Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Soldiers' Rations in 1888

I know that many of you are interested in military history, and I assume, as you are reading this blog, that you are interested in food history. From time to time I try to combine the two interests and give you something with a military food flavour. Today I am going to give you a short extract from an extremely comprehensive chapter on soldiers’ rations which I found in The Nineteenth Century: a monthly review (New York, 1888.)

The introductory sentiments are just as relevant, I think, as they were over a hundred years ago:

Pending the millennium, no public servant can have a more valid claim on the consideration of a self-respecting nation than the soldier who offers his life in the defence of its honour and its position. As he justly merits, so for many reasons he stands in especial need of a full measure of the national regard. He has surrendered to us his volition; he has consented to lie down and to rise up, to eat and be clothed, according to the rules we have made for him; at our behest he accepts the ‘route’ for the rice swamps of the Irrawady, or the arid sands of the Soudan; he is ours without a murmur to march at the word straight into the face of death. The civilian public servant may resign at short notice if his servant irks him, or if the chance offers to better himself: the soldier must ‘put in’ his term to the hour and minute, and is punished as a deserter if he violates this obligation. We may be unable to bring it about that the soldier shall be wholly contented with his lot; indeed, that would be a cruelty, since he would thus lose that most prized of his simple joys, the occasion for a harmless grumble; but we owe it as well to ourselves as to him that the conditions of his life should be as satisfactory as circumstances will permit. He certainly deserves it at our hands that he should be adequately fed; and our own interest is concerned in caring that this is done, for the double reason that proper feeding contributes to his efficiency as a fighting man, and that a general impression that a soldier has to put up with semi-starvation must have its effect in checking enlistment. Of late there has been a good deal of writing in the press calculated to spread that impression; and although there has been no supporting voice from the ranks, the flow of recruits has been somewhat damaged.

There follows, as I said, an extremely detailed analysis of military rations. I thought the following comparison of the rations of soldiers in various countries was quite interesting:

…. under good administration, the weight of the soldiers’ rations in dry solids need never be less than 3 ½ lbs. per day, of which 6 oz. is butcher meat cooked. How his nourishment compares, or rather it should be said, contrasts, with that of the soldier in other countries, a few figures will make manifest. In every instance the ration of meat is taken as uncooked with bone.

lbs.  ozs.  drs.
BRITISH soldier: Government Ration – meat, 12 oz.; bread, 1 lb.; ‘messing’ – tea-bread, 8 oz; vegetables and miscellaneous, 1 lb. 10 oz; sugar, 2 oz; salt, 1 oz.; tea, 2 ⅔ drams; coffee, 5 ⅓ drachms; milk, 2 oz. 8 drams.
4      4     0
FRENCH soldier: Bread, 1 lb. 5 oz. 14 drams; biscuit, 3 oz. 3 drams; meat, 10 oz. 9 drams; coffee, 1 ⅜ dram; sugar, 1 ⅜ dram; and 20 centimes of pay spent in additional coffee and sugar, bread, &c (= 1 lb.)
3       3     12 ¾
GERMAN soldier: Peace ration involved and variable, so war field ration given, materially exceeding peace ration. Bread, 1 lb. 9 oz. 8 drams; meat, 12 ½ oz.; rice or groats, 4 ½ oz.; salt, ⅞ oz.; coffee, ⅞ oz.
2       12      4
AMERICAN (U.S) soldier: Meat, 1 ¼ lg.; bread, 1 lb. 3 oz; sugar, 1 oz.4 ½ drams; coffee 10 ¼ drams; beans, 2 oz. 14 drams; salt, 14 drams.
2      12      10 ¾

RUSSIAN soldier: Meat, 3 oz.; flour, 2 lb. ¾ oz; tea, 2 drams; sugar, 5 ½ drams; groats, 5 oz.; salt, 1 oz.
2        10        3 ½

There are no recipes as such in the article, and I suspect that most of the time the style and standard of cooking was as far from haute cuisine as one can get. By the first decades of the twentieth century however we have the Manual for Army Cooks, (Military Publishing Company, New York, 1916.)  I thought the following recipe sounds quite delicious, although one clove of garlic to 65 pounds of meat sounds rather ineffectual!

Sausage pork, 65-pound mixture.
Ingredients used:
40 pounds pork.
25 pounds beef.
1 ½ pounds salt.
6 oz. black pepper.
1 ounce coriander.
1 ½ ounce sage
1 pint vinegar.
1 clove garlic.

Dice the pork in 1 ½ inch squares. Grind the beef and mix with the pork, add seasoning and mix well; then grind again. The more thoroughly the sausage is mixed, the better it will be.


Shay said...

Perhaps they meant a head of garlic?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Shay. I did wonder if they meant a whole head of garlic, but usually at this time, as it does now, a clove means a single piece from the bulb. Even a whole head would not be much for this amount though!

SometimesKate said...

I doubt it. Americans are still squeamish about garlic for the most part, and it was even worse back then. I have seen recipes that say to simmer half a clove in oil for a minute, but not if that makes it too spicy. (Sheesh. Personally, I like garlic in all ways, including raw.)

The Old Foodie said...

I always at least double the amount of garlic specified in a recipe. At least.