Archival food – Dehydrated M&V for emergency rations – Part 3

This is the cooking post. My intent here is to illustrate exactly how dehydrated emergency ration M&V was prepared in the field.

First of all though, a few thoughts on the packaging of your dehydrated M&V block. If you’re a non-traditionalist you could vacuum seal the rock-hard M&V “puck”. That’d be the ultimate in dehydrated M&V storage for field use. If you don’t have access to a vac-sealer, you could store it in a ziplock baggie or wrap it in a few layers of plastic cling wrap. If you’re wanting to package it like it would have been packaged during WWII, then you have two options –

1. Wrap with greaseproof paper – early war

2. Place into a small cellophane bag and heat seal the end – mid war

Here’s a recap of exactly what’s in these M&V blocks:

Premium, lean ground/minced beef

Premium, lean ground/minced beef

Freshly chopped cabbage (image from www.livingwellspendingless.com)

Freshly chopped cabbage (image from http://www.livingwellspendingless.com)

Freshly chopped carrot (image from http://karistaskitchen.com)

Freshly chopped carrot (image from http://karistaskitchen.com)

Instant mashed potato with onion

Instant mashed potato with onion

Skim Milk Powder - not whole milk powder since the milk solids can go rancid in storage.

Skim Milk Powder – not whole milk powder since the milk solids can go rancid in storage.

Table salt

Table salt

Black pepper

Black pepper

Plus a small amount of olive oil or vegetable shortening to stop it sticking to the tray.  One of the greatest mysteries of the 20th and 21st centuries is why, with mostly fresh, first quality ingredients, do dehydrated M&V blocks smell like dry dog food? I guess we’ll never know, but from the ingredients, you can see that it’s not that bad. There’s nothing nasty in there and if you made a stew using the same ingredients in a different format, it’d probably be quite tasty. Surely it’s gotta taste great…? Right?

Our puck of dehydrated emergency ration M&V. Matchbox for scale.

Our “puck” of dehydrated emergency ration M&V. Matchbox for scale.

How to prepare the M&V blocks for human consumption:

Instructions on the original tin give us three options for consuming the M&V blocks –

1. “May be eaten as packed.”

These aren’t something that you’d want to eat dry. They literally suck the moisture out of your mouth and you need to drink far more water than you normally would to compensate. Also, the block swells to 4-5 times its original size and bulk when exposed to water, so a little bit can go a long way. We won’t be attempting to eat it “as packed”. Method number 1 should be reserved for life-threatening escape and evasion situations near drinkable water only

2. “A more palatable meal results by cooking in or heating with four times its bulk of boiling water.”

Mmm… stew. Sounds delish.

A WWI style trench cooker I threw together out of some tin cans in the shed. This is the same weight and dimensions as an original. Whereas the original contains soldified alcohol, this one is run on gelled alcohol fuel - Cooker Individual, Combat, Chafing No. 1 Mk. I

A WWI style trench cooker I threw together out of some tin cans in the shed. This is the same weight and dimensions as an original. Whereas the original contains solidified alcohol, this one is run on gelled alcohol fuel – Cooker Individual, Combat, Chafing No. 1 Mk. I

This archival food experiment was undertaken using a modern small-sized saucepan and frypan in lieu of unsafe original mess tins.

Crumbled M&V block

As per the original item, our M&V block is crumbled before adding to the boiling water.

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To paraphrase Witch No. 1 in Shakespeare’s oft-misquoted Scottish Play “Double double, toil and boiling M&V stew”. Added to 4 times its bulk of boiling water, the crumbled block is allowed to boil for around ten minutes.

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The finished product. Has the consistency of porridge and is bland as hell, but the powdered beef has definitely rehydrated since it has the texture of a canned spaghetti sauce with beef.

So what’s it like? It’s like a beefy strained baby food that you’d give a small baby you absolutely hated and wanted to grow up to be all mean, bitter and twisted. It’s not what you’d call hearty fare, but it has some taste and if you were cold and hungry it would be nourishing and warm.

If I were a WWII squaddie forced to exist off this stuff for a few days I’d try to carry some curry powder, some salt and a couple of beef or vegetable bouillon cubes. THAT would make it more than just palatable.

Here’s what a WWII soldier reported after preparing the dehydrated M&V block as a stew –

“Reveille: 0630 hrs.
Breakfast. Meat and Vegetables which had been left to soak overnight was heated up and eaten as a stew. All agreed that it was very tasty and filling. It affected us in such a way that we felt that we had had a big meal. We started on our route again at 0830hrs and while marching felt the same as we would after a big meal. M&V palatable and sufficient when boiled to a thick stew – add Marmite to flavour.”

For authenticity's sake, here's an image of M&V block being prepared as a stew. Still frame courtesy Critical Past LLC.

For authenticity’s sake, here’s an image of M&V block being prepared as a stew using the same method as the above. Still frame courtesy Critical Past LLC.

3. “Moistened with water it can be fried as a Rissole without added fat.”

We shall see…

Our second M&V block, ready to emerge from its chrysalis-like non-stick frying pan to emerge as a beautiful "rissole". A rissole is very similar to a hamburger patty.

Our second M&V block, ready to emerge from its chrysalis-like non-stick frying pan as a beautiful meat and vegetable “rissole”. A rissole is very similar to a hamburger patty.

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The block is moistened on both sides and allowed to sit in a small amount of water for approximately 5 minutes to soften and rehydrate.

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After five minutes, the pan or mess tin is placed onto the cooker and the remaining liquid boiled off.

IMG_20131009_104917

Trench cooker in action

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It was inevitable, after browning one side of the rissole, I tried to flip it and it exploded.

IMG_20131009_105044

Despite this setback, I re-shaped it and continued cooking.

IMG_20131009_105434

It was VERY difficult not to burn it using the trench cooker, which gets very hot. What we are left with here is surprisingly tasty and has a great texture. It has the texture of a poorly-barbequed, half-burned hamburger patty and tastes about the same. Better than nothing if you’re hungry.

Considering the format, this one went rather well. It was almost tasty and was partially crunchy where it had browned (blacked?). This would be my preferred way of preparing M&V blocks if I was ever trapped in a time machine and sent back to 1942, then dumped in the middle of nowhere and given just a case of emergency rations to survive for a couple of weeks.

Although it’s my preferred method of preparing the M&V blocks, here’s what a wartime report had to say about it:

“As a rissole it is not very palatable as the difficulty of cooking without fat does not allow for sufficient cooking before it begins to burn, added to which the heat generated from the spirit stove has a tendency to melt the tinning of the mess tin and so mix with the food.”

For authenticitiy's sake, here's a photo of a female officer making rissoles using emergency ration M&V blocks. Presumably, she did a better job than I. Image courtesy the Australian War Memorial.

For authenticity’s sake, here’s a photo of a female officer making rissoles in a frypan using emergency ration M&V blocks. Presumably, she did a better job than I. Image courtesy the Australian War Memorial.

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