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Ships' Biscuits a brief (without salt) Age : 5000 years (at least) Also known as : Biskut, bucellatum, dhourra, hardtack, Kanpan Earliest known producers : Egyptian sailors Ingredients : Coarse flour, water (optional salt) Best eaten with : weak beer (not more than 2% alcohol) or diluted red wine (at least 70% water) Worst biscuit joke : "in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils" Most important post Biscuit activity : visit to your Dentist. Best advice : admire, but don't try to imitate, those who once ate them. Here is a brief review of the history of the ship's biscuit. In one form or another, the humble ship's biscuit has been around since, at least, usage by ancient Egyptian sailors 5000 years ago, employing a coarse flour of some kind, mixed with water into a stiff dough, rolled flat and cut into dinner plate sized portions, slow baked, then left to cool and harden for many hours. The flour may be cut with alternative and cheaper products, depending on how generous the baker or navy purser felt, with everything from dried and ground peas to sawdust, but may equally be livened up with salt, or exceptionally other spices. The biscuits were hard, compact and dry for one great reason, they not only took up little cargo space, but also had an exceptionally long shelf life. But this also made them quite inedible. For this reason ships carried very large quantities of weak beer (17th -19th c Royal Navy) or diluted wine (16th C Venetian galleys, or 17th C Marine Royale vessels) or diluted rum (American United Colonies vessels) with the expectation that sailors would not drink their full rations, but use them to soften up their biscuits (among other uses). Ships' cooks could also grind up the hard tack to use as an ingredient in other dishes. An active person requires 2 to 2.5 thousand calories per day, of which 2/3rds would be commonly provided by ship's biscuits in the 18th century, calories which bucellatum contain in a dense and efficient form, . Technical diagram of a ship's biscuit. Biscuit gradually fell out of favour among the world's navies for two reasons. On one hand the causes of a common sailor's illness were better understood. Scurvy, long the bane of mariners who spent too much time at sea, came to be understood as caused by a lack of fruit and vegetables, neither of which could easily stored for sea voyages, neither for long periods. A diet exclusively of biscuits and beer or wine, with occasional animal protein and fat, leads to tiredness, gum disease, skin rashes, emotional troubles, fevers and ultimately, death. But it was not until the mid 18th century that the first efforts at rationalising diets to combat this illness were first made, by the Leiden based (now part of modern Germany) Johann Bachstrom in 1734, while it took more than 100 years for these dicoveries to be generally accepted, and for better, more appropriate rations to become generalized, with for example the addition of citrus fruits to sailors' rations. The Royal Navy enlisted 180 000 sailors during the Seven Years war (1756-1763), by the end, 130 000 were listed as missing or dead from scurvy. FInally, between 1789 and 1794, Pedro González who was medical officer aboard a Spanish naval expedition, embarked sufficient provisions of lemons and other citrus fruits for the entire crew of a two month long voyage at sea, a journey which resulted in very few cases of scurvy related symptoms. The Spanish Empire studied the medical results of this expedition and adapted provisioning at most of its ports accordingly. The Royal Navy finally caught up with progress in medical science, and included lemon juice in shipboard rations from 1800 onward. But it was not until 1937 that a link between vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and scurvy was formally established by the American, Charles King of Pittsburgh University. The results of this reseach would affect navy ship board rations in World War 2. A second reason for the decline of the biscuit, was the invention of canning, that allowed meat and vegetables to be more easily preserved, at least long enough for the majority of naval requirements. In 1809, the French brewer, Nicholas Appert, entered a competition set up by the Napoleonic government to find better ways of feeding their troops. His proposal was to cook food inside sealed jars, food which would then be preserved for long periods (although, nobody knew exactly why, microbes and sterilization were not understood at the time). Another Frenchman (Phillipe de Girard), brought the idea to London the following year, where English colleagues tried to take the concept further, replacing glass jars with tinned cans. Biscuits were still stocked by seafarers, as canned (or jarred) foods were heavy, and relatively expensive. Nevertheless, dependance on the biscuit was on the wane. During the 1st World War, canned foods finally supplanted biscuits as the calorific mainstay of rations, providing a more varied and nutritious diet for mariners, of all nations. In 1937 the French ministry of defence abandoned the 'biscuit de mer'. But biscuits didn't completely disappear, they are mentioned as part of the emergency rations of Arctic Convoy PQ13 merchant marine sailors in 1942 (Road to Russia, Bernard Edwards) or if perhaps they changed form, if the basic ingredients were supplemented to make them both more nutritious, palatable, and less profitable for dentists. For example, US military WW2 C rations came with crackers! Amazingly, there are crazy people today, who still buy hardtack, a speciality of some Japanese towns, sold in some Canadian supermarkets (I have no credible explanation for why), bought by some survivalists (well I guess, if there is nothing else left to eat, breaking your teeth will be the least of your worries). While the oldest intact ship's biscuit, visible in the 1st illustration of this brief, is Danish, and more than 150 years old! But what remains remarkable about the biscuit, is that it is universal, part of a shared human and maritime history. Links in the brief are to Wikipedia unless otherwise stated, all text is my own, mistakes included. Please don't buy hardtack, make your own, remember, all you need are the following ingredients, flour, water, and an oven. Dogs love them! a selection of unsalted links/resources : http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Ships biscuits.pdf https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/a-meal-afloat/ https://www.navyandmarine.org/ondeck/1776salthorse.htm and one of the best online narratives, if only in French : http://dossiersmarine4.org/gm-biscuit.htm