Field Bread, 1896
The field bread of 1896 was a remnant of an earlier era, when field breads were prepared and consumed in the field under rudimentary conditions, either by the individual soldier or by the company mess. These early field breads could be prepared over an open fire, in earthen field ovens, or buried in hot embers from a wood fire.
By following the original recipe literally, which did not stipulate a time for the dough to rise and a long cooking time of 5 to 6 hours in a low oven heat to prevent burning, the result was a dense, heavy, and nearly inedible product. It can be safely assumed that the method of cooking would have been to bake the bread for about 45 to 60 minutes, after which the heat would have decreased enough so that the bread was merely being kept warm for the majority of the time.
Therefore, a rising time for the dough is necessary. When using an oven a shorter baking time at 350°F replicates the heat generated by burying the mess kit in embers and ash. If we use an outdoor wood fire, the bread will also have finished baking within 60 minutes, or when it passes a skewer test.
The Manual for Army Cooks recommended cutting a section of the mess pan rim to vent the expanding gases while cooking, while allowing the mess pan to be closed tightly and keep ashes out of the bread. This is currently impractical, at least for those of us who are reluctant to disfigure a collector’s item. I have found that this is unnecessary, as the mess pan has enough of a gap to ensure venting during baking. If you’re not sure, clamp your empty mess kit together and submerge in water. If air bubbles are leaking out, then it’s not airtight and should be fine for baking field bread. If you are still unsure, place a wad of aluminum foil between the rim of the lid and the base to leave a slight gap when the lid is clamped shut.
Yield: Two loaves, approximately 16 ounces each when baked.
Field Bread, US Army, 1896
U.S. Metric Ingredients
4 cups 950 ml all purpose or bread flour
1 tsp 6 ml yeast
½ tsp 3 ml salt
1 tsp 6 ml dripping or lard
14 fl oz 415 ml warm water
1. Mix the flour, yeast and salt together.
2. Mix in dripping or lard.
3. Add water in small quantities at a time, until a soft dough is made.
4. Knead lightly until the dough is smooth.
5. Cover and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Baking in a Mess Kit or Covered Pan in an Oven
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease the inside, top and bottom, of two mess kits. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each half and place into the lower half of a mess kit. Place the cover on the mess kit and latch the handle.
Bake for 30-45 minutes at 350°F or until bread passes a skewer test.
NOTE: In place of a mess pan, use an oven-proof metal pan with a lid (either two pans with an area of approximately 50 square inches each, or one pan of 100 square inches).
Baking in a Mess Pan on an Open Fire
Grease the inside of two mess pans. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each half and place into the lower half of a mess pan. Place the cover on the mess pan and latch the handle.
Into this mess pan put dough enough to fill it two-thirds full; cover with another mess pan.
A hole should previously have been dug in the ground eighteen or twenty inches in diameter and depth, and a fire burned in it five or six hours. Then take out all the cinders except a bed two or three inches deep ; upon this place the mess pans and surround and cover them with hot cinders ; over all spread a covering of earth, and leave for five or six hours. The bread will not burn, as in rising it will not reach the bottom of the upper mess pan.
The rough-cut edges of the lower mess pan afford egress to any gases that may be disengaged.
If mess pans are to be used, the dough is then placed in the deeper pans and covered with the shallow ones. An even bed of coals is then raked into the baking trench, the ovens or pans placed on this bed and live coals placed on top. Care should be taken not to use too many coals, as owing to the thinness of the pans, the contents are easily burned.
Baked in Frying Pan on an Open Fire
Roll the dough to a thickness of half an inch, and to a diameter that will fit in the frying pan.
Grease the frying pan and set it over hot embers until the grease begins to melt.
Put the dough, in the pan and set it over the fire.
Shake the pan every few moments to prevent the dough from adhering.
After a crust has formed on the bottom, take the bread out of the pan and set it up on edge, close to the fire, turning it occasionally to insure its being baked through.