Friday, July 6, 2012

US Army Field Bread, 1916

Field Bread, US Army, 1916

         Field bread had a dense texture and a thick, tough crust. It would keep fresh longer and was less prone to damage in handling and transportation than garrison bread. Due to its larger size and circular shape (which occupied more oven space) and its subsequent longer baking time, field bread production was not as efficient as that of garrison bread. Five 2-pound garrison loaves could be baked in a standard 12 inch by 24 inch baking pan, whereas only two 4-pound field bread loaves would fit in the same pan.
     In 1918, as a matter of economy US Army units in France were instructed to bake 10-pound (!) rectangular field bread loaves in the 12 by 24 inch pans. This led to complaints about the bread crumbling and breaking when cut. HQ AEF (American Expeditionary Force) blamed the problem on mishandling and dull knives, rather than the apparent difficulties involved in transporting and handling such a cumbersome loaf. The sheer size of the loaf would have contributed to its fragility. Not surprisingly, the 10-pound loaf didn’t survive long after World War 1.
     Garrison bread was intended for consumption in garrison or in the field where it could be transported to the troops within one day. Further distances required the production of field bread. Field bread could be kept for a week, but it was recommended to be consumed within 48 hours.
Field bread was produced in the field bakery, which was a part of the division level organizations. This type of field bread was still being produced in the earlier stages of World War 2, but was eventually replaced by “garrison field bread” for field use.
     In 1916 the recipe called for cottonseed oil, as cottonseed oil was the major vegetable oil produced in the United States the time. Also, cottonseed oil does not deteriorate or change flavor when used at high temperatures. In 1941, wartime shortages of cottonseed oil forced the utilization of soybean oil. Three years later, soybean oil production outstripped that of cottonseed oil.
     It should be noted that the 1916 edition of the Manual for Army Bakers the baking instructions were intended for the "old" field oven, which was wood-fired and subject to drastic temperature drops when loading. This necessitated the higher baking temperature of 450°F and for 10 minutes longer. When attempting to bake field bread at 450°F in a modern electric oven, the crust of the field bread was overdone after only about 30 minutes. The baking time and temperature for the US Army's more efficient "new" field oven are given in later versions of The Army Baker, about one hour  and 20 minutes at 325° to 340° F. This is more in line with what would be expected with a modern oven, and gives excellent results.

Field Bread, US Army, 1916
Yield: one 4-pound loaf.

U.S.                             Metric             Ingredients
48 oz                           1360g              bread flour
1.5 oz                          43 g                 sugar
0.9 oz                          26 g                 salt
0.25 fl oz (1½ tsp)       7.5 ml              cottonseed oil* or lard
24 fl oz                        710 ml             water
½ tsp                           2.5 ml              instant dry yeast

Field Bread Just Out of Oven, 1916...

... and, Field Bread Just Out of Oven, 2012

 Cut after cooling; note the dense texture.
Procedure  (Straight dough mixing method)
1.      Mix all ingredients together into a very stiff dough.
2.      Knead well until dough is smooth.
3.      Let rise for four and one-half hours.
4.      Punch down dough.
5.      Let rise for one hour.
6.      Punch second time.
7.      Round up and flatten into a round loaf about 1½ inch thick. The loaf should be approximately 11 inches in diameter.
8.      Place on a greased baking sheet or in a large pan.
9.  Allow 15 minute proof in the pan or baking sheet.
10.  Just before putting in the oven make a round hole in the center of the loaf with the ends of the thumb and forefinger joined together.
11.  This hole is sufficient size to permit the gas to escape and will result in a load less liable to crush in transportation, less subject to mold, and with a smoother appearance.
12.  Bake for about one hour and 20 minutes at 325-340°F. 

* Any vegetable oil may be substituted.


  1. Great looking bread!

    And really interesting blog. I hope you don't mind, but I've posted a thread about your blog on the Military Horse website, where we've had quite a bit of discussion on Rolling Kitchens in the past, and I've added a link to your site on my blog, and will note yours in an entry in the future, as it sort of ties in with the basic theme there. Anyhow, really neat site!

  2. I don't mind at all, in fact I appreciate the exposure. Among other projects, I've been accumulating info to do a post on rolling kitchens, especially in the pre-WWI through WWI era. Many thanks for coming to the blog, and for the kind words.

  3. How long does this bread keep? I'm no chef, but this bread looks like it could easily be made in a sem-survival situation............................