Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Squaddie Stew*

OK, a quick one this (oo-er!)...

I was chatting with the better half earlier via Skype, and it turns out that I am actually expected to cook for us both on Monday, rather than rely on infrequent fridge and snack cupboard raids for sustaining the two of us over the bank holiday weekend.

So I offered up a menu.

  • Breakfast:
    Bacon grill and reconstituted powdered eggs with a slice of white bread and margarine, an oatmeal block, and tea or coffee, NATO standard.
  • Snack lunch:
    Biscuits, Brown, AB, with beef pate spread, and either tea or coffee NATO standard, or powdered isotonic fruit drink.
  • Main meal:
    Squaddie Stew, with tea or coffee, NATO Standard, and mixed fruit Pudding.

Needless to say the menu was shot down in flames before I'd even reached the main meal items. My better half can tell when I'm quoting from a 1980s British Army-issue Ration Pack, but there was a query. "What on Earth is squaddie Stew? Are there real squaddies in it? Do you lop the boots off before you cook them?"

After some evil laughter, and giving points for the misquote from the film "Addams Family Values", I went on to explain what went into the 'stew', which wasn't really a stew, so much as reheated tinned food.

Ration packs, or "Rations, one-man x 24-hours, GS", to give them their full name, were actually rather good kit. They included all manner of stuff to keep a soldier fully fed under operational conditions in the field, and contained tins of food, bars of chocolate, packs of boiled sweets, tea, coffee, biscuits (well, practically hard tack in their case), and so on. The retail cost in todays terms might be as much as fifteen to twenty quid, if bought individually. The Army paid (and still does, a couple of decades later) much less, of course.

The tins usually comprised one tin for breakfast, normally bacon grill or similar, two tins for the main meal, and a dessert tin, such as mixed fruit pudding, fruit in syrup, or something along those lines.

The two tins for Squaddie Stew to be available were minced steak in gravy (with onions), and Mixed Vegetables (in water). the normal way to cook these were to bang a dent in the sides of the tins, and plonk them in a mess tin, which was then filled with water to half-way up the dented tins. you then cooked it over a 'tommy cooker' or "cooker, field, individual, hexamine fuelled, folding, soldiers for the burning of", until the sides of the dented tins popped out again. You then opened them very carefully, considering that the contents were now supernova-hot and under pressure (Boyles law, anyone?)...

Squaddie Stew, on the other hand, was a damn sight easier. You dumped the contents of the tins into the mess tin, sprinkled a sachet of 'Beef Stock drink' (basically a powdered OXO cube in a sachet) over the top of it, and cooked away, stirring as required to prevent burning, and unless you were a complete Muppet, good flavour, consistency, and a satisfying meal - even when it was bucketing down with rain - were pretty-much guaranteed.

There were pros and cons with both methods, of course. The dented tin method meant that you had a clean mess tin at the end of the day, and a quick rinse with cold water sorted out the tin for next time. The Squaddie Stew method resulted in a tin that really needed to be washed and cleaned immediately you finished your meal, which meant that two of you grouped together, one of them cooking the pairs main meals in his mess tin, over his cooker, the other keeping a simmering - or at least very hot - hot mess tin of water on the go, for tea/coffee and washing water.

You also found out who your really good mates were with Squaddie Stew if no-one yelled something like "OI! you greedy gannet!" or suchlike (normally rather foully-worded during the meal!

Anyhow, back to the present, it looks like I'll be doing some other, more civilian menu instead, requiring about ten times the effort, come Monday.

Oh well. It was a nice idea while it lasted!

* No Troops were stewed in the making of this entry!

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