Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maconochie Stew, British Army, WW1

Meat & Vegetable Ration (M and V Ration), aka Maconochie Stew, British Army, 1900-1918

22 ounces of  M&V Ration (reproduction)

     From the late 1800s until World War 2, the British Army contracted several commercial canneries to produce the “Meat and Vegetable Ration”. Most famous of these was the Maconochie company, whose name became universally applied to the M and V Ration. As with many military rations throughout history, in World War 1 Maconochie was overused and often eaten cold, which led to its being awarded a perhaps undeserved reputation as a culinary perversion.
     The directions on the can stated that “Contents may be eaten hot or cold”, and that the unopened can should be heated in boiling water for 30 minutes. Under most frontline circumstances, this method of heating would prove to be a ludicrous recommendation. The average Tommy of the First World War would undoubtedly have not-so-politely begged to differ about the “eaten cold” statement. When hot, Maconochie was described in letters and reports as being anywhere from barely palatable to good. When eaten cold, the fat tended to accumulate in a lump on top of barely recognizable chunks of meat and vegetables, leading one reporter to describe Maconochie as “an inferior grade of garbage”. In all fairness to Maconochie, most any dish intended to be eaten hot but served cold with congealed fat and gravy would be distinctly unappetizing.
     The recipe is based on the ingredients and scaling from M and V Rations, and on historical descriptions of Maconochie’s stew.
     As an interesting side-note, Maconochie was widely applied as a slang term within the British Army of WW1. The Military Medal and the Military Cross became known as the Maconochie Medal and the Maconochie Cross, respectively., “Maconochie” was slang for stomach. A telephone receiver, due to the resemblance of the can to the devices in use at the time, also became a Maconochie.


A Maconochie advertisement from World War 1.
British Tommy, French Poilu, Russian Cossack, 

and Italian Bersagliere are gathered together
 in an idyllic scene of Entente solidarity over
 steaming cans of Maconochie's stew.


This recipe yields the equivalent of one 22 ounce can of Maconochie stew.
  
US                               Metric                         Ingredients
12 oz                           340 g                           beef (or one can of corned beef*)
5 oz                             140 g                           waxy potatoes**
1 oz                             30 g                             carrots
1 oz                             30 g                             onions
1 oz                             30 g                             beans, cooked (white beans such as navy
                                                                       or great northern)
2 oz                             60 ml                           beef stock or water
1 tbsp                          15 ml                           flour
1 tbsp                          15 ml                           fat (lard or rendered beef fat)
to taste                        to taste                         salt

Procedure
1.       If using fresh beef, cut into ½” to 1” pieces.  
2.       Cut potatoes and carrots into ½’ thick slices.
3.       Cut onions into ½” pieces.
4.       Steam or boil in a little water the beef, potatoes, carrots and onions until tender.
5.       Heat the fat in a pan.
6.       Add cooked potatoes, carrots, onions, beans and beef over medium heat.
7.       Make a batter of the beef stock or water with flour.
8.       Add batter to the stew.
9.       Cook until thickened.
10.   Salt to taste
11.   For a real treat, serve with hard Army biscuits.

* If using canned beef, cook the vegetables, add the batter and cook until thickened. Add the canned beef and heat thoroughly.

** Waxy (low starch) potatoes, such as red potatoes or “boiling potatoes” should be used. High
starch potatoes such as Russet or Idaho potatoes will fall apart during boiling or steaming.

Note: A more authentic version may be reproduced with a pressure cooker, if one is available. For a pressure cooker version, add fresh beef and vegetables together with a little water and cook until the beef is tender. Add the batter and proceed as with the above version.

Reproduction Can of Maconochie Army Ration
Variations:
Turnip Maconochie
Some versions of canned Maconochie contained turnips. To reproduce this delicacy, substitute 5 ounces of turnips for the potatoes and cook as for the potatoes. Be forewarned that the combination of beans and turnips was reputed to produce rather hefty amounts of intensely “aromatic” flatulence.

There were several “field expedient” Maconochie variations described by soldiers and correspondents:

Trench Maconochie All-In*:
This was normally prepared in a dugout or reserve trench.
To one recipe of Maconochie stew, add cooked potatoes, canned corned beef or fresh beef.
(diced and boiled with the potatoes) and water.
Boil beef and potatoes in water.
Add Maconochie when beef and potatoes are tender.
Cook until warmed thoroughly. Add additional salt if needed.

Curried Maconochie
One recipe of Maconochie stew
Curry powder to taste
Stir curry powder into cooked and heated Maconochie.

Maconochie and Pea Flour
One recipe of Maconochie stew
One or two tablespoons of green pea flour.
Stir pea flour into cooked and heated Maconochie.

* All-In: British Army slang for a stew made by taking whatever victuals that were at hand and dumping them into a community pot.



18 comments:

  1. Great stuff Peter. Would it be possible to add the original pages for this information. Would be very interested to see them. The reproduction looks quite tasty?

    Mike

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  2. Mike,
    Thanks for the kind words. My wife tried the Maconochie and rated it as very good. Many historical accounts rated it as good when served hot. I found the history of Maconochie to be fascinating, which is why I wanted to recreate it.
    The information for this post comes from a number of sources, including the labels which gave ingredients and amounts, cooking techniques of the time, and historical accounts from books and newspapers. As with many pre-packaged rations, it's difficult or impossible to find the exact government specifications given to contractors. In many instances that info is incomplete, as the details of the process were left up to the manufacturer. In those instances, such as with the Maconochie, I have to look at a number of things to "fill in the blanks". Some of these are comparing it to the cuisine and cooking methods of the time, what type of ingredients were available, historical descriptions of the food, and sometimes I just have to give it my best guess based on experience and what info I have available. Can I guarantee 100% accuracy? Admittedly not, but I am also open to any constructive criticism that would help.
    Although posting what source info I have is not within the scope of my blog, maybe I could send you some source info? You can email me at
    peter.a.sauer@gmail.com
    Hope this helps.
    I looked at the Great War Forum, and found it quite interesting. I retired from the US Army in 1992 (Infantry) and have been obsessed with military history since the age of 8.
    Thanks for your interest,
    Peter

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  3. Hi Peter, thank you so much for this recipie. I'm reading a lot of World War 1 books from Lynn McDonald an Peter Barton. My sons and i visiting the battlefields ( Ypres and the Somme ) a couple of times a year, and in many story's the soldiers referred to this dish, i didn't knew the ingredients, but thanks to you i now do!. I gonna make this Maconocie myself to find out how it must have tasted 90 years ago.

    Best regards from Holland, Jean-Pierre

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  4. Jean-Pierre,
    You're most welcome. If you try the recipe, please let us know how you it turned out.
    Thanks, Peter

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  5. Hi Peter,

    Today i made Maconochie as a family dinner. And know what? it was very nice they finished the whole pan. It taste a bit like an Dutch dish called "hutspot" or how oure Belgium friends call it "hutsepot".
    This dish is also a stew with onion, carrots and potatoes.
    Only thing i added was freshly grounded pepper for more taste.And i didnt bake it in fat, to keep the calories down.

    Gonna place this ration on oure likes list for dinner.

    Thanks a lot for the recepie.

    Best regards from Holland.

    Jean-Pierre

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jean-Pierre,
      It's great to hear that someone actually tried one of the recipes and that it turned out well. I appreciate your response. Military cuisine was not only intended to be tasty, but economical and easy to prepare.
      "Hutspot" and Hutsepot" sound like they may be similar to the British "Hotch Potch", a type of thick soup.
      Many thanks,
      Peter

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  6. Peter,
    I have just read BIRDSONG, by Sebastian Faulks and researching terms, products, etc. I was not familiar with. This blog has been most helpful. No wonder my late Father survived WWII, but had a ruined stomach.
    Norm

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  7. Thank you for your comment. I would never have guessed that the blog would be helpful in the understanding of a historical novel, but I'm really pleased that it was useful. In my mind, food is a very important factor in understanding what daily life was like during any historical period.
    Thanks,
    Peter

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  8. Good day
    I am trying to find out what the British Army scale of rations was for the Anglo Boer War. Can you help?

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    Replies
    1. A good starting point for British Army rations of the period is "The Soldier’s Pocket Book for Field Service", by General Viscount Wolseley, 1886. Wolseley noted that in the British Army “The two great necessities in the food line are bread and meat.”
      Field rations were:
      1½ lb bread or 1 lb. biscuit
      fresh or salt or preserved meat 1 lb. (fresh or boiled beef or mutton, tinned corned beef, bacon, salt beef, salt pork)
      coffee 1/3 oz.
      tea 1/6 oz.
      sugar 2 oz.
      salt 1/2 oz.
      pepper 1/36 oz.
      2 oz. of compressed vegetables or 4 oz. preserved potatoes or Erbswurst (pea soup paste) in 2 ounce tins.
      “It is usual to add 1/64 gall. (1/2 gill) of rum, and instead of issuing both tea and coffee, to omit the latter and double the former”. A gill was 1/4 of a British Imperial pint, or ~4.8 US fluid ounce/142 milliliters. That amounts to nearly one liter of rum per week per man.
      As with most armies there were variations in the ration issue, depending on the physical exertion dictated by local conditions, type of operations, and what was available. Other ration supplements or substitutions noted from this period were rice,white beans, cheese, jam or marmalade, lime juice, vinegar, oatmeal, cocoa.
      There were sometimes variances in the amount of bread and biscuit, such as an extra 1/4 lb fresh meat, or rice or potatoes substituted for part of the bread ration. It should be noted that the weight of fresh meat was normally untrimmed, i.e., “bone-in”.

      Delete
    2. A good starting point for British Army rations of the period is "The Soldier’s Pocket Book for Field Service", by General Viscount Wolseley, 1886. Wolseley noted that in the British Army “The two great necessities in the food line are bread and meat.”
      Field rations were:
      1½ lb bread or 1 lb. biscuit
      fresh or salt or preserved meat 1 lb. (fresh or boiled beef or mutton, tinned corned beef, bacon, salt beef, salt pork)
      coffee 1/3 oz.
      tea 1/6 oz.
      sugar 2 oz.
      salt 1/2 oz.
      pepper 1/36 oz.
      2 oz. of compressed vegetables or 4 oz. preserved potatoes or Erbswurst (pea soup paste) in 2 ounce tins.
      “It is usual to add 1/64 gall. (1/2 gill) of rum, and instead of issuing both tea and coffee, to omit the latter and double the former”. A gill was 1/4 of a British Imperial pint, or ~4.8 US fluid ounce/142 milliliters. That amounts to nearly one liter of rum per week per man.
      As with most armies there were variations in the ration issue, depending on the physical exertion dictated by local conditions, type of operations, and what was available. Other ration supplements or substitutions noted from this period were rice,white beans, cheese, jam or marmalade, lime juice, vinegar, oatmeal, cocoa.
      There were sometimes variances in the amount of bread and biscuit, such as an extra 1/4 lb fresh meat, or rice or potatoes substituted for part of the bread ration. It should be noted that the weight of fresh meat was normally untrimmed, i.e., “bone-in”.

      Delete
  9. Great post Peter. I see that the WWI-era Machonachie's is quite similar to the WWII-era tinned M&V manufactured in Australia by the likes of Heinz and Imperial. The Aussie WWII ingredients for the tinned M&V were as follows: Beef, potatoes, carrots, beans (green beans), tomato juice, salt, celery salt, black pepper. Amounts varied according to can size, but the percentages can be determined by working off the Australian Pacific Ration Scale.

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  10. Absolutely fascinating, thank you for sharing, love seeing the old recipes etc. So glad that MRE's had changed a bit when I took the Queen's Shilling many years ago. I actually used to like the meals we had in the field :)

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  11. Very interesting article...I was trying to understand a poem by the British War Poet Ivor Gurney and could not even begin tp visualize the meaning of the following lines:

    "Of Machonachie, Paxton, Tickler and Gloucester Stephen's;
    Fray Bentos, Spiler and Baker, odds and evens
    Of trench food, but the verlasting clan craving
    For bread, the pure thing, blessèd beyond saving." ("Laventie").

    Thanks very much for all the historical information, the photo and the recipe...It makes the poetry easier to understandn when you get the references!
    Best,

    Elizabeth

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  12. Hello, Peter. I recently made a batch of Maconochie, following your recipe very, very closely. I do WWII re-enacting (Red Army personally, but I have many Canadian and British comrades). I plan to serve this to them later this year. It turned out very well and made me a very hearty dinner for three days. I had 30 oz. of beef on hand, so I multiplied all the other ingredients by 2.5 as well. I used a fairly low-starch potato, but I would use an even waxier type the next time. For the haricots I used canned white kidney beans. I even bought lard to be as authentic as possible. I would make one suggestion. After my first serving it occurred to me that the dish would be improved, both visually and taste-wise, with a bit of browning. To the remaining stew I added 2 teaspoons of Kitchen Bouquet Browning and Seasoning Sauce (basically, one tsp. per serving), and it made a big difference. It might even be authentic; after all, even today we usually don't know what “artificial flavors and colourings” are added to our food. Thanks for your work. Next I'm making kasha and tushonka.

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    Replies
    1. In the very different world of the early-20th century, I doubt that seasoning beyond salt would have been added to the M&V prior to canning. That said, soldiers would certainly have added any and all flavorings available in an attempt to improve the taste and add at least a semblance of variety. While a US product, Kitchen Bouquet has been around since the late 1800's and I would imagine that its use in reenacting would be allowed.
      On another note, I recommend the buckwheat version of kasha. Try the buckwheat kasha together with tushonka and dark rye bread for a quite satisfying meal.
      Thanks for visiting,
      Peter

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  13. Stumbled across this in the course of looking at WWI history websearch results.

    Thanks for the look back. I find it fascinating that historical canned rations were viewed as loathsome, just as we used to look at the Chicken a la Thing MRE. (Then again, I take your point in the article: after being mass-produced, canned/tinned/packaged, stored for years, then served cold, NOTHING is going to be appetizing...)

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  14. Hello Peter, I have a couple of WW1 crates for Maconochies.....I'll give your recipe a go soon ! Thanks for the info.
    Lawrence Brown

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