Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Журналист, писатель, бард. Обладатель «Бриллиантовой совы» интеллектуальной игры «Что? Где? Когда?»
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
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Jan Davids de Hem. Luxurious still life with a parrot. 1650


A certain culinary specialist, who was born in Champagne in the middle of the 18th century, asked a friend of the owner of a factory that produces champagne bottles to make him a certain number of these bottles in an unusual design – with a very wide neck, just narrower than the bottom of the bottle.

Why would he do this?

The answer is a little later.




Getting food is not an easy task. But the problems don’t end there. Well, you lured a mammoth into a pit, even finished it off by throwing something at the poor animal. What to do after it? Even the whole tribe cannot quickly gobble up a mammoth, and in a couple of days the meat will deteriorate…

They quickly noticed that meat can be dried by the fire or dried by cutting into thin stripes and hanging in the sun. It could be stored longer in such a way, reconciled with the inevitable damage to taste. But you can not throw away the grubs you have gotten with difficulty…

In the end, in addition to meat, they learned to dry fish, vegetables, and fruit. Some dried fruit even became delicacies, and no less tasty than fresh meat. And then they also discovered that products generously sprinkled with salt do not deteriorate for a long time and are tasty in their own way.

It turned out that dried bread is also stored for a long time, especially when cut into thin slices. Crackers, jerked beef, dried fruit and dried fish are normal food that can even be tasty. And most importantly, it turns into a stinking poison much more slowly.




Interestingly, infantrymen and even shipbuilders of antiquity could do without such long-term storage supplies. “The armies in the campaigns did not live on prepared reserves, but on ruthless plunder,” Herodotus writes about it. What you take away, you eat – and that’s enough!

In sailing, even the most accepted cabotage, along the coast, it was not always possible to take food away from the aborigines who turned up by the way. Sometimes the visited shores were deserted, and sometimes – inhabited by warlike peoples, with whom it was better not to get involved.

But a way out could be found. They got hungry, landed on the shore, hunted, gathered fruit, if it worked out, bought or exchanged something from the coastal peoples and swim with pleasure; if you eat it, you will come to the shore again. It turned out not fast, but convenient.

The Carthaginians on their famous voyage of Hannon around Africa generally spent six years. We sail, then dock, plow the land, sow bread, wait for hunting and gathering until it grows, collect and sail with the harvest further. It takes a lot of time, but it’s not a problem.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
Ships of the Carthaginian Hannon




At the same time, it turned out that ancient sailors generally lived more comfortably than their medieval counterparts. They had no problems with fresh food. But the invention of the compass, aiming circle, astrolabe and other miracles of navigation posed a problem for sailors – to take supplies for the entire voyage.

Columbus had been sailing to America for two months, after the Canary Islands did not see the coast to which he could land. It means that all the food and fresh water for the team had to be carried on ships. If you run out of food in the sea, you will become a cannibal. Sometimes it happened among the sailors of that time…

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
Columbus landing in America

The basis of sea ration was made up of crackers: nutritious, light, can be stored for a long time… There was one problem – flour worms also like them. So the sailors got into the habit of banging breadcrumbs on the table before eating. Maybe the worms will climb out, or eat in the dark, not to see them…

They also took green and white beans with them. It is nutritious and keeps well. But there are two problems with it: water and firewood. It is impossible and even dangerous to eat raw, and cooking is quite costly in the sea. Not to mention the fact that cooking on fire was then possible only in calm weather.

Another typical seafarer’s product is dried cod from Norway and Iceland, already familiar due to the abundance of Catholic fasts, which eventually became one of the delicacies of Spanish cuisine. They salted it hard, so they beat it off before cooking and soaked it in fresh water for 24 hours.

There were enough problems with water too. It bloomed pretty quickly and began to smell disgusting in wooden barrels. So they tried to take more wine with them (about half a liter per sailor a day) and add vinegar to the water. It extended its shelf life by at least a couple of weeks.




Eating all these delicacies was quite dangerous for healthy sailors, and the sick quickly left the world. 55 of Vasco da Gama’s 170 sailors returned home, the rest died on the way from such a healthy and high-calorie diet. These are not the highest losses!

Sea biscuits were as hard as stone, and even with healthy teeth it was difficult to gnaw them. Therefore, they were sometimes pounded in mortars. Sometimes they added water, salt, spices, beans, bacon, sugar and received food, edible even for weak teeth called “dog cake”. Bon appetit!

Nightmarish naval corned beef, black as coal and terribly hard, was sometimes mixed with fish, boiled in rotten water with rum, and served to the sailors for dinner. Because of the characteristic aroma of a hospital morgue, English sailors called this delicacy “a dead Frenchman”, because of the characteristic aroma of a hospital morgue. But they ate it…

Why don’t sailors go fishing in the ocean? They caught fish, it happened – but they did not like it and ate it without much pleasure, rather because of hunger. In particular, due to the fact that dishes in the sea were washed, of course, with sea water, and the meaty smell with its help is much easier to wash off than the fishy one.




They tried to take some of meat with them, not to spoil it, in a living form. Admiral Hawke believed, for example, that the battleship should take 40 sheep and 12 calves on the way, and the battleship Somerset left Messina in general in 1760 with 71 calves on board – well, with fodder for them…

The officers sometimes bought all sorts of chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and pigeons for their own money and took them to diversify their food. But it was before the first battle! It was impossible to fight the zoo on the deck, so the command “Animals – overboard!” was given, and they were thrown into the water.

Large turtles were considered a gorgeous weld – they were simply folded on the deck with their paws up so that they could not roll over and run away. They could be stored for a long time – cut off a piece and went to cook, and the turtle lives on, if this piece is not a head, and so on for months!

Unfortunatly, the main source of fresh meat on the ship were ship rats. Ships without rats sailed for a maximum of a couple of days after launching. And at the end of the hard swimming, rats became a delicacy – after all, they are the same rodents as rabbits…




In order to somehow disinfect the stinking water and raise the spirits of the sailors, the British Navy began to give them alcohol. At first, it was whiskey. And then, when the waste of sugar production, usually referred to as rum, dropped sharply, they went over to it.

As expected, the percentage of alcoholics jumped so much that Admiral Vernon, nicknamed Old Grog (grog was the camel wool fabric from which his coat was sewn) ordered to dilute rum with water, sugar and lemon juice. The name of the mixture is understandable.

The fight against drunkenness in this way was practically unsuccessful, but lemon juice brought some benefit in the fight against the main killer of sailors on long voyages – scurvy, avitaminosis C. As you  understand, there was no smell of vitamin C in the supplies described above.

But lemon juice or, more often, lime juice really helped. Sauerkraut (for the Germans) and cranberries (for the French) also worked, and colonial Britain had established the supply of lime juice to sailors that the whole world began to call the British “limes”.

And the tradition of giving out rum to sailors every day became a thing of the past only on July 31, 1970, when all the personnel of the British Navy drank their glass with a black ribbon on the sleeve for the last time. This day is celebrated now under the name “Day of the Black Throat”.




As you can see, the navy in those years was terribly fed. Yes, and the army had enough problems – large battalions entered the game, which during the war did not have time to rob themselves for lunch, had to think about supplies. And its main problem was still the same – not to deteriorate on the way.

The person who resolved this issue was born in the famous of Champagne wines, in the family of an innkeeper. He became a chef, worked in Germany for the Duke of Zweibrucken, Christian IV, returned to France and with the money he earned opened a bakery and a pastry shop in Paris.

During the years of terror, he ended up in prison, but the matter did not come to the guillotine. He was released as inexplicably as he was detained. Meanwhile, the Directory in 1795 announced a competition for a food preservation product, promising the winner the title “Benefactor of Humanity”.

Perhaps, it interested him. While continuing to engage in restaurant business in Paris, he began his experiments. Just at this time, Lazzaro Spallanzani showed that in a boiled and tightly sealed bottle, the broth does not spoil for a long time – maybe he heard about it too…

The first thing he did was turn to a friend who owns a factory for the production of champagne bottles with an unusual request. Would he make several bottles with a very wide neck for him? It turned out something like a double-enlarged modern bottle for kefir.


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Since the broth does not spoil in a boiled and tightly sealed bottle, perhaps other products will not spoil? Experiments have shown that it is exactly the case.

And in bottles with a wide neck, you can put everything. If you warm them up and cork them, you get canned food!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
Apper’s canned food bottle




In 1795, our pastry chef (his name was Nicolas Apper) moved from Paris to the small town of Ivry-sur-Seine and began the production of the first canned food there. At first, it did not have much success – it is very difficult to surprise the French with food. But he managed to make ends meet.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
Nicolas Apper

In 1802, he opened the first canning factory on the outskirts of Paris, and a year later he sent 60 bottles of his products to St. Petersburg. Soon he was able to persuade the fleet to test his products – and the quality reviews after three months of storage were very commendable.

Only in 1809, Nicolas was able to get through to Napoleon himself, in front of whom he opened three cans – fried lamb, porridge with stewed pork and peach compote. He served it to the emperor, having previously tasted it personally. Napoleon tasted it, said that everything was fine, so what? And then Apper struck him with the message that it was all cooked six months ago!

Napoleon immediately realized how useful it could be for his constantly fighting army. Apper received the award of 12,000 gold francs promised back in 1795 and the title of Benefactor of Humanity. In 1810 he published the book “The Art of Conservation of Animal and Plant Substance for Several Years”, which allowed others to replicate his idea.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
Napoleon presents the prize to Apper




British merchant Peter Durand soon proposed replacing fragile glass jars with durable tin ones, and already in 1810, the year Apper’s book was published, received a patent for his idea. Canned food began to be produced for the British army, and then Durand received a patent in the United States.

And in 1812 in London, John Hall and Bryan Donkin already opened the world’s first factory for the production of cans. At first, it was quite laborious, and only in 1846 Henry Evans invented a machine that made it possible to speed up the production of cans by 10 times!

In America, sensitive to novelties, already in 1813, the American fleet, which was not very large at that time, was practically transferred to the supply of canned food: first of all, ships leaving for long voyages. They began to introduce canned fish in the USA actively.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
The first cannery

We learned about canned food in the Russian Empire. Small parties captured from the Napoleonic army were at first feared. They decided that there were only frogs loved by the French for some reason. But already in 1821 the magazine Russian Archive responded favorably to the useful innovation.




Not everything turned out well right away. The death of a number of members of Franklin’s British polar expedition is attributed to lead poisoning, which is used to seal the cans. Already in 1872 on Svalbard died of lead poisoning, the seal hunters who ate canned food there. But banks have improved and learned to seal without lead.

It was more difficult with another problem. The first cans were too strong. Sometimes they were offered to open  right in the store – at home, they say, it still won’t work. And those who still wanted to open canned food at home had to purchase a hammer and chisel complete with them.

There were also monstrous cases of death of sailors after a shipwreck on an uninhabited island from hunger. They had a supply of canned food with them, but they could not open the cans. Back in the Crimean War, there was a special ban on soldiers to open canned food with bayonets. They just broke.

Only in 1858, an American Ezra Warner from Connecticut patented an invention that was half a century late – a can opener. Soon they began to be sold in a set with each can, until some unrecognized genius realized that one knife was enough for a family.




Apper himself was not lucky – his business did not go, and he died in poverty. But his idea spread around the world with great success. For some countries, it was a revolution. For example, for Argentina, where cows were bred for leather, and meat was simply thrown away before the invention of canned food, or for Australia, which did not know what to do with its huge herds.

New varieties of canned food quickly began to appear – from condensed milk patented in 1856 by American Gale Borden to bouillon cubes improved by Julius Maggi. Not mentioning canned fruit, which contains sugar for preservation.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
The first can of condensed milk

The shelf life of canned food was usually determined equal to 5 years. But the recently found reserves of Baron Toll’s polar expedition, laid down in 1900, were tasted in 2004, and, according to those who have tasted more than a century-old cabbage soup, they were edible and even quite tasty.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to feed the military and travelers?
From the reserves of Baron Toll

And in Japan, for the 200th anniversary of Nicolas Apper’s invention, five types of canned food were specially made and produced exactly according to his recipes. Some of them went on sale, and contemporaries were able to appreciate their taste – it’s a pity that not in champagne bottle with a wide neck!




The ancient sailors ate much better than their medieval craft cousins. It often happens that you strive to achieve your goal faster, and as a result you have to eat all sorts of rubbish…

Every enemy can become a friend if handled correctly. For instance, the ship rats are “that’s disgusting!” for us.

Alcoholism, of course, allows you to forget about life’s difficulties, but then you will have to look for a long time how to get rid of it. To stop issuing rum to sailors, the British government had to hold special parliamentary hearings!

For more than a decade, Apper has been producing his canned food and few people noticed it. But when he fed Napoleon himself, the matter immediately got off the ground. Go to the highest bosses you can get to!

You need to invent in a complex! Before the invention of canned food, no one needed a can opener, and without it, the infantrymen began to break bayonets… Put yourself in the shoes of the user of your products and do everything to make him comfortable, sooner than in 50 years!


All illustrations are from open sources

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