Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Iron Rations

Man, this brings back memories.  Down the Rabbit Hole brings us his attempt to recreate classic-era "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" iron rations.  I can remember many a Saturday night spent deciding what kind of dungeoneering gear to purchase.  Iron rations were a perennial favorite not only as sustenance, but as handy trade goods for intelligent monsters. 

Being a decrepit old Grognard, I think Gygax patterned iron rations after the ones from the Napoleonic era. Those were mostly hardtack and portable soup, a primitive form of dehydrated broth. The quality of both was highly dependent on the budget at the time they were procured.

My thanks to Mike Jenkins for bringing the project to my attention.


CoastConFan said...

What a great idea and a fun video. He pretty much sets the scenario parameters for this video as “dry/cold camping” with no fire and no soaking food. That’s a pretty rough way to live, so his choices of fare are pretty logical, especially since you are on foot. But I presume that the less time spent in a dungeon the better for your stomach and your general good health. I’m especially pleased he made most of his own rations himself … and then ate it – on camera no less, bravo (and a Pepto). You’re a braver man than I, Dungeon Jim (with apologies to Kipling).

A good Google search will turn up several recipes for traditional hardtack from ACW reenactors. I’ve not eaten hardtack, but I have had what was known as a “John Wayne” cracker or the pseudochocolate covered cookie from a C-Ration (actually it was really a MCI, Meal Combat Individual), which were just before early MREs were introduced. It was called a John Wayne because you had to be hero to eat one. My heart goes out to those reenactors who actually eat authentically made hardtack. Back in my collecting days, I had several pieces of original Civil War hardtack and it was scary stuff indeed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meal,_Combat,

Historical iron rations http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/ironration.htm and

I suspect that the iron in the iron rations of D&D fame refereed to the quality of the food – hard as iron. The US military did indeed issue a recloseable metal box for meat prior to WWI (Model 1910 Bacon Can) and it was tin coated iron. Military references to iron rations appears in the middle 19th century to distinguish rations from a tin from other types. Given so late a reference, when we played RPGs, the term just referred to dried or parched foods, hard as iron rather than to the Victorian reference. View an iron bacon can and other equipment in a downloadable 45 page PDF – see page 44 for the meat tins and metal condiment carrier

For extra fun try the Roman army diet http://www.romanarmy.net/food.shtml The Society for Creative Anachronism sites have a number of good resources and recipes for medieval foods of all types. Keep in mind that milk chocolate, which has tropical oils and condensed milk, in the form that we know, didn’t exist until Daniel Peter invented it in 1875 although there were earlier forms from the 1850s, which didn’t work out so well. It doesn’t matter anyway, because milk chocolate is good and that’s why the genre is called fantasy. Another grog, barkeep and leave the bowl of chocolates.

mithril said...

"grog" was actually a nautical term from the age of sail, one which still gets used some today. nowadays it's just Rum, sometimes with a bit of citrus fruit juice added (originally for preservation, later for scurvy)
the original term referred more to watered down 'small beer', a beer brewed thin and with a minimum of alcohol. more accurately, water with some beer or other alcoholic drink added to purify it. later Rum was used because it was easier to get than small beer.
so rather than a thick, strong drink, it's a thin, watery drink. in fact the water was the main intent.. grog (and similar drinks) allowed travelers to remain hydrated wuithout having to drink plain water which could cause illness. (water was avoided, and alcoholic beverages considered safer. watering down the alcohol made the beverage go farther, and also prevent the drinker from getting drunk.)
the term 'grog' may well have originated from the Scandinavian term 'glogg', which a type of watered down mulled wine.

the best known 'iron ration' (and the one to officially get labelled such) was the 1907 US army iron Ration, a field ration they came up with for when the troops couldn't get normal meals. it was comprised of three 3-ounce dense unleavened 'cakes' of cooked parched wheat and beef bullion, and three 1ounce bars of sweetened chocolate. they were issued in a Metal Tin, but the soldiers often removed them due to weight/bulk issues, and stored them just in the paper and card-stock wrappers. the "iron" part of the name came from the texture.. the 'cakes' were basically bricks and it's said eating it was like knawing on iron. the chocolate was about the same texture.

i would say however that for D&D; hardtack, salt pork, and a cured hard cheese seems most likely for a European based fantasy setting, as those were typical traveler rations for the middle ages. (salt pork was cuts of pork, what we would call bacon, only in big chunks) smoked and then soaked in brine. it was really salty but lasted for months without refrigeration if kept wrapped tightly. you could eat it unheated, but frying or boiling was preferred if you had time.
hard tack was a kind of dense unleavened bread made basically from flour and water, then baked 4-6 times. the result is a super hard, super durable food. eating one though was like eating a brick (having done it myself, yeah, beware of chipped teeth), so it wasn't uncommon for people to dunk it in their drink (like grog) to let it soak up some fluids and soften up.
saltpork, hardtack, and smoked dried cheese was the standard soldier ration from pretty much the 1200's to the 1800's. it could be eaten on the march without cooking, or could be cooked over a fire with simple tools (which was the preferred fashion, since it made the food much more palatable.)
that said, soldiers issued those rations much preferred just about anything else.. foraging (sending teams out to obtain locally sourced food by purchase of looting, and via hunting) was much preferred for the greater variety and quality.. even with the efforts to preserve the rations, hardtack could easily get wet and attract bugs, salt pork could go rancid, and the cheese could go moldy. if no forage could be obtained, the troops had to eat it anyway.

CoastConFan said...

@ mithril Yeah, it’s funny how in fantasy games nobody gets food poisoning or amoebic dysentery. Casualties in armies through dysentery was the number one destroyer in the ranks until the modern era. There’s a reason why people since biblical times onward used mild alcohol or vinegar to make their drinking water safe. They maybe didn’t know why, but it often worked. BTW, isn’t glogg like German gluwein? I’ve had that around Christmastime years back in Europe.

A little reading about life in Napoleonic era ships pretty much sums up the problems of hauling around your eats with limited replenishment and primitive preservation.You were speaking of fantasy RPG tropes, I have to wonder what an orc’s iron rations would consist. I remember reading in Return of King (if I recall correctly), the mutinous orcs saying, “we wants our meats”. Hey, at least it was fresh.