Friday, November 23, 2012

Jungle Cooking, British Army, WW2

      The British Army in World War 2 quickly learned that jungle warfare often entailed the disruption of normal supply. Soldiers were instructed in techniques of individual cooking to supplement to what rations were available. A basic ration of salt, tea, sugar and rice could be supplemented with wild vegetables, fruits, birds, mammals, and fish. Many improvised cooking implements could be fashioned from bamboo. An extremely versatile material, bamboo was commonly found throughout the jungles of Asia. Fortunately for me, it's also easily found in my private "jungle". 

Illustration from the Manual of Army Catering Services, Part II - Recipes,1945

Lunch is served. The "dinnerware" is constructed from bamboo, per illustrations in British Army manuals. Heating the outside of the green bamboo with a propane torch will help to preserve it. If the heating is carried a step further, the bamboo can be given a permanent dark brown color.
Without further ado, let's proceed to the "jungle" and perform a basic technique of British Army jungle cooking.

     British Army manuals described how to cook rice in bamboo, for "consumption on the march". The technique can be adapted to many types of recipes where boiling is the method of cooking. The tutorial below demonstrates this method of cooking rice in a section of bamboo.

Cut a piece of bamboo to size. It's best to use thin-walled, green bamboo to help minimize scorching. Make sure that you cut on either side of a joint, as there is a membrane at the joint which will hold your ingredients inside. Here I have cut a piece large enough to cook rice for one person.
Drill or punch a hole through the membrane on one end only. Shake out or rinse out any pieces that may have fallen inside.
We need to measure the capacity of our newly-created cooking vessel. To do this, pour water into the section of bamboo until it is nearly full.
Then drain the water out into an empty container and measure the amount. Calculate the amount of rice and water needed to  fill the  bamboo container, leaving a little space.
A funnel makes filling easier.

Add the rice,
and then the water.  Of course, in a jungle it would not be likely to find a measuring cup and funnel. However, one could improvise with a canteen cup to estimate the volume, and use a rolled-up leaf for a funnel. 

Plugging the end loosely with a rolled up piece of banana leaf helps to slow heat loss and evaporation during cooking. The same technique of cutting the bamboo and plugging with banana leaf is used to create a water carrier.
 Insert a forked stick of green wood into the ground. Place one end of the filled container in the notch of the stick. Build a small fire under the bamboo. Dried bamboo burns extremely well and makes an excellent fuel. Bring the rice to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Carefully (it can get very hot!) rotate the container once or twice while cooking to prevent scorching.

The bamboo cooker is then split open to remove the rice. Alternately, it could be left intact to be used as a carrying container if the rice needed to be transported. This would be for short distances only, especially in a tropical climate, as warm moist rice is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
The cooked rice.
As an added bonus, here is how to construct another type of bamboo cooker. I'm not sure when it first appeared in print in the US Army's Survival manual, but it appeared in many editions over the years.

To make this bamboo cooker, cut a larger diameter piece of bamboo. Cut a section so that you have two joints, but leave a longer amount of material on the ends, as shown below.

Make two angled cuts (approximately 45 degrees) just inside of the joints. The cuts will be made towards the center, as in the photo above. Cut to a depth of about one-third the diameter of the bamboo.

Carefully insert the blade of a heavy knife or machete and pry upwards. 
This will split the bamboo between the cuts and make an opening for the food to be cooked. 
Turn the bamboo over. Next we will make a cut on the outside of the joint, on both ends of the bamboo. 
Cut to a depth of about one-third the diameter of the bamboo.

Once you have made the cuts on the ends, carefully split the bamboo down to the cuts.
Remove the material from the cut area on the ends.
Place two short pieces of bamboo (of smaller diameter than the cooker) into the ground as supports. Place the ends of the cooker over the supports and build a fire underneath. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Coffee Cakes, US Army, 1943

As promised in my last post, here are some variations on the US Army's "Basic Sweet Dough for Sweet Rolls and Coffee Cakes". You will need to prepare the basic sweet dough recipe from my last post, "Cinnamon Rolls, US Army, 1943". These are old-fashioned coffee cakes, not overly sweet as is the case with many pastries nowadays. They are quite simple: the dough is rolled out, covered with a topping, proofed and baked. You can either make one large coffee cake, or divide the dough in half and make both types. The examples in the photos below were each scaled for one-half of the basic sweet dough recipe and used a quarter-sheet pan (13” x 9”, 33 x 23 cm).
     Do not exceed the proof time for either of these coffee cakes. If proofed for too long, the weight of the topping will cause the cake to fall. The finished coffee cakes can be served plain, with icing, or dusted with powdered sugar.   
Fruit coffee cake (left), Streussel coffee cake (right) and
cinnamon rolls (rear).
Fruit Coffee Cake
     For the fruit coffee cake any type of thickened pie filler could be used, prepared from fresh or canned fruit. The canned fruits most commonly available to the US Army in WW2 were apple, apricot, cherry, peach and pineapple. This recipe will require about  48 fluid ounces (1360 ml)  of thickened pie filler for the full recipe, or 24 fluid ounces (680 ml) for one-half of the sweet dough recipe.

1.      Use a piece of sweet dough weighing about 4 lbs
2.      Roll out sweet dough to a sheet of ½” thickness.
3.      Place the dough in a sheet pan. Trim the edges if necessary.
4.      Cover with a thickened pie filler, before proofing.
5.      Proof for 15 to 20 minutes.
6.      Bake at 400º F (205º C) for 30 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown.

Roll out the dough 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick, to the shape of the pan.
The thickened pie filler (blueberry in this example) is spread on the dough.
The baked fruit coffee cake.
Fruit coffee cake dusted with powdered sugar.

Streussel Coffee Cake
     The amounts for the streussel topping are for one full recipe of basic sweet dough. Divide the amounts in half if you are making a half-sized streussel coffee cake as I have done in the photos below.  

Streussel Topping
US                               Metric                          Ingredients
8 oz                             225 g                           sugar               
4 oz                             113 g                           butter              
4 oz                             113 g                           lard                 
0.125 oz (½ tsp)          3.5 g                            salt                  
1.5 oz                          4 g                               honey or table syrup               
16 oz                           43 g                             flour              

1. Cream slightly the sugar, butter, lard, and salt.                                                                                             
2. Add honey or syrup and flour.
3. Blend to a crumb-like mixture.          
4. If the mixture clumps together, add more flour until you get a crumbly mixture.

Procedure for Streussel Coffee Cake

1.      Roll sweet dough out to a sheet of ½” thickness.
2.      Place the dough in a sheet pan.
3.      Dock (prick) the dough sheet with a fork to prevent blisters.
4.      Grease the top of the dough with melted lard, shortening or butter.
5.      Spread the Streussel uniformly over the sheet of dough. If too much Streussel is applied in some spots, sinking may occur.
6.      Give a short proof of 15 to 20 minutes.
7.      Bake at 400°F (205°C) until golden brown on top and bottom.
8.      When baked, place a pan over the top of the coffee cake and turn upside down until cool.
9.      This will prevent the sinking of the cake under the weight of Streussel. Turn it over again once it has cooled.
10.  The finished Streussel cake may be served plain, iced, or dusted with powdered sugar.

Spreading the topping.
Streussel topping added and ready for proofing.
Remove the baked cake from the oven,
place a pan over the top of the coffee cake,
 and turn upside down to cool. Flip it back once it
has cooled so that the streussel is back on top.
Icing drizzled over the cooled cake.
The completed Streussel coffee cake.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls, US Army, 1943

     The US Army's approach to preparing many types of pastries was to use what was designated as the "Basic Dough for Sweet Rolls and Coffee Cakes". A rich, sweet yeast dough, it was simple to prepare, adaptable to field use (canned lard or shortening, powdered eggs, powdered milk and dry yeast could be utilized) and versatile. Many types of  sweet rolls, coffee cakes and donuts could be produced from the basic recipe.
     In this post I will demonstrate how to make cinnamon rolls. I will post coffee cake recipes within the next few days, using the same sweet dough recipe. The basic sweet dough recipe is scaled for 12-13 soldiers, with about 25% overage. If that's too large a scale, the recipe can be halved. However, this is one of the tastiest historical recipes that I have made yet. The only complaint I received about the cinnamon rolls is that there should have been more. The baked cinnamon rolls freeze quite well, and can be quickly reheated in a toaster oven or microwave.
     The weight of the liquid ingredients in the 1943 recipe was about 50% of the weight of the flour.  This resulted in an excessively moist dough. This was reduced to about 40% in later editions of the sweet dough recipe. After several test batches, I decided to go with the reduced amount of liquid. This produces a soft dough that is still easy to work with and not too sticky.

Basic Sweet Dough Recipe, US Army, 1943

US                               Metric                         Ingredients                 
8 oz                             230 g                           sugar               
8 oz                             230 g                           lard or shortening                   
0.6 oz                          17 g                             salt                  
6 oz                             170  g                          eggs                
1 oz                             28 g                             instant dry yeast                     
13 oz                           370 g                           milk & water*              
to taste                        to taste                         flavor**              
32 oz                           900 g                           flour    

*Milk and water may be any one of the following:
13 fl oz (370 ml) reconsititued (rehydrated) dried skim milk
3.5 fl oz (105 ml) canned evaporated milk and 9.5 fl oz (285 ml) water
13 fl oz (370 ml) fresh milk

**Flavor can be any of the following: vanilla, mace, nutmeg, lemon extract, or mace and lemon extract.

1.      Cream or rub together the sugar, lard and salt.
2.      Add the eggs, one at a time, and cream until well mixed.
3.      Add the yeast, milk, water and flavoring to the mixture.
4.      Add the flour all at one time to the mixture and mix well.
5.      Dough temperature should be 78º to 82º F / 26º to 28º C.
6.      Allow to rise for 1½ to 2 hours.
7.      Punch or stretch the dough and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
8.      If using the dough for more than one recipe, divide first and then allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.

Cinnamon Rolls
For the cinnamon rolls I used a half sheet pan (18” x 13” / 46 x 33 cm) for baking. Raisins or other dried fruit could be added, sprinkled on the dough sheet after the sugar and cinnamon mixture.

One recipe of Basic Sweet Dough
¼ fl oz (1½ tsp) cinnamon and 8 fl oz (1 cup) sugar (Metric: 7.5 ml powdered cinnamon and 240 ml sugar)

1.      Roll out to a sheet about ¼” thick (0.6 cm) and 16” (40 cm) wide.
2.      Grease the sheet with melted lard or melted butter, making sure it is greased from edge to edge.
3.      Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and spread evenly over the dough.
4.      Roll the sheet into a fairly tight roll.
5.      Carefully move the roll to a cutting board.
6.      Cut the cinnamon rolls to approx. ¾” (2 cm) thickness.
7.      Place close together on a baking sheet.
8.      Proof (let rise) until double in size.
9.      Bake at 400º F (205º C) for about 20 minutes, or until they are a golden brown on the top and bottom.

Helpful hints:
A small sieve is useful for insuring even distribution of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Use a very sharp knife for cutting the roll. A dull knife will pull apart the rolls.

Icing for Cinnamon Rolls
US                 Metric               Ingredients
24 oz              680 g                powdered sugar
4 fl oz             120 ml              warm water
1 fl oz/2 tbsp   30 ml                table syrup          
1/2 tsp            2-3 ml               vanilla
Mix all ingredients together and spread over baked cinnamon rolls.

Greasing the  dough sheet with melted butter, using a pastry brush.
Note that the 16 inch (40 cm) wide edge is to the right.
Sprinkling the cinnamon and sugar mixture over the greased dough sheet.
Rolling the dough.
The rolled dough is cut in half to make it easier to handle.
The rolled dough is placed on a cutting board.
Cutting the rolled dough into 3/4 inch (2 cm) slices.
The slices are placed close together on a greased sheet pan.
The rolls are ready to proof (rise) until doubled in size.
The baked cinnamon rolls.
Cinnamon rolls after icing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Feeding the Troops, WW II Style

     In addition to blogging, I work as a volunteer museum guide at the National Infantry Museum in Fort Benning, Georgia. The museum includes an outdoor display named World War II Company Street, consisting of restored "Series 700" buildings constructed during WW II. Over 30,000 Series 700 buildings were constructed during the war years, but the National Infantry Museum houses the only fully preserved set  (one of each type) of these buildings in existence. More information on the museum is available at
     This past weekend the museum hosted a living history event with  "Kelly's Zeroes", a local group of US Army WW II re-enactors. I volunteered to serve up some US Army WW2 chow for the re-enactors The menu included 1941 beef pot pie, 1941 field bread and 1943 cinnamon rolls. I'll post the cinnamon roll recipe in the near future.

Makeshift cooking area and chow line.

Inside the mess hall. The mess tables and benches are reproductions built to original specifications.
Posing with an "Army Range No. 5". Unfortunately, due to the potential fire hazard, the stoves are not set up for use.
I couldn't resist the temptation for a picture with
the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle)