith, and a little stick cinnamon. Have ready some crisp, nicely toasted bread cut into strips or fingers (or use zwieback); place these in the tureen, pour the scalding soup upon it and serve.

Beer Soup (Russian)
Bring two quarts of barley beer to the boil, with 6 oz. or 7 oz. of loaf sugar; beat up the yolks of six or eight eggs with a gill of sour cream, strain these into a large hot basin, work to them gradually the boiling beer, and serve very hot.

Quotation for the Day
Do not cease to drink beer, to eat, to intoxicate thyself, to make love, and to celebrate the good days.
Egyptian Proverb.


darius said...

During the French-Indian War being fought along Lake Michigan and to some extent Lake Erie, the Colonists were experiencing starvation because most grain was being made into alcoholic drinks.

Some things never change.

Liz + Louka said...

Interesting - I was looking at a recipe for Beer Bread just yesterday. Mum suggested I should make it for my beer-loving husband, but I think he might find it a waste of beer.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Darius - interesting! I thought the 'bread or beer' debate was either tongue-in-cheek or just opinion-hype, but it really happened (in a bad way)!
Hi LizLouka: I have a recipe for beer bread somewhere that is terrific (has walnuts in it, if I remember correctly) - havent made it for ages, but now I have to find it out ....