Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mess Tin Cooking, British Army, WW I (Part 3)

Mess Tin Cooking with Preserved Beef


     This is my final (well, maybe not, depending on where my research takes me) installment on British Army mess tin cooking of the Great War. Preserved meat was the official designation for what was commonly known to the Tommies in the field as “bully beef”. Bully beef is an Anglicization of the French version of canned corned beef, boeuf bouilli (boiled beef). 
     One can easily see where the convenience of preparation, not to mention the relatively simpler logistics (no refrigeration, no cutting and trimming, compact and durable packaging), contributed to the overuse of bully beef. Numerous accounts suggest that the quality of imported canned beef was often substandard. These factors resulted in bully beef gaining a rather unfavorable reputation.
     Fortunately for we reproducers of historical culinary, today’s “bully beef” is processed to higher standards, and we are not generally restricted to a diet which includes its consumption on a daily basis.  These recipes were modifications of the recipes using fresh or frozen meat, and were also those recipes recommended for cooking in mess tins. Conveniently enough, the British army recipes called for 12 ounces per soldier, the size of a modern tin of canned corned beef. As the preserved meat is already cooked, the cooking time is greatly reduced from the fresh meat versions.

Stew

US                               Metric                          Ingredients                             
12 oz                           340 g                           canned corned beef
1 ½ oz                          40 g                             carrots or other root vegetables
¾ oz                             20 g                             onions
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”      salt
to taste                         to taste                         pepper

Procedure
1.      Cut the onions and vegetables into small pieces.
2.      Put the onions into the mess tin with enough water to cover them, and a little jelly (gelatin) from the meat.
3.      Season with salt and pepper.
4.      Cover tightly and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
5.      Break up the meat into coarse pieces and add to the vegetables.
6.    Let simmer for another 10 minutes

  
Curried Stew
The ingredients are the same as for Stew, with the addition of curry powder and flour for thickening.

US                               Metric                          Ingredients                             
12 oz                           340 g                           canned corned beef
1 ½ oz                          40 g                             carrots or other root vegetables
¾ oz                             20 g                             onions
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”          salt
to taste                         to taste                         pepper
1/16 oz (½ tsp)            1.5 g                            curry powder
¾ oz (~3 tbsp)             20 g                              flour

Procedure
1.      Cut the onions and vegetables into small pieces.
2.      Put the onions into the mess tin with enough water to cover them, and a little jelly (gelatin) from the meat.
3.      Season with salt and pepper.
4.      Cover tightly and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
5.      Meanwhile, mix together the curry powder and flour.
6.      Make a batter with the flour mixture and a little water.
7.      Break up the meat into coarse pieces and add the meat and flour batter to the vegetables.
8.      Let simmer for another 10 minutes.



Sea Pie
 This recipe requires one portion of paste in addition to the ingredients listed below. Refer to the recipe for paste in a previous post, Mess Tin Cooking, British Army, WW I, Part 2. Otherwise, the recipe is the same as for Stew.

US                               Metric                          Ingredients                             
12 oz                           340 g                           canned corned beef
1 ½ oz                          40 g                             carrots or other root vegetables
¾ oz                             20 g                             onions
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”          salt
to taste                         to taste                         pepper

Procedure
1.      Make the paste (refer to Mess Tin Cooking, British Army, WW I, Part 2).
2.      Cut the onions and vegetables into small pieces.
3.      Put the onions into the mess tin with enough water to cover them, and a little jelly (gelatin) from the meat.
4.      Season with salt and pepper.
5.      Cover tightly and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
6.      Break up the meat into coarse pieces and add to the vegetables.
7.      Cover with the paste.
8.      Cover the mess tin and boil or steam for 20 minutes.


Variation
A batter made of ¾ oz (20 g) flour and a little water may be added at the same time as the meat.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mess Tin Cooking, British Army, WW I (Part 2)

     In Part 2 of British Army Mess Tin Cookery of the Great War , we will look at recipes that are a little bit more involved. The recipes for Sea Pie and Meat Pudding require the making of a "paste". The paste for these recipes is an unleavened flour dough, quite similar in composition to  an American pie dough. The Sea Pie and Meat Pudding are steamed or boiled, not baked.
     Not possessing a reproduction British Army WW I mess tin, I opted for the next best thing, a British mess tin of the type used in WWII and afterwards. I substituted aluminum foil for the lid.
     The procedure for making the paste, covering the ingredients, and cooking is the same for both recipes.

In the next installment of British Army mess tin cookery I will  discuss mess tin recipes using "preserved meat" (the infamous "bully beef").

Paste for Meat Puddings and Sea Pie.
The following are ingredients for a single recipe. I doubled the paste recipe for the photos below. 

US                                 Metric                         Ingredients
3.2 oz (~½ cup+3 tbsp)  90 g                              flour
“cover a sixpence”          “cover a sixpence”        salt
0.8 oz (~3 tbsp)              23 g                             dripping or suet
3 fl oz                              90 g                             water, cold

Double recipe for paste. I used beef suet for the fat.
Note the “cover a sixpence” measurement for the salt.
Procedure
1.      If the dripping is hard, shred it finely
2.      If soft, break into small pieces
3.      Mix the flour and salt together
4.      Add the dripping or suet. Do not rub it into the flour, but mix well.

Mixing the fat into the flour mixture.

5.      Add water and make a smooth paste; do not over-mix (over-mixing results in a tough paste).
6.      Turn out onto a floured surface.


(Paste divided in two, one portion for each recipe.)

7.      Roll out or press flat to about ½” (1.5 cm) thick. Fold the paste in half.

The mixed paste, flattened out.

8.      Repeat the fold and roll about 4 times.

Fold in half.

Roll out and repeat three more times. 

9.      Roll or press a final time to a size sufficient to cover the contents of the mess tin.


Sea Pie

This recipe is heavy on the potatoes and is quite filling. A post-World War I manual cautioned that it was:
“A very satisfactory meal and suitable for men engaged in heavy work in the open. It is not usually attractive to men following sedentary occupations.”
This recipe requires one portion of paste in addition to the ingredients below.

US                                 Metric                         Ingredients
8-12 oz                        225-340 g                    beef or mutton
19 oz                            530 g                            potatoes
0.5 oz                           15 g                              mixed vegetables
0.5 oz                           15 g                              onions
to taste                         to taste                         pepper
“cover a sixpence”       “cover a sixpence”         salt
8-12 fl oz                     240-360 ml                   meat stock




Procedure
1.      Peel and cut the vegetables and onions into ½” (1.5 cm) pieces.
2.      Peel the potatoes and cut into fourths.
3.      Cut the meat into ½” (1.5 cm) pieces.
4.      Place half the stock into the cooking vessel.
5.      Add the meat, potatoes, vegetables, onions, salt and pepper.
6.      Add enough stock to barely cover the ingredients.
7.      Cover with the paste, making a hole in the center.
8.      Cover the cooking vessel tightly and steam for 1 to 1½ hours, or until the meat is tender. Check the water level periodically, and add additional water if needed.



Adding stock to cover the ingredients.
Note the paste rolled out to the
approximate size of the mess tin.

  
The paste has been placed over the meat,
vegetables, and stock, and a hole cut in top.
   The mess tin has been covered in aluminum foil, and placed 
on a trivet in a pot filled halfway with water. The pot is then 
covered, and heated to a simmer for approx. 1½ hours.

The completed sea pie. 

Meat Pudding
This recipe requires one portion of paste in addition to the ingredients below.

US                               Metric                          Ingredients
3.2 oz                          90 g                             flour
0.8 oz                           23 g                             dripping or suet
0.5 oz                           15 g                             onions
to taste                        to taste                         pepper
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”         salt
4-6 fl oz                       240-360 ml                  meat stock

Procedure
1.      Cut the meat into thin slices and place in the mess tin.
2.      Peel the onions and slice thinly and add to the meat.
3.      Add the salt and pepper and mix together.
4.      Add enough stock to barely cover the ingredients.
5.      Roll out the paste to the size of the mess tin.
6.      Cover the ingredients with the paste.
7.      Cover the mess tin tightly and steam for 1 to 1½ hours, or until the meat is tender.













Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mess Tin Cooking, British Army, WW I (Part 1)


“To cook rapidly and well is an art which can be easily acquired, and which every soldier should learn.”
British Army Manual of Military Cooking, 1910

     Despite the proliferation of mobile field kitchens and prepackaged rations in the 20th century, mess tin (mess kit in the US military) cooking continued, although gradually diminishing in importance. The Manual of Military Cooking describes how a mess tin "kitchen" was set up under field conditions: 
    “No trench should be dug; the mess-tins should be placed on the ground as shown on plan on opposite page, with the opening facing the direction of the wind.
     Eight is a convenient number of tins to form a “kitchen”, but any number from 3 to 10 or 11 can be utilised.
     The handles of the mess tins should be kept outside.
     The tins should be well greased on the outside before being placed on the fire; if this is done and they are cleaned soon after being used they will suffer no damage. The tins when they are hot can be cleaned in a few minutes with turf, soil, or rag.
     Only a small quantity of wood is required for each “kitchen,” a good draught being the object to be kept in view. It is desirable that the fuel used should, whenever possible, be that obtainable in the vicinity of the “kitchens.”
     Each man should be instructed to cook his own dinner, but when once the “kitchen” is formed and the fuel collected one man only should remain with each fire.
The position of the tins in each “kitchen” will require to be changed from time to time, as some will be cooked sooner than others. It will be the duty of the man in charge to regulate this.
     The dinners will be cooked from 1 to 1½ hours.
     The following dinners are suitable for this method of cooking:
     Plain Stew, Irish Stew, Curried Stew, Sea Pies, Meat Puddings.”

Mess tin "kitchen", 

     So, thought I, why not present all of the aforementioned "suitable dinners"? This we will do, in several parts.  For the sake of convenience, I have scaled down the recipes to portions for one soldier, cooked in one mess tin. For those wishing to reproduce the recipes in mess tins, I caution strongly against using original examples of the British "D-shaped" mess tin. Being constructed of soldered tin-coated steel, they should not be considered food-safe. There are stainless steel reproduction versions available (illustration below)



     The meat ration of the British Army during the Great War presents a somewhat confusing picture. The size of the meat ration varied, depending on whether the soldier was in barracks, billeted with contracted civilians, "under canvas", etc., and was adjusted during the war due to meat shortages and a re-evaluation of nutritional needs. By the end of the war, the normal meat ration was 12 ounces, increased to 16 ounces for soldiers in the field, which could be further increased to 20 ounces by order of the GOC (General Officer Commanding). As the ration for fresh or frozen meat included bone, the actual amount of trimmed meat allocated to soldiers could vary greatly. To account for this, I have scaled the recipes to 6-12 ounces/170-340 g of meat. The amount of stock also may vary, depending on the size and shape of the cooking vessel used.
     The British Army’s Manual of Army Catering Services 1954 (MACS) offered a number of useful suggestions on mess tin cooking that were probably in use for many years prior, and are worth noting here.
     In the 60-man recipes for some of the aforementioned stews instruct that the meat should be cut into 2 ounce pieces for a 3 hour cooking time. MACS 1954 recommended cutting meat into a ½” dice for cooking in mess tins. Although no size for meat cuts was given in the instructions for mess tin cooking in the early 20th century, a small sized cut was most likely used. This would make sense, given the reduced 1 to 1½ hour cooking time.  
    To season, the MACS recommended “as much salt as will cover a sixpence for each man, and pepper according to taste”. The “cover a sixpence” is approximately 1/8 teaspoon of salt. As most cooks don’t have a 1/8 teaspoon measure (myself included), I prefer the field expedient method. Some modern equivalents of the size of the sixpence coin (19 mm diameter) are the British, US and Canadian pennies, and the Euro 2 cent coin.
     
 Plain Stew

US                               Metric                         Ingredients
6-12 oz                        170-340 g                    beef or mutton
1.0 oz                          30 g                             mixed vegetables
0.5oz                           15 g                             onions
0.5oz                           15 g                             flour
to taste                         to taste                        pepper
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”        salt
8-12 fl oz                     240-360 ml                 meat stock

Procedure
1.      Peel and cut up the vegetables and onions into ½” pieces.
2.      Cut the meat against the grain, into pieces of 2 oz. each;
3.      Mix the dry flour, salt and pepper together.
4.      Place a little stock in the mess tin.
5.      Rub the pieces of meat in the dry flour and add to the stock.
6.      Put in the vegetables and onions, barely covering the whole with stock.
7.      Keeping the mess tin covered, let it simmer gently until the meat is cooked, about 1½ hours.


Curried Stew

US                               Metric                         Ingredients
6-12 oz                        170-340 g                    beef or mutton
0.5oz                           15 g                             onions
1.6 oz                          45 g                             mixed vegetables
0.5oz                           15 g                             flour
0.13 oz                         4 g                              curry
to taste                        to taste                          pepper
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”         salt
8-12 fl oz                     240-360 ml                  meat stock

Procedure
Note: Ingredients are the same (with slightly differing amounts) as for plain stew, with the addition of curry powder.
Mix the curry with the dry flour, and proceed as for plain stew.

Irish Stew

 US                               Metric                         Ingredients
6-12 oz                        170-340 g                    beef or mutton
19 oz                           530 g                            waxy potatoes
1.0 oz                          30 g                              onions
8-12 fl oz                     240-360 ml                  meat stock
to taste                        to taste                          pepper
“cover a sixpence”      “cover a sixpence”         salt

Procedure
1.      Peel and slice the potatoes into ½” slices.
2.      Peel and cut the onions into large pieces.
3.      Trim any surplus fat from the meat. Cut the meat into ½” pieces.
4.      Place a little stock in the cooking vessel, and a layer of potatoes at the bottom, then a layer of meat and onions; season with pepper and salt,
5.       then another layer of potatoes, and so on alternately, until the vessel is nearly full, potatoes forming the top layer; barely cover the whole with stock
6.      Simmer gently for 1½ hours, keeping the mess tin covered.