Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking in the Trenches, German Army, 1915

Kochbuch für den Schützengraben
(Cookbook for the Trenches)

     Kochbuch für den Schützengraben (Cookbook for the Trenches) was a booklet of recipes published in 1915, before the worst of the wartime food shortages began to be felt in the front lines. Food shortages in Germany increased as World War I slogged on, reaching crisis level by the end of the war. The British naval blockade and the non-availability of Russian exports eventually reduced the importation of food, fertilizer and animal feed to a fraction of their prewar levels. Agricultural production suffered as a result of forty percent of German male farm laborers being taken away by the war effort. The situation was further exacerbated by the potato crop failure of 1916, when potato production dropped to less than half that of 1915. This forced the cultivation of yellow turnips and the resultant “yellow turnip winter” of 1916-1917, when potatoes were in extremely short supply or simply unobtainable in many German cities.
     Although the war was in its early stages, some ingredients in Kochbuch für den Schützengraben were listed as optional; it was noted that they might not always be available. But eggs, meat, dairy products, and sugar were still obtainable, at least in theory. It was a time when soldiers could still enjoy, at least occasionally, meat cutlets, potato pancakes and thick sauces.
     Most of the recipes were quite rudimentary: they often did not include the amounts of ingredients and gave only very basic cooking directions. Some recipes need no further embellishment, and one should feel free to use whatever amount of ingredients are available, or whatever seems an appropriate serving size. In other recipes I have estimated the ingredient amounts based on daily rations, sound cooking techniques and the proportions used in similar recipes of the time. The recipes are scaled for one serving. This post will take a look at the basics: meat and potatoes.
     The German soldier’s daily meat ration at the beginning of the war was 375 grams of fresh meat or 200 grams of smoked meat or sausage. The meat recipes are scaled to 200 grams of meat, which is approximately half of the daily meat ration.

Pork, Mutton or Veal Cutlets 
US                   Metric             Ingredients
7 oz                 200 g               pork loin, mutton, or veal (preferably loin)
1 each              1 each             egg
2 fl oz/¼ cup   60 ml                grated bread or bread crumbs
1 tbsp              1 tbsp              butter

1.      Cut the meat into finger-thick slices (about ¾ inch or 2 cm thick).
2.      Flatten the meat and well beaten to about 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness (1 cm).
3.      If a meat mallet is not available, a heavy object may be substituted: skillet, wine bottle, beer stein, etc.*
4.      Sprinkle with salt
5.      Roll in beaten egg, then in grated bread.
6.      Add to browned butter or other fat in a pan on a good fire and fry for two minutes on each side. To serve, top with butter sauce.

(*Cooking tip: To determine the amount of force needed to flatten the meat, lightly hit the heel of one hand with a meat mallet or other object held in the other hand. It should not be painful. This is the amount of pressure you need to apply to the meat. Any more force than that will tear the meat or turn it into mush.)

Wiener Schnitzel 
US                   Metric             Ingredients
7 oz                 200 g               veal
to taste            to taste             salt
1 tbsp              15 ml               butter

1.      Wiener schnitzel was cut from the leg of veal. Pieces of any size may be used.
2.      Flatten veal slices to about 1/4 inch thickness (0.6 cm).
3.      Rub with salt, then fry in hot butter.
4.      Serve with slices of lemon, anchovies, or Pfeffergurken (“pepper gherkins”: small cucumbers pickled in vinegar with chili peppers and other spices), or whatever is available.

US                   Metric              Ingredients
7 oz                 200 g               beef loin

Procedure is the same as for Wienerschnitzel.

Chopped Beefsteaks (Gehackte Beefsteaks)
US                   Metric              Ingredients
7 oz                 200 g               beef , finely chopped
1-2 tbsp*         15-30 ml*        fat (lard, butter, cooking oil)
to taste             to taste             salt

1.      Mix the meat with salt and pepper.
2.      Add the additional 1 tbsp fat to the meat only if the beef is very lean.
3.      Shape into round, flat dumplings.
4.      Heat 1 tbsp fat in a frying pan. Fry the steaks for a few minutes (3-5 minutes) on each side.

Meat Patty (Buletten)
“Buletten” to Berliners, these pan-fried ground meat patties are known elsewhere in Germany as Frikadellen, Frikandellen, Fleischpflanzerl, etc.

US                   Metric             Ingredients
7 oz                 200 g               boiled or roasted meat
4 fl oz               120 ml             bread crumbs
1 each              1 each             egg yolk
1 tbsp              15 ml               fat (lard, butter, cooking oil)
to taste             to taste            salt
to taste             to taste            pepper

1.      Mince the cooked meat and combine with breadcrumbs, fat, egg yolks, salt and pepper.
2.      Mix well, shape into 6 balls and flatten slightly.
3.      Heat the fat in a frying pan and fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until well browned.

Potato Dishes
     Potatoes were an important part of the German soldier’s ration. Early in the war, the daily allowance was 1500 grams (53 ounces) of potatoes. While this may seem like a huge amount, it is only approximately 1200 calories: about 1/3 of a soldier’s daily requirement. I have scaled the potato recipes to 375 grams (about 13 ounces). This is the weight of raw, unpeeled potatoes. 

Fried Potatoes
Peel the potatoes, cut into slices about 3/8” (1 cm) thick. Fry in hot fat until browned. Sprinkle with salt. You can also add thinly sliced apples or onions in the middle of cooking.

Potato Pancakes
One large russet potato works well for this recipe and yields about 5-6 small potato pancakes.

US                   Metric              Ingredients
13 oz               375 g                potatoes (any type)
1 each              1 each              egg yolk
2-4 tbsp           30-60 ml          flour
 to taste            to taste              salt
1-2 tbsp           15-30               fat, for frying

1.      Peel and grate the potatoes.
2.      Mix with egg yolk, salt and flour.
3.      Heat the oil in a frying pan with a cover.
4.      Take a rounded tablespoon of the mixture and place it in the heated pan.
5.      Flatten the potato mixture with the back of the spoon into a small circular fritter.
6.      Cover the pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned.
7.      Remove from heat,

Sprinkle with sugar and serve with stewed fruit.
Serve with a bacon sauce made from fried bacon bits, a few tablespoonfuls of broth, a little vinegar and sugar to taste.

Meat Sauce for Potatoes
I scaled this recipe large enough to suffice as the meat ration for a meal. These are only guidelines, and the amount of ingredients can vary according to taste and to what’s available.

US                   Metric            Ingredients
8 fl oz              250 ml             leftover ham, salt pork, or any type of roasted meat, chopped
1/2 tbsp           15 ml               fat
4 fl oz              120 ml             meat broth (add more broth if the meat is dry)
1 tbsp              15 ml               cream
2 fl oz              60 ml               bread crumbs
1-2 tbsp           1-2 tbsp          grated Parmesan or Swiss cheese

1.      Chop the meat into small pieces.
2.      Heat the fat in a pan.
3.      Add the meat
4.      Once the meat has been warmed, add the broth, cream, bread crumbs and cheese.
5.      Serve over boiled and sliced potatoes or cooked dehydrated potatoes.
6.      Alternately, place the potatoes in an oven-proof pan, cover with the sauce, then dot with small pieces of butter and grated cheese. Cover the pan and cook in a field oven or on a fire with hot coals placed on top of the lid. Bake until ingredients are heated through, and the cheese has melted.

Potato Salad:
US                   Metric              Ingredients
13 oz               375 g               boiled potatoes

Cut the cooked, cooled potatoes, into slices 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick.
Mix with one of the following salad dressings.
These dressings may be mixed with leftover (cooked) fish to make fish salad.

(Note: in the original booklet, the following recipes for salad dressings had neither names nor amounts.  I have added descriptive English names only for the sake of convenience. The addition of salt was added for those recipes where it was not included, but assumed to be an ingredient. And although not noted in the original recipe, the sour cream dressing is greatly enhanced by the addition of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley and/or chives)

Lard and Vinegar Dressing
US                   Metric              Ingredients
1-2 tbsp           15-30 ml          lard
1-2 tbsp           15-30 ml          hot meat broth (fish broth if dressing is used for fish)
1½  tsp            8 ml                 vinegar
to taste            to taste              salt
to taste            to taste              pepper

Stir the lard together with the broth, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Add 1 tbsp minced onion
Add a pinch of ground laurel (bay leaf)

Oil and Vinegar Dressing
US                   Metric              Ingredients
2 tbsp             30 ml                 oil
2 tsp                10 ml                vinegar
½ tsp              ½ tsp                 sugar
to taste            to taste              salt

Mustard Dressing
US                   Metric              Ingredients
2 tbsp             30 ml               oil
2 tsp                10 ml               vinegar
2 tsp                10 ml               mustard
2 tsp                10 ml               white wine
to taste            to taste              salt

Sour Cream Dressing
US                   Metric              Ingredients
2 tbsp             30 ml               sour cream,
1 tbsp             15 ml               vinegar
½ tsp               ½ tsp               sugar
 to taste            to taste              salt

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volumes 91-94
A.L. Hummel, 1920, pg.132

Germany’s Food Supply, Prof. W.J. Ashley, London:  Jas. Truscott & Son, Ltd, 1916.
Reprinted from The Quarterly Review, October, 1915

Germany, Propaganda and Total War, 1914-1918: The Sins of Omission, David Welch
Rutgers University Press, 2000, pg.119

Kriegskochbuch, Anweisungen zur einfachen und billigen Ernährung. 5. Auflage.
(War Cookbook, Instructions for Simple and Cheap Food. 5th Edition.)
Gebrüder Hoesch (pub.), Hamburg, 1915 

Kochbuch für den Schützengraben, Hans Werder, Otto Janke Publisher, Berlin, 1915

The Scientific American War Book, The Mechanism and Technique of Warfare, Albert A. Hopkins (Editor), New York, 1916


  1. One might shudder at lard used to dress salads, but my mom (who came to Canada from Italy in 1960) would, on occasion when missing the old country, dress salad with melted lard. Apparently, when she was young, pig fat was cheaper than olive oil where she lived in central Italy.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. In my not-always-so-humble opinion, I think that lard has gotten a bad rap over the years, along with butter, red meat, carbs, eggs, and so on. With any food, one should just follow the simple rule of "all things in moderation". I lived 7 years in northern Italy during the 1970's and 1980's, and I found the Italians to be quite healthy on a diet that included lard, red meat, wine, bread, coffee, etc. The key was moderation, not a lot of sugar, and physical activity.
      Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  2. Hi.
    I am an old old soldier and an old chow hound living in Germany. I do reenacting and a bit of living history. I found a few German Army cookbooks online, one from the 1800s. Right now I am on a quest for learning the recipe for the hard tack that was used in WW1 and 2. In my search I found your blog. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Kelley,
      What type of reenacting do you do, and what type of hardtack or you ooking to reproduce(i.e., US or German)? Coincidentally, I have been working on a recipe for "hard bread", the official US designation for hardtack. The ingredients are simple, but it took a few batches to get the right texture, size and final moisture content (12%). The basic recipe was the same from the US Civil War until the Federal specification was cancelled in 1935. Its demise was probably due to a combination of improvements in food distributon and the development of pre-packaged rations (C, D, and K). The size of hard bread remained the same until prior to WWI, when it was reduced to 2 inches square by about 7/16 inch thick. It consisted only of flour and water. Salt was used only if it was intended for immediate use. If you see a recipe including baking powder or fat for US hardtack, then in my opinion it won't be quite authentic, at least not according to any of the US Army specs that I've read. Fat will eventuially go rancid and baking powder and salt increase the ability of the hardtack to absorb water and become moldy, so they weren't used in hardtack which was of course intended to last forever, or reasonably close.
      But stay tuned to the blog, I'll get the hardtack recipe out there some time in the not-too-distant future.
      I've also been researching how to reproduce dauerbrot, zwieback and hartkek, but finding info on those is a bit more difficult.
      Thanks for your comment,

  3. Amazingly cultured for such difficult conditions!

    1. Logistics notwithstanding, daily life in the trenches was likely a bit more comfortable for the German army. Whereas the British and French viewed the trenches (at least initially) as a temporary phase, the Germans prepared for the long term by constructing deep, reinforced shelters. To my understanding, the Germans in many areas also happened to be situated where the drainage was better.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!