Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Tag: food

Cardamom Roll

Sweden – A Food Journey

This time last week, I was flying back home after an incredible visit to Sweden: two nights in Stockholm followed by a four-night package with The Aurora Zone at Brändön Lodge, Luleå. Exploring city comforts and the silent wilderness, I also got my first taste of Swedish food culture! Here are some of the highlights…

StockholmStockholm in the winter sunshine. All images are mine unless otherwise stated. Feel free to use any, but please credit ‘Feast and Phrase’ with a link to this article.

Stockholm – Day One

The buzzing street of Drottninggatan has all kinds of shops and eateries. I came across the stylish and almost subterranean Il Caffè. Trendy orange or white tables and smart wall graffiti dotted a series of reconverted basement rooms – these seemed to extend endlessly, as if following the ceiling pipes deep into the building.

Il Caffe 2The entrance of Il Caffè.

I wasted no time in getting introduced to the Swedish practice of fika. For the uninitiated outsider, it is a simple ‘coffee break’. For the Swedish people, it is a social gathering with coffee and sweet treats that is as much a national institution as ‘afternoon tea’ once was for the British. However, fika is not limited to the afternoon. Any time can be fika time.

Il CaffeOrange table and robot graffiti. 

Actually, as a non-coffee drinker, I only got partly introduced to fika and probably committed some form of sacrilege by going straight for the assortment of buns and pastries on offer by the till. I chose a kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), enjoying every aromatic mouthful. The classic kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) was also on offer – a delicacy which is so revered that it even has its own national day – visit Sweden on the fourth of October and you can celebrate kanelbullens dag, or ‘Cinnamon Bun Day’.

Cardamom RollA kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), with a kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) in the bottom right.

I instead picked up one of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’) for later. This was so good that I actually returned to buy more on the morning of my flight to Luleå!

Hazelnut macaroonOne of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’).

Stockolm – Day Two

Today brought history and food together, starting off at the Vasa Museum. The almost completely intact Vasa is one of a kind – the only seventeenth-century warship in the world to be preserved in such a state. Built too narrow and tall, it was blown over and sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, only to be found 333 years later.

VasaThe mighty Vasa warship.

The ship had enough space for six weeks of provisions, which included bread, meat, peas, fish, and of course, beer. Söfring Hansson, captain of the Vasa, also worked as a merchant and was apparently responsible for providing the navy yard with hops. In terms of overall provisions per man, the monthly ration for members of Sweden’s fleet was as follows:

Ship’s ale: 1/2 barrel = 63 litres
Bread: 1/2 barrel
Meat and dried fish: 1 ‘lispund’ = 8.5 kg
Dried peas: 1/2 ‘fjärding’ = 16.2 litres

From the provisioning plans for soldiers of the fleet, 1628. Part of the museum exhibition.

At a time when water was not safe to drink, beer was essential. Hot ale was a remedy for ague or fever, while scurvy – the bane of all sailors during this age – was cured with lemons. (Scurvy is most famously associated with pirates, but has affected everyone from Ancient Egyptians to Portuguese explorers. For an overview of the disease and historical accounts, check out this scurvy history.)

I left the Vasa for Historiska, the ‘Swedish History Museum’. This bright and modern museum has plenty of interesting things to see, including extensive exhibitions on the Vikings and the development of Swedish culture. The on-site café was excellent value for money – so I felt, given that Sweden is definitely on the costly side. There were filling lunch options from 75 – 90 SEK, including a salad bar and tea and coffee, which are often extra in other places. On top of that, the museum was free!

HistoriskaThe excellent Historiska Museum café. 

I finished the day with the Nobel Museum, which has a small section on the Nobel Banquet. The shop had recipe books drawing on the lavish menus that have been enjoyed by prize-winners over the years. You can see the menus for each year on the official website.

Nobel BanquetSome of the Nobel Banquet books on sale.

Brändön Lodge

Imagine a grand pine cabin nestled in the snow with 15 smaller cabins by its side, all looking out over a stretch of frozen sea – the ice around a metre thick, making it perfect for snowmobiles and other vehicles to drive over. This is Brändön Lodge, standing next to the Bay of Bothnia: all part of the Luleå Archipelago, which contains some 1,300 islands.

Brändön Lodge Brändön Lodge on the left, with a ‘lavvu’ or traditional tent on the right.

The unbelievable silence of the location and its Narniaesque beauty, combined with wonderful hosting by owner Göran Widén and his helpful staff, made for an outstanding experience. Added to that was a set of mouth-watering buffet meals where I became further acquainted with Swedish gastronomy.

Frozen SeaLooking out over the frozen sea.

I’m not much of a jam person, but the presence of two very unconventional varieties at breakfast (and the possibility of combining them with pancakes or waffles) meant some exceptions were made! The first was a golden jam made out of cloudberries, which look a bit like orangey-yellow raspberries; eaten throughout Sweden, they often grow in areas of boggy land.

CloudberriesUnfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the jams, so photos of the berries from online will have to do. Image from Flickr user Staffan Wingren.

A member of staff told me that each person has their own hidden cloudberry-picking spot, adding with a Bond-like smile that ‘if I told you, I would have to kill you’. A matter of national security! The second jam, which was pleasantly tangy in taste, was made out of sea buckthorn berries, which are bright orange in colour.

Sea BuckthornThe sea buckthorn plant. Image from Flickr user S. Rae.

A third berry which would have been impossible not to encounter during my trip was the lingonberry – a rich red berry which can be found in a host of Swedish dishes, accompanying everything from reindeer meat to desserts. I was also served lingonberry juice on several occasions. A cupful of hot lingonberry juice after adventuring over the snow is like a warming shot of sugary energy.

LingonberriesThe lingonberry plant. Image from Flickr user andreashallgren.

Featured in my itinerary was a hovercraft ride over the sea ice. My guide Andreas pointed out sea eagles feeding on the surface and drove us to the edge of the ice road which keeps islands connected in the winter. Returning to Brändön, we sat by the fire in a traditional tent or lavvu next to the lodge and indulged in coffee and a kanelbulle (or in my case, just the kanelbulle!).

HovercraftThe ‘Flying Condor’ hovercraft.

Another activity was a session of winter skills, where a group of us snowshoed into a nearby forest, following animal tracks and looking for wild dens. Stopping off, we were taught how to start a small fire with knives and flint. We then boiled up fresh pine-leaf tea using snow and a few cuttings from the surrounding trees. It seems that the younger plants have the best flavour, but my concoction tasted largely like boiled water, so I probably didn’t add enough. I suppose that’s what happens when you get a ‘tea-totaller’ to make tea…

FirePine-leaf tea boiling away!

Our guide Thomas pulled out a wooden cup which looked like a little hemisphere with a handle. This, he informed us, was a kåsa: a traditional drinking vessel made by Sweden’s indigenous Sami people, shaped out of a burl, or unusual tree growth. It was then I realised that we had been drinking out of black plastic versions of the same thing.

After our training in the forest, we made our way to the lavvu, where a large metal pan known as a muurikka had been moved over the central fire. Sitting back, we watched as Thomas rustled up vegetables in a creamy sauce. The majority of the group had these with suovas, (‘salty, smoked reindeer meat’), while I ate them with what I believe were cheese-filled rårakor – typical Swedish potato cakes. Embracing my newly developed taste-buds, I made sure to put a good dollop of lingonberry jam on the side!

Thomas CookingThomas gets to work cooking on the muurikka.

One particular delicacy which I didn’t have the chance to try on this holiday was kaffeost, or ‘coffee-cheese’. Baked from unpasteurized milk, the cheese has a consistency a bit like mozzarella and is added to coffee in little cubes. It has a famously squeaky texture between the teeth, and can also be eaten in slices with cloudberry jam. A shame to miss out, but a welcome addition to the long list of reasons for heading back in the future. Who knows? I might even be drinking coffee by then…

Bunny South Africa

A Bite of Bunny Chow

I’ll begin by ending your confusion: this is not a piece on the word history of rabbit food. (I’m not even sure how that would work.)

‘Bunny chow’ is not ‘rabbit food’. Apart from the name, it has nothing to do with rabbits. It doesn’t contain rabbits either – though I suppose that depends on your filling of choice! It is, however, downright delicious.

A classic South African grab-to-go speciality, a bunny chow (often more simply referred to as a ‘bunny’) is a hollowed-out section of bread loaf containing meat or vegetarian curry.

Bunny ChowBunny chow in tiger bread (which does not contain tigers). Taken from the Twitter page of Bunnymans Bunnychow. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user fabulousfabs.

The filling is scooped up using pieces from the crusty outside while the inside soaks up juices and flavour. The remaining bread can be eaten up much like an ice-cream cone. Edible container and no washing up? Yes please!

Now enjoyed throughout the country and worldwide, bunnies are believed to have originated with the Indian community of Durban in the mid-20th century. They were supposedly created for plantation workers as a portable alternative to the vegetable dishes and roti (Indian flatbread) which they had for lunch.

They may also have been made as a takeaway option for people who were not allowed to eat in restaurants due to apartheid laws. Meat was added later, as the popularity of the dish spread.

Serving bunny chowEating bunny chow at home. There are many pictures bunny chow being ‘plated up’, with the popular street food being served in sit-down restaurants. Image from Flickr user Amanda Wood.

There have been various suggestions for the origin of the name. The most common is that ‘bunny chow’ may come from bania, a term for a Gujarati merchant caste. This took on the general meaning of ‘Indian shopkeeper’ in South Africa – even if the individuals in question were of another social class. Presumably, the ‘chow’ (or ‘food’) sold by these people came to be known as bania chow, and later, ‘bunny chow’.

Another account tells that the dish was invented at a specific restaurant in Durban as a takeaway option for non-white customers. The owner was called Bhanya, therefore, ‘Bhanya’s chow’.

Some say that bunny chow is named after the banyan trees of Durban, under which it was first sold by street-side sellers. ‘Banyan chow’? Perhaps.

GandhiMahatma Gandhi was part of a Bania caste in Gujarat. Even so, it is highly unlikely that he indulged in bunny chow. Image from Pixabay.

My first and only encounter with bunny chow was on this very day one year ago. Wandering through Southampton’s fairly un-Christmassy Christmas Market, I came across a stall for ‘Bunnymans Bunnychow’, and asked the obvious question of whether it contained any rabbit. The staff explained everything very enthusiastically, but probably added me to a secret below-the-counter tally of people who ask ‘the rabbit question’.

Bunnymans Bunnychow Southampton 1
The Bunnymans Bunnychow stall I came across at Southampton Christmas Market a year ago today.

I gleefully carried off a ‘Vegi Delight’, filled with a meat-free chilli and topped with sour cream and a crunchy garlic bread slice. Incredible.

Bunnymans BunnychowOne ‘Vegi Delight’ bunny ready to go!

 

Franklin Duplessis

Benjamin Franklin on Food

A few months ago I finished reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson’s biography of ‘the most fascinating of America’s founders’. Given that I knew next to nothing about the man, other than of his legendary kite experiment and his invention of bifocals – ‘Double Spectacles’, as he called them – the account of his life, achievements, and character completely won me over.

Franklin_lightning_engravingAn engraved depiction of Franklin’s kite experiment from an 1881 textbook. Located via Wikimedia Commons. The featured image for this article is a portrait of Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis, painted around 1785; image uploaded by Flickr user Cliff.

As Isaacson shows, he also took a keen interest in food. Despite his autobiographical claim that a ‘perfect inattention’ to ‘victuals on the table’ was fostered in him from childhood, food certainly does not go unnoticed in his personal writings, which contain a variety of recipes. Several are translated into French, likely from his time as a representative for American freedom in France during his seventies. Enough were found to prompt the 1958 publication of Gilbert Chinard’s Benjamin Franklin on the Art of Eating, which goes into more detail on the subject. It finds that Franklin adapted recipes from Hannah Glasse’s bestselling cookbook, The Art of Cookery, made Plain and EasyConsider the following:

Oyster Sauce for Boiled Turkey

Take one Pint of oysters draw out the Liquor which you will set apart, put them in cold water, wash and clean them well, put them in an earthen dish with their Liquor, in which you will put a shred of Nutmeg with a little butter strewed with flour and a quarter of a Lemon; boil them, then, put in a half Pint of Cream and boil slowly, all together; this done take out the Lemon, the Nutmeg, squeeze the Juice of a Lemon in the Sauce, then serve it in a Sauceboat.

From Benjamin Franklin on the Art of Eating, edited by Gilbert Chinard (1958). As featured in Gary Scharnhorst’s Literary Eats (2014).

Take a look at Glasse’s original recipe, which also calls for a celery sauce accompaniment.

1002px-Art_of_Cookery_frontispieceThe title page and frontispiece in a copy of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, published around 1777. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Cream, butter, and nutmeg: rather indulgent. For all his insistence on frugality, Franklin relished a good meal – or several, as was the case when in France. Living on the estate of the wealthy merchant Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, he enjoyed seven-course dinners and amassed a collection of wine containing over a thousand bottles. Such a lifestyle, accompanied by a lack of exercise, was not without its consequences: Franklin ended up suffering from gout. This prompted him to write a dialogue in which his personified malady scolded him for his ways, of which an excerpt:

FRANKLIN: Eh! oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

THE GOUT: Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.

FRANKLIN: Who is it that accuses me?

THE GOUT: It is I, even I, the Gout.

FRANKLIN: What! my enemy in person?

THE GOUT: […] While the mornings are long, and you have leisure to go abroad, what do you do? Why, instead of gaining an appetite for breakfast, by salutary exercise, you amuse yourself with books, pamphlets, or newspapers, which commonly are not worth the reading. Yet you eat an inordinate breakfast, four dishes of tea, with cream, and one or two buttered toasts, with slices of hung beef, which I fancy are not things the most easily digested. Immediately afterwards you sit down to write at your desk, or converse with persons who apply to you on business. Thus the time passes till one, without any kind of bodily exercise.

Benjamin Franklin, ‘Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout’ (1780).

All this seems quite ironic when compared to the moderation Franklin called for in his youth. Take, for example, his advice in the 1734 edition of his renowned publication, Poor Richard’s Almanack: ‘Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, & sloth; / Or the Gout will seize you and plague you both.’

L0000080 Dialogue between Franklin and the Gout‘Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout’, as published in an 1819 collection by Franklin’s grandson, William Temple Franklin. From the Wellcome Library, London.

Around the age of 16, Franklin came across Thomas Tryon’s The Way to Health, first published in 1683, which sang the virtues of ‘a vegetable diet’. He was inspired to take up this form of vegetarianism, living off the likes of raisins and biscuits, boiled potatoes, and rice. No longer spending money on meat, he had ‘an additional fund for buying books’ and furthered his studies, feeling that his regime gave him ‘greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension’. He eventually changed his mind on a boat trip from Boston to New York; tempted by the smell of freshly-caught cod being rustled up the crew, Franklin caved in! His retelling of the incident paints it as a triumph of rational thinking:

‘Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I consider’d, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc’d some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I din’d upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.’

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin AutobiographyA draft page from Franklin’s Autobiography. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Later in his life, Franklin became an advocate for American foods. During the growing tension with Great Britain in the 1760s, he wrote in support of local produce:

‘[…] we have oatmeal in plenty, for water gruel or burgoo; as good wheat, rye, and barley as the world affords, to make frumenty; or toast and ale; that there is every where plenty of milk, butter, and cheese; that rice is one of our staple commodities; that for tea, we have sage and bawm in our gardens, the young leaves of the sweet white hickery or walnut, and, above all, the buds of our pine, infinitely preferable to any tea from the Indies; while the islands yield us plenty of coffee and chocolate […]’

Benjamin Franklin, ‘“Homespun”: Second Reply to “Vindex Patriae”’ (2 January, 1766).

Franklin BustA marble bust of Benjamin Franklin, made in 1778 by Jean-Antoine Houdon, now held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

He also kept an eye out for new gastronomical delights, sending seeds of rhubarb and scotch kale to correspondents back home. Most interestingly, one of his letters refers to tofu, which he learnt of in the work of 18th century missionary to China, Domingo Fernandez Navarrete. Franklin sent a sample of soybeans to American botanist John Bartram with ‘Father Navaretta’s account of the universal use of a cheese made of them, in China, which so excited my curiosity’. Prior to doing so, he got in touch with British merchant James Flint, who specialized in Chinese trade, to find out how it was made. Flint’s description of ‘the method the Chinese convert Callivances into Towfu’ may well be the earliest record of the word in English, though this has not been formally recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary as of yet. Franklin’s letter to Bartram spells it as Tau-fu.

Tofu and Peas‘I send, also, some green dry Pease, highly esteemed here as the best for making pease soup; and also some Chinese Garavances, with Father Navaretta’s account of the universal use of a cheese made of them…’ – from Franklin’s letter to John Bartram. Photo of tofu and peas by Flickr user Luca Nebuloni.

Whether experimenting with vegetarianism, arguing for American produce, or partying in France, Benjamin Franklin maintained a lifelong fascination with what he ate. While often sticking to his frugal practices, he was not one to miss out on the pleasures associated with eating – truly a ‘Founding Foodie’, as many have rightly termed him.

Wellington_at_Waterloo_Hillingford

Waterloo 200: Battlefield Victuals

In this two-part 200th anniversary special, Feast and Phrase looks at the food and words linked to the Battle of Waterloo. First course: Written accounts of battlefield feeding.

What food did soldiers have during the Waterloo Campaign of 1815? The frequent attribution of the popular saying ‘an army marches on its stomach’ to French leader Napoleon makes it all the more appropriate to ask. A collection of accounts published in the same year as the battle gives some idea of how those in the field ate – and how they didn’t:

‘The whole of the 17th, and indeed until late the next morning, the weather continued dreadful; and we were starving with hunger, no provision having been served out since the march from Brussels. While five officers who composed our mess were looking at each other with the most deplorable faces imaginable, one of the men brought us a fowl he had plundered, and a handful of biscuits, which, though but little, added to some tea we boiled in a camp-kettle, made us rather more comfortable; and we huddled up together, covered ourselves with straw, and were soon as soundly asleep as though reposing on beds of down.’

‘Letter from an Officer to his Friend in Cumberland’, in The Battle of Waterloo, published by John Booth (1815).

De_Slag_bij_Waterloo_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-1115.jpegDe Slag bij Waterloo (The Battle of Waterloo), by Dutch artist Jan Willem Pieneman (1824). Located via Wikimedia Commons. The featured image at the top of this article is Wellington at Waterloo by English painter Robert Alexander Hillingford, also found on Wikimedia Commons. Grand and impressive as both works are, they show a very different reality to that endured by the combatants.

Difficulty getting supplies to British troops and their European allies during clashes before and during 18 June meant that many were fighting on low fuel. The French were similarly afflicted, with their support wagons falling behind as they advanced into Belgium. As evidenced above, fighting was fed by foraging, which made up for direly insufficient rations. The process could drain areas of resources – one report by a French eyewitness almost seems to liken it to a Biblical plague:

‘As soon as the troops had taken even a momentary position in the vicinity of a village, they rushed like water from a broken dam over all the country beneath; corn, cattle, bread, meat, even household furniture, linen and clothes disappeared in an instant. The village became a mass of ruins; empty houses; broken doors, and the inhabitants flying into the woods and fields. The adjacent fields, hitherto covered with the promise of a rich harvest, seemed like the straw in a stable trodden under foot; and the fires of the bivouacks, leaving their blackening traces in meadows and corn fields, seemed to mark so many places which had been struck by thunder.’

From The Journal of the Three Days of the Battle of Waterloo, translated from the French (1816).

Waterloo_campaign_mapA plan of the Waterloo Campaign, located via Wikimedia Commons.

Finding enough food in a conflict situation is one problem; finding enough time to eat it is another. A British officer’s description of the lead up to the Battle of Quatre Bras (two days prior to Waterloo) shows the overriding force of urgency and orders:

‘[…] we had scarcely rested ourselves, and commenced dressing the rations, which had been served out at Enghien, when an Aide-de-Camp from the Duke of Wellington arrived, and ordered us instantly under arms, and to advance with all speed to Les Quatre Bras, where the action was going on with the greatest fury, and where the French were making rapid strides towards the object they had in view […] The order was, of course, instantly obeyed; the meat which was cooking, was thrown away; the kettles, &c. packed up, and we proceeded, as fast as our tired legs would carry us, towards a scene of slaughter, which was a prelude well calculated to usher in the bloody tragedy of the 18th.’

‘Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Guards’ (21 June 1815), in The Battle of Waterloo, published by John Booth (1815).

Wollen,_Battle_of_Quatre_BrasThe Black Watch at Bay, by British painter William Barns Wollen (1894). The Scottish regiment is shown fighting at the Battle of Quatre Bras. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Following victory, the trouble with provisions continued. Some British soldiers ‘slept supperless in the fields’; others hunting for sustenance found French huts full of meat which was dealt with so hurriedly that it was rendered inedible:

‘[…] scattered over their floors were numerous fragments of meat partly raw, partly half-cooked, which in the hurry of some movement had been thrown away. The British soldiers were very hungry, but they could not bring themselves to taste these viands […] raw meat of every description in abundance – beef, pork, and mutton; but it had been so beaten about in the hurry of the strife, and was so vilely dressed – the very hides being in many instances left upon the morsels, and these but indifferently bled’.

George Robert Gleig, Story of the Battle of Waterloo (1847).

Napoleon_French_Lancer_by_BellangeA Lancer in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, or ‘Great Army’. Illustration by Horace Vernet in Laurent de l’Ardèche’s Histoire de l’Empereur Napoléon (History of the Emperor Napoleon), published in 1843. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

According to the National Army Museum, a British soldier’s basic everyday ration during the Napoleonic Wars was a pound of meat – fresh or salted – and the equivalent weight of bread biscuits.  Other items could include oats, cheese, vegetables, rice, and alcohol. The biscuits were generally made of wheat, with added barley in times of poor harvest. Their tough, solid texture earned them the name ‘hard tack’, while normal bread was known as ‘soft tack’.

One such biscuit is featured in the museum’s online showcase of ‘200 Objects from Waterloo’; another eye-catching food-related item is a nutmeg grater made of silver. This was the possession of Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, an Irish officer who served under Wellington but missed Waterloo as he was honeymooning at the time! Given the high cost of the spice due to Dutch monopolies on trade, to have and to use such a piece of equipment was an unmistakeable indicator of wealth. It also allowed for much more exotic meals than those on standard rations might enjoy. Wellington apparently remarked that Cole gave ‘the best dinners in the army’, while his own were ‘no great things’. Not that officers lived a life of complete luxury – if supplies were strained, they suffered with their men.

Bryan DonkinAn image of British industrialist Bryan Donkin, who revolutionized food storage by being the first person to mass-preserve goods in tin cans. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

One innovation which made an appearance at Waterloo was canned food. As Tom Standage writes in An Edible History of Humanity, this developed from a preservation technique of sealing food in bottles, thought up by Frenchman Nicolas Appert in 1749. In the 1810s, a merchant by the name of Peter Durand received the first patent to do so in England, later selling it to British industrialist Bryan Donkin. He replaced the bottles with cans, and the technology took off. Can openers were not invented until around fifty years later, so soldiers would have to prise their rations free using a trusty bayonet or chisel.

British Rations21st century British rations: A 24-hour Multi-Climate Ration (MCR) pack developed by the Ministry of Defence in 2009. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Canned foods are common sights in modern ration packs, which can feature everything from squid to Szechuan noodles for a taste of home, depending on their country of origin. To note this and recall men in the first source ‘starving with hunger’ and ‘looking at each other with the most deplorable faces imaginable’ makes it all the more clear: whether meat and biscuits or stuffed peppers and halva, food plays an essential part in boosting morale. 

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