Army food. Sometimes it is actually halfway decent; sometimes, well, it’s edible if you’re cold, wet and starving. And the less said about those vegetable omelet MREs the better. 

So, what was on the menu 80 years ago?

Technical Manual 10-405, published in 1942, is the Army’s guide on how to be a cook. It’s almost 300 pages – when has the Army ever been known for brevity? – of everything a cook would need to know to run a kitchen: how to set up a field stove, how to butcher different kinds of animals, how to properly store different kinds of foods, and how to keep the kitchen running at maximum levels of Army efficiency. 

“A thoughtless cook often leaves a trail of unnecessarily spoiled utensils behind him, thereby justly incurring the resentment of the kitchen police,” as the manual says.  

It’s also filled with dozens of recipes, essentially anything and everything an Army cook could possibly prepare. They range from something simple like cream of celery soup to something fancy like roast duck.

For breakfast, perhaps start with something like chipped beef on toast. Melt butter fat in a pan with flour, add milk and beef stock, simmer and then add beef. Season with parsley and pepper, and serve on toast. Delicious? Disgusting? Both? There’s a reason why this kind of dish and similar variations earned the nickname “shit on a shingle” and are also still served today. 

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If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there’s also the delightful-sounding brain and eggs. Fry up your beef brains with some bacon, add some slightly beaten eggs and serve on toast. Yum. 

Staying on the organ meat theme, perhaps it’s worth considering liver and bacon. Simmer some livers in water and then remove them before rolling them in flour. Then fry up with some bacon and onions. As the manual says, serve hot, because nobody wants to eat cold liver. 

As a dessert, and possibly to clear one’s system out, the manual offers a recipe for stewed prunes. To feed 100 soldiers, boil seven pounds of prunes and then cook until tender. Add three pounds of sugar and three lemons, and let sit overnight. Delicious. 

Of course, it’s not all bad. The recipe for oxtail soup actually sounds halfway decent, although in 2022 one can feel free to use more than just salt and pepper to season. Pineapple ice, which is just gelatin, sugar and diced pineapple brought to a boil and then frozen, doesn’t sound bad on a hot summer day. 

Cooking for mass numbers of people is never going to be easy, so maybe it’s best to avoid something like oyster stew and stick with a simple meatloaf when it comes to feeding hundreds of soldiers. And in 2022, be thankful the mess hall – or “warrior restaurants” – aren’t serving brains. 

You can peruse the cookbook below:

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