Monday, June 8, 2015

Bread of the Poilu, Part II

And now in this post we will resurrect pain ordinaire, and pain biscuité, the bread that fed the French soldier, or poilu, in two world wars.

The following photos are taken from a newsreel released in June 1940, showing the production of pain ordinaire/pain biscuité in the French Army.

Mixing the dough.
Scaling (weighing) the dough on the balance scale at the bottom of the picture.
The dough is then tossed on the work table where it is quickly shaped...
then placed into patons and left to rise.
After rising, the patons are moved to the ovens.

A view of the oven area of the bakery.
Note the wooden bin in the foreground for the completed bread
 and the large stacks of firewood between the oven loading areas.
A three-man team works to load the oven.
The soldier on the right (mostly off-screen) dusts the oven peel with flour and then tosses the shaped dough onto the oven peel.
The soldier in the middle, nearest the oven, has just finished making the slashes with a blade held in his right hand, and is stamping the loaf in the middle (presumably with the date/time) with a stamp held in his left hand.
The soldier on the left is holding a long-handled oven peel, which is then used to load the oven.
The entire process illustrated above takes only about 3-4 seconds.
A close-up view of the oven area.
Stacks of firewood are to the right, and more wooden bins for bread are next to the ovens.

A view from inside the oven.
French manuals of the pre- and early-WWI era go into great detail on the formulas for making pain ordinaire  and pain biscuité. There were three categories of flour: tendre (soft), mitadine (intermediate) and dure (hard), with corresponding formulas scaled to the number of rations.

I use bread flour, which has a higher gluten content. If you are using all-purpose flour, it will not give the same results. When testing the recipe I first tried the formula for hard flour, but this came out much too "wet". Eventually I found that the formula for soft flour ("tendre") gave the correct consistency in the dough and crumb in the completed bread.

As mentioned previously, the preferred form of leavening was a levain, produced with leftover dough from the previous day's batch. If you wish to try this method, prepare a batch of dough, either by fermentation or with yeast. Insure that your levain has a 43% moisture content by weight (57% flour / 43% water, by weight).

There are four useful (some might claim highly specialized) items of equipment that I used in this recipe. While not absolutely necessary, they definitely enhance the quality (and authenticity) of the finished bread:
  1. banneton/paneton/paton - a basket lined with a cloth in which the scaled and shaped loaf is placed to rise  
  2. wooden oven peel - for placing the loaf of dough into the oven
  3. oven stone - placed in the oven prior to heating. It provides a flat surface and an efficient and stable surface for transferring heat. 
  4. metal peel - for turning and removing the finished loaf from the oven.
  The only item which can be a bit pricey is an authentic banneton. I bought a handled basket from a reduced-price store, removed the handle, and lined it with a piece of linen cloth, well dusted with flour. The other items can be obtained fairly inexpensively if one shops around online.

At some point in the future I hope to construct a wood-burning field oven for bread-baking, but that's probably a bit too extreme for most.

Finally we arrive at the recipe. The amounts are scaled for one loaf (2 daily rations) or either pain ordinaire or pain biscuité . Although they are scaled exactly (in grams), please feel free to round off slightly.

The levain for pain ordinaire and pain biscuité is the same proportion of flour to water.

Levain for pain ordinaire:                       Levain for pain biscuité:                    
366 g   flour                                              290 g   flour                              
210 g   water                                            166 g   water       
1 tbsp*  instant dry yeast                       1 tbsp* instant dry yeast         

* 15 ml.
Have all ingredients at approximately 70°F/21°C.
We will make the levain, which is also known as a pre-ferment.
To create the levain, mix together the flour, yeast, and water. Knead until the biga is of a smooth consistency, with no dry spots.

Place the levain in a lightly oiled bowl or container, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

This is the levain after placing in a covered bowl

And after rising for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
The levain turned out onto the work surface
As the levain is a bit drier than the dough mixture, it will be easier to incorporate if cut into smaller pieces

Dough for pain ordinaire:               Dough for pain biscuité: 
710 g   flour                                     820 g flour               
476 g   water                                   526 g water                
10 g       salt                                       10 g salt               

Mix the flour and salt together. Add the water and levain, and mix until smooth. The levain should be well incorporated, and there should be no dry spots on the dough.

Place the dough in a container and let rest until double in size, about 90 minutes.

Shape the dough into a flattened ball and place onto a board or in a banneton that has been lined with a heavily floured cloth.
Leave uncovered and let rise for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C.

Slashes in the pain biscuité dough.

Place the dough on a floured wooden oven peel or on a baking sheet that has been greased or lined with parchment paper.
Before placing pain biscuité in the ovenslash the top of the loaf with four cuts at right angles to form a square. This was done with pain biscuité to aid venting of moisture after baking.

After loading the oven, reduce the heat to 325°F/165°C

Pain ordinaire: bake for 60 minutes at 325°F/165°C.
Pain biscuitébake for 70 minutes at 325°F/165°C.

When finished, the loaf should have a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.
Bread was normally aged for a minimum of 18 hours, but normally for 24 hours, before being issued.

Pain ordinaire

Finished pain biscuité (left) and pain ordinaire (right).
Note the flatter shape of the pain biscuité.
Pain ordinaire, cut to reveal texture of the crumb.
It has been allowed to rest for 18 hours before cutting.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bread of the Poilu, Part I

Bread of the Poilu, Part I: The Bread Ration

  I have returned after a rather protracted absence while experiencing what we used to refer to in the Army as being "OBE" (Overcome By Events), a catchall phrase used to indicate being preoccupied by a simultaneous accumulation of issues which prevent one from fulfilling other missions.
I apologize for not responding yet to the many comments, and will answer them as quickly as possible.

  For those unfamiliar with the term, "poilu" (translation, "hairy one") was a slang term applied to French infantrymen of World War I, a reference to their unshaven (and often unkempt) appearance which was also considered to be rather manly and virile.

    But on to the bread: in the French army of World War I, as with most European armies of the time, bread was a critical part of the soldier’s daily rations whether in garrison or in the field. This is shown in the chart below. The daily bread ration of the French soldier throughout both world wars was 750 grams (~26.5 ounces).
Daily Bread Ration, 1914
Hard Bread
700 or 840 grams*
24.5 or 29.5 ounces*
500 grams
17.5 ounces
750 grams
26.5 ounces
600 grams
21 ounces
750 grams
26.5 ounces
500 grams
17.5 ounces
Great Britain
450 or 570 grams*
16 or 20 ounces*
450 grams
16 ounces
700 grams
24.5 ounces

1024 grams***
36 ounces
717 grams
25.5 ounces

*Rations amounts varied, dependent on a number of factors such as type of unit and proximity to the front lines.
**Same bread ration weight in WWII
***Originally measured in the Tsarist-era system of measures. The wartime bread ration was
       2.5 "funt" (фунт). One funt=approx. 409.5 grams

  In the French Army, fresh bread was commonly in the form of pain ordinaire, literally “ordinary bread”, but perhaps more aptly translated as “standard bread”. Pain ordinaire was produced in round loaves of 1500 grams in weight:  two daily rations. It was a round, flattened loaf approximately 270 mm in diameter and 97 mm in height (approx. 10.5 x 4 inches). It had a somewhat tough crust, a dense crumb and fairly low moisture content which allowed it to remain edible (after 18 hours of "ressuage", or resting after baking to allow for venting of excess moisture) for up to five or six days in summer or eight days in winter, and to stand up to rough handling while in transport.

Pain ordinaire was normally made using a levain* (starter) for leavening. Using levain, rather than yeast, enhanced the bread’s ability to keep longer without going stale. And as a levain is made from supplies already on hand, flour and water, it obviates the need to use scarce transportation resources to keep the army bakeries supplied with yeast. Brewer’s yeast was authorized for use in extenuating circumstances, but only for a day until a starter from leftover dough could be produced. With the occupation of Belgium and the loss of much of their logistical support, pain ordinaire was supplied to the Belgian army. However, many Belgians disliked the somewhat tangy taste of French pain ordinaire made with levain, instead preferring the yeast-leavened version.

* Levain is the French term for a mixture of flour and water that has been colonized by yeasts and bacteria.
French soldiers carrying their dinner, soup and bread, 1915.
The bread is pain ordinaire or pain biscuité / Biblioteque nationale de France
At Amiens (Somme) a pile of pain ordinaire on the ground, awaiting transport.
Pain biscuité (biscuit bread) was pain ordinaire prepared in a slightly different manner and baked longer to produce bread with lower moisture content in order to increase its keeping qualities to 20-25 days. Of approximately the same size and shape as pain ordinaire, pain biscuité had a slightly flatter shape, a thicker crust and weighed 1400 grams (~50 ounces) due to its lower moisture content. The daily bread ration for pain biscuité was 700 grams. As it was less susceptible to mold, pain biscuité made with brewer’s yeast and cooled for 24 hours could be stored for as long as 18 to 20 days, but was recommended to be used by the 10th day.

Arrival of bread and tobacco rations by truck.
The round shape and thick crust of pain ordinaire made for a sturdy loaf that could endure being tossed about during the transportation process. The mission of the ration parties was one of the more dangerous of World War I, as soldiers would have to leave the relative (emphasis placed on "relative") safety of the front-line trenches.

Several methods to transport pain ordinaire to the front-line trenches were improvised.
One was to impale the loaves on a stick and carry between two soldiers, as illustrated above. 

Twine could also be passed through the center of the loaves to string several loaves together
for transport.

At Camp Coëtquidan (Brittany), German prisoners of war prepare pain ordinaire for transport.
Note the baisure (part of the loaf with no crust) on the sides of the loaves, resulting from the loaves being placed close to each other in the oven. While it does affect the keeping qualities by leaving an entry point for moisture, it does not affect taste or texture. Apparently these loaves were intended for immediate consumption.

A third type of bread was the French WWI version of hardtack, "pain de guerre" (war bread). It was a departure from the traditional type of hard bread or hard tack in that pain de guerre included leavening. While it didn't have the long-time storage capability of previous hard breads, it was more palatable and less likely to cause digestive problems.

There were many sources for bread in the French Army. Bread could be procured from civilian bakeries in time of extreme need, but was more commonly produced in permanent army bakeries, field ovens or in rolling ovens (“boulangeries roulantes”) that accompanied units in the field. 
Even while moving daily and under adverse conditions, field bakeries equipped with  boulangeries roulantes were expected to be able to produce an output of not less than six batches of bread in twenty-four hours, The production of a bakery unit of 32 boulangeries roulantes was rated at 26,880 rations (13,440 loaves) per day.
(above and below)
Testing field ovens (boulangeries roulantes), Argenteuil (suburb of Paris)
, 6 May, 1914.

Coming soon, how to make your own pain ordinaire (see photos below). 
I need to tweak the formula just one more time before unleashing it. 

L'Intendance en Campagne,
enri Charles-Lavauzelle, Éditeur militaire (Military publisher), Paris, 1914

No. 96bis, Instruction sur les Boulangeries Légères de Campagne
Henri Charles-Lavauzelle, Éditeur militaire (Military publisher), Paris, 1901

No. 96, Subsistances Militaires, Boulangeries Roulantes de Campagne
Henri Charles-Lavauzelle, Éditeur militaire (Military publisher), Paris, 1910

No. 96, Subsistances Militaires, Boulangeries Roulantes de Campagne

Henri Charles-Lavauzelle, Éditeur militaire (Military publisher), Paris, 1915

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Mess Tin Primer, Part III

Bowls, Boilers and Meat Cans
In this post we will delve into the subject of non-Kochgeschirr type mess tin design in the 20th century. Mess tins followed many different design paths as a result of the requirements dictated by field feeding systems, methods of transport in individual equipment, manufacturing capabilities, and availability of materials.

Austro-Hungarian Mess Tins and Descendants

Austria -Hungary produced two distinct designs of mess tin, the M1899 and the M1912. Their service life in the Austro-Hungarian army was cut short by the end of WWI and the breakup of the Hapsburg empire, but their descendants served on in the armies of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.


The M1899 was a bowl with an inverted lid that served as a plate Originally produced in tinned steel, during WWI it was manufactured in enamelled steel.

Austro-Hungarian M1899 - enameled steel
After WWII, Bulgaria produced an aluminum version that was nearly identical to the original M1899.

A later version of the Bulgarian mess tin contained two plates and eliminated the two hinged strap loops on the side.

Czechoslovakia designed a mess tin similar to the M1899, but with a wire handle that also served to secure the lid when folded. This Czech mess tin entered production in 1925.
The post-WWII Czech mess tin was a further development, with the addition of  an insert with a folding handle. The larger container has a capacity of 1.25 liters, the smaller has a capacity of 0.85 liters, and the lid 0.3 liters. It was apparently produced for quite a number of years: I have 2 in my collection, dated 1951 and 1972.

Post-WWII Czech mess tin. 
Post-WWII Czech mess tin. 

Prior to WWII, Yugoslavia produced their own variant with a lid and insert.
The Austro Hungarian M1912 was one of the most unusual designs of mess tins, consisting of a rectangular base with a handle that folded to one side, and a plate/lid with a folding wire handle. It was intended to replace the M1899.

The original version of the M1912 was enamelled steel.
Hungary later produced the 34M, an aluminum version of the M1912. 
The Hungarian 34M was replaced post-WWII by the 65M (refer to Part II for a description of the 65M).
There was no model number assigned to this pre-WWII Belgian mess tin. It was offically named the "Aluminum mess tin for infantry". A shortened version of previous models, it was designed to fit the model 1930 backpack.

Belgian mess tin.

The Chinese produced a mess tin similar to the Japanese Type 38. It was unusual in that, unlike other boiler-type mess kits, it had no integral metal handle for the body or lid. Instead, it was equipped with a rather cumbersome system of a fabric belt that was atrached through two wire loops on either side for carrying, with a leather strap permanently attached to a metal loop in the back for holding the lid in place during transport.

The only photos I have seen of this type of tin have been unpainted. As the seller of this example said that it was originally part of a set of German individual field gear from WWII, it was quite possibly painted before being reissued as was the case with many captured mess tins.

Danish pre-WWII mess tin.

One of the earliest French individual mess kits was the gamelle individuelle modelle 1852. It was in essence a tapered bowl with a lid. A short chain attached the handles to the lid. In World War I, French soldiers often removed the chain as it was not conducive to proper noise discipline. In WWI the modèle 1852 was issued with a plate that fit inside of the mess kit bowl, under the lid. A detachable handle allowed the plate to be used as a frying pan.
Modèle 1852(
The M1852 was superseded by the M1935 mess tin. The M1935 followed the Kochgeschirr-type configuration with an insert, but was unique in having a rectangular shape.

Modèle M1935
Modèle 1935 with lid removed and insert.
Modèle 1935 rear, showing the lid handle.
French mess kit design went through another radical change with the Modèle 1952. 
The three component pieces on the left can be stacked to make a compact package for transport, as shown to the right in the photo.
French modèle 1952 stowed for transport.

Great Brtiain

The British D-shaped mess kit possibly holds the record for the longest service record. Making its first appearance in 1813, it underwent few basic changes until the introduction of the British Army's Pattern 37 individual field gear. The Pattern 37 mess tin was a completely new design, consisting of two rectangular containers, one slightly larger than the other to allow the smaller tin to be stowed inside. It was simple, compact, and versatile. The Pattern 37 mess tin continued to serve long after WWII. Initially made of aluminum, with the advent of WWII and wartime shortages the pre-war Pattern 37s were withdrawn, melted down and replaced with tinned steel versions. After the war, aluminum production resumed.

British Pattern 37 Mess Tin. This example is a mismatched set, the larger tin manufactured in 1941, the smaller in 1942. Both are constructed of tinned steel. The top photograph shows the tins with handles folded and stowed for transport.
Comparison of WWII tinned steel P37 (left, 1941/1942), with an aluminum post-WWII (right, 1952).

In the post-WWII era the Pattern 37 was copied, often with modifications, by several nations.
The two tins of a Pattern 37 type mess tin nested together for transport.

Australia manufactured a highly modified version based of the UK Pattern 37 design. It had approximately the same width and length, but was shallower (~1.5 inches vs. ~2.5 inches) and had two handles that folded to the sides:


The Modello 1896 mess tin was the last in a series of mess tins that began with the Mod.1872. All were similar "D" shape designs of tinned steel. 
Italian Mod. 1896
 The Modello 1930 was a departure from earlier designs in that it was constructed of aluminum. There were two versions: a large version, primarily intended to be used by Alpini (Alpine troops), and a smaller version for regular units. Including the lid, the large version was 13.8 cm high x 19.5 cm wide, the small version 12.8 cm high x 16.0 cm wide.

Mod.1930 (large)
Mod.1930 (large)
 A post-WWII model has an interesting design consisting of a body and two lids. Each lid has a wire handle and a stud on the opposite side, with the handles and studs on reversed sides for the two pieces. This allows the two lids to be placed over the top and bottom of the mess tin body and the wire handle to be looped over the studs on the other lid. The dimensions are the same as the small Mod.1930.

Italian Post-WWII Mess Tin
Italian Post-WWII Mess Tin

Comparison of Italian post-WWII mess kit (left) and Modello 30, large version. 

Japanese soldiers in the field were for the most part responsible for the preparation individual rations while in the field, resulting in their mess tin nomenclature of han-gou ("rice cooker"). The Type 38 (1905) mess tin was apparently derived from Western models. Although kidney-shaped as in the Kochgeschirr, it was an austere design: no handle on the lid, only one strap loop on the front, and stud-type handle lugs that closely resembled the Swiss design, although it did have an insert as in the British D-shaped mess tin.

Reproduction Japanese Type 38.

Type 38 lid and insert.
The Japanese were unique in issuing their officers a completely different type of mess tin. It was rectangular, with a lid and insert.
Earlier pattern Japanese officer's mess tin.

Imperial Japanese Army officer's mess tins. The later pattern on the left is longer, narrower and lacks the bail of the earlier pattern on the right.
The modern Korean mess tin is a close copy of the Japanese Type 38, with the exception of the gold-colored interior.

The Dutch Model 15 mess tin was in use at the start of WWII. It was a rather simple conventional design of tinned steel. 

Dutch Mess Tin Model 1915 (etensblik M.15).
Nederlandse eetketel model 1915 (etensblik M.15).


Post-WWII, the Dutch manufactured a close copy of the British Pattern 37 mess tin of a corrosion resistant steel alloy:

Soviet Union
Prior to the adoption of the more familiar M36 previously discussed, the Soviet Union produced a simple bucket-type mess tin, the M24. It had a rather large capacity of 2 liters and was constructed of tinned steel. The M24 continued to be manufactured into the 1950s. A shorter version, the M27, was manufactured for the Soviet Navy. It was made of aluminum, with a steel wire bail.  
Soviet M24 Mess Tin, post-WWII manufacture.

As we saw in an earlier post, Sweden designed some rather handsome mess tins in copper. In 1895 they were replaced by a less expensive aluminum mess tin, the m/1895. A tinned steel version was produced during WWI. 
Swedish m/1895.
The lid handle had a slot which fit over the strap loop, and had two folding rings into which a stick or a bayonet could be inserted to extend the handle's length when using the lid as a frying pan.

The m/1895 was replaced by the stainless steel Kokkärl m/40. It was shorter than the m/1895 and the shape changed from "kidney" to oval.  Due to costs an aluminum version, the m/44, entered production in 1944. In my sometimes-not-so-humble opinion, the Kokkärl m/40 is the Mercedes Benz of mess tins. Not only is it nearly indestructible, it was issued with a well-designed set of accessories: windscreen, alcohol stove, fuel bottle, cup, eating utensils, etc.
Kokkärl m/40
Stainless steel Kokkärl m/1940 (left) and aluminum m/1944 (right).
The two versions may be easily identified by the ridges near the top of the body: the stainless steel version has one ridge, the aluminum has two.
Kokkärl m/1940 with windscreen, alcohol stove and fuel bottle.
United States
The US Army approved adoption of the first standard mess kit in 1874. Offically dubbed the "meat can", it was essentially a frying pan with a folding handle and a lid that doubled as a plate. It eventually evolved into the M1910 Meat Can. The M1910 was slightly larger than the 1874 version, with a shallower lid, and was made of aluminum with a galvanized iron handle.

M1910 Meat Can with M1910 Utensils
 In 1918 the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) recommended a deeper top plate on the Meat Can. The M1918 was similar to the M1910 except that the lid was 1/2 inch deeper and with a redesigned handle to accomodate the lid. In addition to US-made aluminum M1918's, approximately 500,000 were produced in France in 1918 for US forces. The French M1918s are generally made of tinned steel, and were stamped with "FRANCE" under "1918" (year of manufacture) on the handle.

Comparison of M1910 (left) and M1918 (right) Meat Cans.
The M1918 pictured here is of US-manufacture, aluminum. 
In 1932 the US Army's meat can underwent a change in the design of the lid, which was deepened and divided into two compartments. When closed, the handle fit into the groove between the compartments. When opened, the ring in the lid was passed through the handle, and the lid set atop the opened handle. This allowed the mess kit to be used as a three-compartment tray for serving meals, and which could be held in one hand. The M1932 had a handle similar to that of earlier models. As large surpluses of M1910 and M1918 meat cans were still available, the M1932 was not manufactured in any quantity until the US entry into WWII. M1932 meat cans can be easily identified by the cast iron handle with a round hole and compartmented lid.

(left to right) M1910, M1918, M1932 Meat Cans
With the onset of WWII, the M1932 meat can was redesigned to simplify production and lighten the weight. The major design change in the M1942 meat can was in the handle, which was now made from stamped steel. The body and lid of M1942 meat cans could be tinned steel, corrosive resistant steel (CRS), or from late 1942 onwards, in aluminum.
M1942 Meat Can (year of manufacture 1944)
M1942 Meat Can
In 1955 the entire meat pan, including the handle, was manufactured in CRS and was re-designated as "Pan, Mess, CRS". During the Vietnam War, meat pans began to be manufactured in stainless steel.
Comparison of M1942 Meat Cans (left to right): 1942 manufacture, tinned steel;
1944 manufacture, aluminum; 1966 manufacture, stainless steel.   

Evolution of the US Meat Can (left to right): M1910, M1932, M1942

Well, there you have it. Three posts, 24 countries and 100 years, but we've barely scratched the surface on the subject of 20th century mess tins. In a later post we'll look at some of the accessories that accompany the mess tin, or meat can, and together make up the set of equipment known as the mess kit.


All photographs not cited are mess tins from my personal collection.