Archival Gear – The First “Hootchie and Swag” challenge

Bushwalking in the Old Style - Australian conservation pioneer Myles Dunphy in the Blue Mountains in 1915.
Bushwalking in the Old Style – Australian conservation pioneer Myles Dunphy in the Blue Mountains in 1915. Dunphy and his companions traveled the length and breadth of New South Wales’ wilderness areas in the first half of the 20th century, often living for weeks at a time out of a traditional Aussie swag bedroll.

In a few weeks I’ll be participating in an event with a rather odd name –  “Bushcraft Challenge – Hootchie & Swag Low-Tech Overnight Bushwalk”.

Unlike most recreational hiking trips, this one has rules covering the types of equipment used.

“The Rules

No backpacks. For this one you’ll need to either improvise a comfy pack or else go for a swag/bedroll configuration with a shoulder strap, tuckerbag and a shoulder satchel. If you have army-style web gear (belt, harness, bumpack, 2 water bottles, 2 basic pouches, etc.) that’s also acceptable.

No tents, Goretex bivy bags or camping hammocks. Small tarps, hootchies or even lightweight canvas swags are all good. In a pinch a 2-3m long length of black builder’s plastic from the hardware store will do. You will also need to bring some cord.

No sleeping mats. Try sleeping on the ground without that Thermarest or yoga mat.

Your Bedding. Sure, take a sleeping bag if you feel like it, or you could be more traditional and use a wool blanket or two. Make sure that your setup insulates you from the ground.

No gas cookers. Esbit stoves and alcohol stoves are OK, but simply cooking on the campfire is best.

No elaborate cook sets. A billy can up to 2.5lt capacity and an enamel or metal mug are ideal and all you really need. If you want to bring a knife, fork and spoon set, that’s up to you.

Food. Bring whatever you want as long as you can prepare it using the specified equipment.

Electronics. Please limit your gadgetry to: a torch, a phone and a camera. We’ll rely wholly upon traditional map and compass navigation. Relevant map sheets will be posted prior to the walk if you want to brush up on your land nav.”

It’s all light years away from modern lightweight hiking equipment, but similar concepts have been used by explorers and wilderness travellers for centuries. Distracted by high-tech design and materials, have we forgotten how to make-do in the great outdoors with just basic gear and a good supply of common-sense? The purpose of this event is to find out.

Diagram of Myles Dunphy's "Dungalla" or "Dungall" (Dunphy/Gallop) swag and dilly bag system.

Diagram of Myles Dunphy’s “Dungalla” or “Dungall” (Dunphy/Gallop) swag and dilly bag system. From Milo Dunphy’s excellent book “The Rucksack Bushwalker and Camper”

The walk itself is a decent 22km length and the trip runs for two nights, the first night requiring a camp setup in the dark late at night. Being autumn the weather will begin to get a little chilly and possibly rainy so participants will need to think about what they’re doing in terms of their bedding and site selection.

Since the trip is still more than a month away at time of writing, I’ll note down how I intend to proceed. It’ll be interesting to revisit this topic after the smoke has cleared and see what worked and what didn’t. Most of my equipment for this walk is vintage or military surplus.

Group from the Melbourne Walking Club heading to Mt Misery in 1911. Note the large billycans which are hand-carried, allowing more provisions in the dilly bag. Image credit Melbourne Walking Club and Tony Heyes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/melbournewalkingclub/6919219991/in/photostream/)

Group from the Melbourne Walking Club heading to Mt Misery in 1911. Note the large billycans which are hand-carried, full of water. Image credit Melbourne Walking Club and Tony Heyes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/melbournewalkingclub/6919219991/in/photostream/)

Load-Bearing Equipment:

I’m going the swag/bedroll route. This means that I will need a dilly (or tucker) bag to balance the load. Additionally I’ll be taking some equipment which won’t fit in the dilly bag and that I’d like to be easily accessible such as a rain poncho. In the absence of a day pack, that means a shoulder satchel. I usually wear a belt out bush upon which I mount a canteen, a pocket knife pouch and a compass pouch. Since we’re practicing land navigation, I’ll have to take compass, map, protractor and pencils. This means taking a map case.

My gear for this walk, minus belt with canteen, etc.

My gear for this walk, minus belt with canteen, etc.

Swag – I’m using a canvas swag rather than trying to improvise a pack. Inside the swag will be a single blue bedsheet and a khaki wool blanket. The swag will be slung traditionally using a fencing wire strap hook.

Turn of the 20th Century leather and canvas Wolseley Valise military officer's bed roll.

Turn of the 20th Century leather and canvas Wolseley Valise military officer’s bed roll.

Dilly bag – I’m using a canvas British MKVII respirator case. The Dilly bag’s shoulder strap is knotted to shorten it and then tied to the shoulder strap of the swag bundle. When full, the dilly bag balances the load and helps bring the centre of gravity closer to where it should be for normal human walking.

Shoulder satchel – I’m using an Australian 37 Pattern haversack with a nice and wide US 1950s cotton canvas General Purpose strap.

Belt kit. I’ll be using a 2 inch brown leather belt with a canvas canteen pouch, a leather pocket knife pouch, and a webbing compass pouch.

Map case – I’ll be using a standard Australian WWII General Service map case with shoulder strap. The case will be tied to the lid of the haversack for convenience.

Shelter & Sleeping –

Swag – khaki canvas and leather Wolseley Valise, which was a private-purchase military officer’s bed roll popular from the 1880s until the 1950s. This is the pattern upon which many of the purpose-built Australian swags of the period were based. Indeed, the basic pattern appears in Ron Edwards’ “Bushcraft” series of books. It weighs a ton and unfortunately I don’t have a batman to carry it.

A workable pattern for a Wolseley Valise-style swag. Image from Ron Edwards' "Bushcraft 3".

A workable pattern for a Wolseley Valise-style swag. Image from Ron Edwards’ “Bushcraft 3”.

Australian WWII lightweight jungle groundsheet – A new old stock 1945-dated item which I intend to use as a groundsheet for this trip. Rolled in the swag

Olive drab US Poncho – Raincoat and tarp shelter if required. Rolled and carried under the lid of the shoulder satchel for quick access.

A blue cotton single bed sheet – A nod to tradition since I don’t have the blue wool blanket which gives the swag its nickname, “Bluey”. Carried in the swag.

Wool blanket – I’m using an early 1980s 100% pure wool South Korean army surplus cot blanket. The South Koreans do cold weather and sleeping gear particularly well. Folded and pinned with blanket pins into a sleeping bag configuration. Carried in the swag

Olive drab British Arctic Sleeping Bag Liner – This is a mummy-shaped and relatively lightweight olive cotton bag. Rather than use it for its intended purpose, I’ll be using it as the basis of a “palliasse” mattress. The idea is to pack the liner with bracken, dry grass or dead leaves from a fallen tree. This serves to insulate the sleeper from the cold, hard ground. Carried empty and rolled in the swag.

Vietnam-era Australian insect net – This is entirely optional and will depend on the weather. If it’s warm then I’ll take it because the bugs will be out in force. If it’s not, I won’t. The net will interface with a poncho tarp and includes a skirt which is tucked under the groundsheet, making the ensemble insect-proof. Rolled in the swag

Water, Cooking & Eating –

Much of this is carried in the dilly bag to help balance the weight of the swag.

WWI American Canteen – carries just under a litre of water. Carried in pouch on belt.

Billy can – 1930s vintage, made by Willow in Australia. Can heat just over a litre of water. The lid is used as an impromptu frying pan for bacon. Carried in the dilly bag and used as a food storage container

Australian Canteen Cup – perhaps one of the most useful items of camping gear I own. Nests with the canteen above. Although perfect as a boiling vessel, I’ll be using it in lieu of the traditional enamel mug or pannikin as both a bowl and as a drinking cup. Carried in pouch on belt.

Spoon – Carried in dilly bag.

British MkVII enamel water bottle – carried in the haversack, this allows the carriage of an extra litre of water for campsite use.

2x Match safes – Cylindrical US issue Olive Drab plastic match safes with waterproof matches and striker pads. Carried in the dilly bag and in the haversack.

Cooker – campfire

Navigation, Tools and Miscellaneous –

WWII General Service map case – Carries map, service protractor and pencils. Carried attached to lid of haversack

MkIII Marching Compass with lanyard – Vintage prismatic compass. Carried in compass pouch on belt.

Map of area – The current mapsheet for the area includes a full-colour aerial photo ortho map on the reverse. Folded and sealed in  a large ziplockbag and inserted into the map case.

Protractor – British WWII ivorine service protractor. Carried in map case

WWII-vintage map case with prismatic compass and all accessories.

WWII-vintage map case with prismatic compass and all accessories.

Pencil – Midori brass bullet pencil. Carried in shirt pocket.

Notebook – Field Notes “Expedition” waterproof notebook. Carried in shirt pocket.

10m cord – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.

6 x light tent pegs – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.

Maglite XL50 flashlight – LED, rugged, very bright. Carried in shirt pocket.

Swiss Army 1920s-vintage Petromax folding candle lantern – with 2 candles, canvas case and matches. Carried in haversack.

Swiss Petromax folding candle lanterns with candles, matches and canvas case. I’m taking the green one (folded flat here) since it works better with standard household candles than the chromed one.

Pocket knife – I’ll take a basic locking jack knife. Carried in pouch on belt.

Clasp Knife – Australian early WWII-issue Whittingslowe clasp knife with blade, marlin spike, can opener and slot-head screw driver. This will be used for food prep and to open food tins – carried in the dilly bag.

Small toiletries roll – carried in the haversack.

First aid kit – carried in the haversack

Mobile phone and spare battery – Will be used mostly as a camera and carried in the haversack when not in use

Clothing –

For this trip I’m sticking with what I know – that means a combination of poly/cotton cargo pants and a quick-drying nylon shirt. I’ll be wearing my modern Keens waterproof hiking boots. I’ll have a windproof smock and fleece pullover rolled in the swag and will be wearing a wide-brim khaki fur felt hat.

However, if I was to go traditional with my clothing, this is what I’d use (for a relatively dry trip in mild to cool weather) –

Repro or second hand wool 50s/60s-era British/Commonwealth battledress or second hand suit trousers. Being wool, these are warm, even when wet. Worn with button-in braces for comfort since the waist is too high for a useful belt.

Wool socks

Repro WWII-style brown officer’s “ammunition” boots with hobnails – it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good pair of old-style leather-soled work boots that don’t have a steel-cap and which don’t cost upwards of A$200.The repros from What Price Glory are good value in my opinion.

Current-issue white US Navy surplus canvas ceremonial leggings/gaiters (dyed black, brown or khaki) – same specs and similar construction to the WWII-issue US Army leggings, but white.

Merino Wool singlet/t-shirt or a 60s-vintage army surplus string vest

Cotton drill military or work shirt

80s-90s Aussie Army surplus Lightweight wool v-neck pullover

Second hand light wool sports jacket

Wide-brimmed fur felt hat

Food –

Harking back to the archival food post, my menu for this trip is mostly traditional. It’s not lightweight, there’s most likely too much of it and it’s probably not even that nutritious. The food is carried in the dilly bag.

1 x tin bully beef

8 x biscuits ( commercial Arnott’s Sao cracker biscuits semi-hardened by dehydrating for 6 hours  STOP PRESS! I just discovered a hard biscuit which is very similar in size, taste and consistency to the old Aussie ration pack survival biscuits which themselves were similar to Aussie WWII-era Biscuits, Wholemeal – They are called Breakfast Crackers and seem to be a modern evolution of ship’s biscuits. Here’s the brand I bought – http://www.internationalgroceries.com.au/shop/fmf-breakfast-crackers-375g/ they cost around $2 a packet)

1/4 loaf black rye bread

100g Kaiserfleisch- cured, salted and smoked pork belly – sliced and used as bacon or shaved and used as flavouring in stew

100g salami

50g Butter

100g Hard cheese

1 x tin beef goulash

50g Dried peas

50g Dried mixed vegetables – home-dehydrated diced mixed vegetables -carrot, corn, onion, green beans, cabbage

50g Potato powder

50g Powdered egg

100g Uncooked white rice

Salt, pepper and spices (mixed herbs, onion powder, garlic, curry and chilli)

Beef bullion cubes

50g of sultanas

50g of cashews

50g of dried apricots

50g beef jerky

D-Ration chocolate bar – yes I make these

Ground coffee

Tea leaves

Raw Sugar

Alternate Equipment

What if I didn’t have all this cool vintage and surplus gear? What would I do then? Let’s see.

Load-Bearing Equipment-

Swag – Easiest and cheapest is a 2-3 metre length of black builder’s plastic or even a small poly tarp. Place your sleeping bag or blankets inside and fold the plastic sheet into an envelope. Secure the sides with duct tape strips – or not. When rolled, secure the bundle with two lengths of rope or cord and add a wide shoulder strap from a gym bag or similar. In lieu of plastic you could use an army hootchie (or any commercial hiking tarp) or even an appropriately-sized canvas drop cloth from the hardware store.

Dilly bag – a calico shopping bag or an old pillow case secured at the top with string. Tie the string to your swag strap to help balance the load

Shoulder satchel / haversack – You can find cheap ones like this – http://www.wellingtonsurplus.com.au/showProduct/BAGS/HAVERSACKS/HV0001/Jungle+Force+Web+Haversack+-+Model+WH-1

Shelter & Sleeping Equipment –

Swag -the above-mentioned 2-3m length of black builder’s plastic

Sleeping – use a normal sleeping bag and/or fleece throw rugs

Groundsheet – more black builder’s plastic

Tarp – more black builder’s plastic. Add tie-off points by tying small pebbles into the corners and halfway down the short edges.

Mosquito net – a single traveller’s insect net is OK.

Mattress – gather up dry grass, bracken or leaves from a fallen tree. Overlap and arrange them into a layer about 20cm thick. Lay your groundsheet on top and presto – instant, well-insulated mattress. Scatter your “mattress” before you leave the campsite.

A "mattress" made from natural materials, in this case leafy twigs from a fallen tree. Such a mattress is surprisingly warm and comfortable. Diagram from Milo Dunphy's "Rucksack Hiker and Camper"

A “mattress” made from natural materials, in this case leafy twigs from a fallen tree. Such a mattress is surprisingly warm and comfortable. Diagram from Milo Dunphy’s “Rucksack Bushwalker and Camper”

Cooking & Eating Equipment:

Water-bottle – Store-bought 1.5 litre water or soft drink bottle.

Billy can – empty food or coffee tin with a wire handle added

Spoon – raid your kitchen drawer

Matches – 2 packets of waterproof matches or a bic lighter.

Cooker – campfire

Everything else I’m sure you can work out.

Archival Food – 14-Day Unsupported Hiking Expedition, 1920s

Miles Dunphy and Bert Gallop pictured in 1912. Their equipment was still common among walkers in the 1920s, not to mention swagmen. Their basic load-carrying system is identical to that of the traditional Australian swagman - A bedding roll in which blankets, a sheet, coat, socks and underwear are rolled. Food is carried in a dilly bag hung off the swag strap to act as a counterbalance. In this photo we see a couple of rifles. The Dunphys and their bushwalking companions lived off the land wherever possible to supplement their rations. Wallaby, kangaroo and rabbit were the favoured game.

Miles Dunphy and Bert Gallop pictured in 1912. Their equipment was still common among walkers in the 1920s, not to mention swagmen. Their basic load-carrying system is identical to that of the traditional Australian swagman – A bedding roll in which blankets, a sheet, coat, socks and underwear are rolled. Food is carried in a dilly bag hung off the swag strap to act as a counterbalance. The dilly bag (also known as a tucker bag) carried the dry rations as well as the men’s eating gear – plate, enamel mug and knife/fork/spoon and their cooking equipment – a billy can with lid. In this photo we also see a couple of rifles – a .32/20 lever gun and a .22 bolt action. The Dunphys and their bushwalking companions lived off the land wherever possible to supplement their rations and save weight. Wallaby, kangaroo and rabbit were the favoured game.

I recently read an old journal article from 1924 which piqued my curiosity. It was a trip report of a group of naturalists who penetrated deep into the wilds of Tasmania for two weeks, carrying everything they needed for that two weeks – no resupply. Their camping gear list is a separate post in itself, but what interested me was the food they carried. There were no freeze dried meals or MRE entrees or single-serving noodle packs or cliff bars available to recreational walkers in the 1920s. It was mainly whole foods in as lightweight a format as they could manage. The food list below is a list of food carried by each individual for that 14 days. Check it out –

  • 2 x 2lb tin loaves – 1.8kg
  • 4 x lbs self-raising flour – 1.8kg
  • 4 x tins bully beef / camp pie / etc. – 48oz total – 1.4kg
  • 4 x lbs ship’s biscuits – 1.8kg
  • 2 x lbs sugar – 900g
  • 0.5 x lb salt – 225g
  • 3 x lbs dried fruit – 1.4kg
  • 2 x lbs creamoata – 900g
  • 1.5x lbs bacon – 680g
  • 2 x tins unsweetened condensed milk – 24oz total – 680g
  • 1.5 x lbs cheese – 680g
  • 2 x large cakes chocolate – 0.5lb each – 1lb total – 455g
  • 2 x lbs dripping – 900g
  • 1 x lb split peas – 455g
  • 1 x bottle bovril – 0.5lb – 0.255g
  • 0.5x lb tea – 0.255g

Total food weight29lb13.15kg – 2.07lb or 0.939kg per day

To give a modern comparison, lightweight hikers/bushwalkers on a multi-day trip will generally aim at around 1kg (2.2lb) of food carried per day. This means that the old timers’ food weights were actually comparable to modern standards, but this is unlikely to include the weights of the tin cans, glass and calico packaging. Still… not bad.

What's wrong with this picture. A group of walkers near Seal Cove in the Wilson's Promontory National Park in the late 1920s. Backpacks were now rapidly replacing the traditional swag and dilly bag.

What’s wrong with this picture? A group of walkers near Seal Cove in the Wilson’s Promontory National Park in the late 1920s. Backpacks were now rapidly replacing the traditional swag and dilly bag.

Some definitions:

1. Tin Loaf –

A tin loaf.

A tin loaf.

This was a loaf of sandwich bread, very similar in style and substance to a modern bagged loaf of bread, but it was unsliced of course and was only about 3/4 the length of a modern loaf. It was so-named because of the tin used to bake it. Back in 1924 most bread was baked French style –   without being constrained in a bread pan. In this instance these would have been wrapped in newspaper and carried in a calico bag.

2. Camp Pie –

It's a mystery why they call it a pie. It's a lump of rendered and extruded manufactured meat in a tin - as we Aussies like to say, "it's all lips and bums".

It’s a mystery why they call it a pie. It’s a lump of rendered and extruded manufactured meat in a tin – as we Aussies like to say, “it’s all lips and bums”.

Still available in Tasmanian supermarkets today, camp pie was a pork and beef-based luncheon meat in a round or rectangular tin depending on the brand. Similar to Spam. Bully beef of course is corned beef in a trapezoidal tin.

3. Ship’s biscuits –

Made from pretty much just flour and water with a pinch of salt, ship's biscuits were used in exactly the same way as hard tack. Image from http://savoringthepast.net/2013/06/12/ships-biscuit-recipes/

Made from pretty much just flour and water with a pinch of salt, ship’s biscuits were used in exactly the same way as hard tack. Image from http://savoringthepast.net/2013/06/12/ships-biscuit-recipes/

Circular hard tack. These would have been carried packed into a tea tin or in a calico bag

4. Creamoata –

Creamoata - now the kids won't be malnourished anymore...

Creamoata… so the kids won’t be malnourished anymore…

Appears to be some form of pre-mixed porridge (oats with milk powder and brown sugar) which was popular in Australia and New Zealand from the 1910s to the 1940s. Most likely carried in a calico bag

5. Bacon –

Slab of bacon

Slab of bacon

They are talking about thick slabs of bacon – American style.  I’ve had bacon rashers last 4 days in hot weather on a recent hiking trip, so if packed correctly the slab stuff should last even longer. These would have been wrapped in several layers of butchers or news paper

6. Cheese –

Did they even have plastic cheese in the 1920s?

Did they even have plastic cheese in the 1920s?

Hard cheese wrapped in cloth and stored near the middle of the backpack keeps well.

7. Cakes of Chocolate –

Prices used to go down once...

Prices used to go down once…

Back in the day bars of chocolate were also known as cakes of chocolate. Probably carried wrapped in cellophane in case they melted.

8. Dripping –

Bread and dripping - favourite "punishment" food of naughty kids everywhere in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s

Bread and dripping – favourite “punishment” food of naughty kids everywhere in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s

It’s a British Commonwealth thing. Similar to lard, dripping is cooked animal fat drained from a pan then filtered (or not) and kept for later as a cooking oil. Old timers love it on bread. In this case this stuff would have been carried in an old glass Vegemite or Marmite jar

9. Bovril –

She loves her Bovril - and just as well... now she might not contract tuberculosis.

She loves her Bovril – and just as well… now she might not contract tuberculosis.

A meat extract paste which was used to flavour stews, make “beef tea” (a thin beef soup) or spread onto bread in the same way as we use Vegemite today. It came in a screw-top glass jar (maybe it still does) and it had a shelf life of around 12 months in the pantry, making it useful as a condiment and ration supplement for long walks.

The whole food packs weighed around 29lb which is close enough to 13.155555555555kg.

A group of hikers eating their lunch of Bovril, creamoats and dripping (OK, I made that up) in the Baw Baw Ranges in Victoria circa 1925.

A group of campers eating their lunch of Bovril, creamoata and dripping (OK, I made that up) in the Baw Baw Ranges in Victoria circa 1925. Note “tucker” box and the billycans.

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.

IMG_20131009_102428

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.

IMG_20131009_103939

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.

IMG_20131009_104209

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.

IMG_20131009_104736

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

IMG_20131009_105006

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.