Monday, September 17, 2012

“C-Rat” Pound Cake, US Army, 1958-1980

MCI (“C-Rat”) Pound Cake, US Army, 1958-1980

     After 1958, the US military ended procurement of C-Rations. The replacement was the Meal, Combat, Individual (abbreviated MCI), which was produced from 1958 until 1980, when they began to be phased out of service in preparation for replacement by another gustatory delight, the MRE.
The MCI was not the same as the C-Ration, and was never officially designated as such. Although MCI cases were marked with a large “C”, it was not because they were C-Rations. “C” was the U.S. Armed Forces subclass designation for Combat Rations under the category of supply Class I -  Subsistence. Subsistence subclasses were:
A - Nonperishable
C - Combat Rations
R - Refrigerated
S - Other Nonrefrigerated
W – Water

     But history has shown us that soldiers have always been, and continue to be, practical and pragmatic creatures. Here the train of thought was that if it looks like a C-Rat, it tastes like a C-Rat, it comes in cans like a C-Rat, and it’s labeled like a C-Rat, then it must be a C-Rat. So to millions of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen, they were and will always be remembered as C-Rats.

However, for the purposes of this blog, I will designate recipes for MCI components as such, to avoid confusion with recipes for C-Rations of the WW2 and Korean War eras (which I am currently researching, among countless other topics).

Recently, my wife asked if I had posted any dessert recipes on my blog. I responded in the negative, as I was concentrating on the soups, stews and breads that were the staples in many armies. When asked why I should include desserts at this point, the answer (which should have been obvious to me) was, “If anybody deserves to have some dessert, it’s a soldier!” As usual, the boss’s logic was unassailable.

MCI Pound Cake, US Army, 1958-1980

     The recipe is quite simple, as are most pound cake recipes. But please do observe the mixing times given in the recipe. There is no leavening, so the long mixing times are needed to insure that sufficient air is introduced into the batter. 

    I selected the pound cake as it was arguably the most favored food component of the MCI. One canned pound cake was often equal in trade value to an entire MCI meal or several (pre-1973) packs of cigarettes from the accessory packs. Here we will resurrect that cherished treat, and restore it to its former glory.
The finished "C-Rat" Pound Cake. 
Pound and other MCI cakes had straight sides, as they were normally baked or steamed in the partially sealed can, which allowed gasses to escape during baking, and then sealed completely when cooled. I am currently experimenting with trying to get the shape exactly the same, but in the interim you can use jumbo-sized muffin/cupcake tins. To most aficionados, appearance is not as important as the C-Rat Pound Cake experience itself. You will also need some jumbo-sized cupcake liners.
After filling the baking containers with batter, you will need to cover them tightly with aluminum foil. You may grease the underside of the aluminum foil to minimize sticking, but this is not necessary.

Yield: 12 individual pound cakes, 2.2 ounces/62.5 g net weight each


7 oz                 200 g                           cake flour
7 oz                 200 g                           shortening
7 oz                 200 g                           sugar
6 oz                 170 g                           whole eggs (3 large eggs)
2 each              2 each                          large egg yolks*
¼ tsp               2 g                               salt 
½ tsp               2.5 ml                          vanilla extract

*scale the three eggs; add enough egg yolks to make a total of 7 ounces/200 g
Pound cake ingredients. Simple, no?

1.      Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and shortening.
2.      Combine the salt and flour. Add the flour in thirds and mix until incorporated.
3.      Add two of the whole eggs.
4.      Mix for 7 minutes on medium speed.
5.      Add the rest of the eggs and mix for 3 minutes on low speed.
6.      Scale at 2.3 ounces/65 g (approximately ½ cup) of batter for each cake
7.      Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350° F for about 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Helpful hints:
·         It's easier to fill the cupcake liners before they're in the pan, then carefully lift and place them in the pan.
·         If you're using a scale, you can place the liner on the scale and fill it to the desired weight.
·         After placing the filled liners into the pan, bang it on a flat surface a few times to settle the batter somewhat.
·         The batter is somewhat stiff, but don't worry about leveling it on top. It will level out when it bakes.

The batter in the pan before covering with aluminum foil. 
The stiffness of the batter is apparent.
The coffee cup was an attempt to make a straight-sided pound cake.


  1. Can't wait to try it, but my favorite was always the fruit cake. I hope that recipe will be coming soon.

    Also I fondly remember the cherry nut roll of the early MREs

  2. As it was also one of my favorites, I've been working on the MCI ("C-Rat") fruitcake recipe for some time now. I will post it soon, once I've run it through my "test kitchen".

  3. I love fruitcake but my favorite was the fruit cocktail. It tended to disappear as soon as a case of C-rations were opened. I didn't realize, however, that procurement of C-rations ended seven years before I went in the army.

    You must investigate British ration packs (rat packs), which are fairly similiar to C-rations, in that they are based on canned components. The biscuits (crackers) are quite good but I've never had the nerve to sample the things with kidneys in them.

  4. I was quite fond of the C-rat fruitcake. That's one of the projects I've been working on for some time, but can't seem to run down a copy of the MIL-SPEC (MIL-F-15499) to complete the process.
    In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War I was in northern Iraq and co-located with Dutch and British marines, so I had a bunch of British compo rations (I think that's what they were). They were definitely better than the old MREs and the Dutch rations, but no one comes close to the quality of French army rations. The only remnants that I have of the British rations are a few envelopes of "screech" and some tinned rice. I'm kicking myself for not keeping any Biscuits, Brown AB or Biscuits, Fruit. I've been trying to find some for quite a while now, in order to try to clone them and publish the recipe. Despite their bad reputation, I found them quite good, especially when compared to the C-Rat crackers and old MRE crackers (which were virtually the same recipe, different shape).
    Thanks again,