These past couple of weeks I’ve been canning baskets of beans, hot peppers, and cauliflower from my garden. I use a hot pack pickling recipe that keeps the veggies crunchy and tastes especially good on a cold day in February. Standing at the sink, washing beans, and snipping the ends off allowed plenty of time for me to think about WWI.
During the war, civilians were encouraged to grow their own food in Victory Gardens (as mentioned in an earlier post) and to can and preserve as much of their harvest as they could (as the WWI poster suggests). Home grown and home canned helped alleviate some of the demand on commercially canned food, which could be shipped to Europe to feed the troops.
What I find most interesting is that canned food helped perpetuate war. Preserving food was nothing new in human history. It had been used for centuries in the form of drying, salting, and pickling. Preserving food through canning which uses heat to kill microorganisms and then keeps the food in a sealed sterile environment was a technology developed in the early 1800s and perfected over that century. Canning meant safe nutritious food that could be easily stored, shipped, and prepared. By the time WWI began in 1914, the canning industry was well established and quickly ramped up to meet the needs of millions of mobilized soldiers.
Canned beef for the Allied armies came largely from Argentina. British soldiers called it “bully beef,” but U.S. soldiers called it “embalmed beef” or “monkey meat.” The soldiers also enjoyed canned hash and canned salmon or sardines which they called goldfish. They had canned tomatoes, canned peaches, and canned pork and beans (aka repeaters). Their stews were called slum or slumgullion.
Except for the canned peaches and tomatoes, none of it sounds very appetizing to me. Putting Food By which is the book I use for most of my freezing and canning directions (2nd Edition) does have a section on how to can meat. Luckily, I’ve never had to use it; our beef is stored in the freezer.