Chipped Beef: History of the Meal Soldiers Both Hate and Love

Gravy’s really easy to make — simply combine meat drippings and a pinch of flour to thicken it and you might be finished. However the pan-scraping sauce, significantly creamy white gravy, has had a shocking sojourn all through historical past. Together with its cousins gruel and chocolate gravy, it makes up a part of a household of easy, filling meals that anybody could make and almost everybody enjoys.

And although its legacy is large, white gravy’s chief contribution to American army delicacies could also be one which troopers, sailors, Marines and airmen loudly profess to detest — however that they really appear to like.

However earlier than we get to that, a quick historical past of white gravy and the way it led to the army staple referred to as “SOS.”


White gravy, the broadly Southern staple discovered blanketing rooster fried steak and biscuits, is a model of a fancier sauce. Truly François de la Varenne, chef de delicacies for Louis XIV’s diplomat Nicolas Chalon du Blé, will get credit score for first concocting it. La Varenne authored the world’s first business cookbook, “Le Cuisinier François” (“The French Cook dinner”), and the recipe for béchamel sauce accompanied early French explorers to Louisiana, the place meatier variants quickly adopted.

One cousin of white gravy is the lesser-known chocolate choice. Within the early 1500s, one of the prized spoils from the Spanish conquest of the Americas was the key of the cacao tree, the seed of which varieties the premise for chocolate. This discovery led to the eventual transport of the dear commodity of chocolate to the Spanish-held territories of Louisiana and Texas in later years.

Sooner or later, very presumably alongside the frontier between Spanish Louisiana and the first-British, then-American-held Tennessee Valley, the chocolate was combined with different substances to formulate a sweetened model of the gravy with the identical goal, poured over pancakes, biscuits, and the like, regularly spreading all through the Upland South. Of us within the Ozark Mountains use this model of gravy these days extra typically than they do alongside the shoreline.


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Alternatively, white gravy’s distant relative gruel suffers from a stigma. Gruel is usually related to each the sick and downtrodden; the very fact it rhymes with “merciless” doesn’t assist its standing. Nonetheless, Ursuline nun Marie-Madeleine Hachard excitedly wrote her father in 1727 concerning the fantastic meals in Louisiana. She appeared nearly giddy, expounding, “We’re getting remarkably used to the wild meals of this nation … rice cooked in milk [gruel] is quite common and we eat it typically ….”

Within the mid-1700s, Native American tribes in Louisiana supplied a resident Frenchman, Lt. Dumont, an analogous sort of combination that he described as gruel created from husked maize, water and oil from bear fats. Dumont, receiving this repast in return for some items and trinkets, famous, “The French eat it on salads and in addition … for making soups.”

(White gravy on a salad is kind of an idea!)


A century later, gruel was reintroduced throughout the USA through an 1860 advertising surge pushed by its supposed medicinal worth. Newspapers have been saturated with commercials lauding its “invigorating” qualities. One specific model of gruel claimed to be useful to kids in addition to “extremely helpful and beneficent to Ladies within the state of Being pregnant.”

Throughout the Civil Warfare, Ransler Wilcox of the forty ninth Massachusetts Infantry was stationed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and jotted this in his diary: “I don’t really feel effectively … have been to the physician and obtained some medication … gruel for dinner … tea and gruel for supper.”

Samuel Haskell of the thirtieth Maine Infantry on obligation at Morganza, Louisiana wrote, “I’ve been sick [and] I dare not eat the rations we draw … [we can get] each factor however flour …. I’ve purchased some to make some grewall.”

Trendy postnatal care analysis papers have lauded its advantages in synthetic toddler feeding. Possibly there’s something to this facet of gruel being a treatment in your illnesses in spite of everything.

Within the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July 1863, girls from the encircling space flocked to the battlefield to help with the massive variety of wounded troopers. Provides being minimal, the makeshift hospitals resorted to no matter was at hand to ease the ache and starvation of the injured males.

Farina is talked about in plenty of reminiscences from nurses and girls of the Sanitary Fee. The caretakers would add water or milk to the farina and heated it to a palatable gruel combination. This allowed the comforting, heat meals that may stretch to bigger teams of troops. The concoction was additionally very nourishing and straightforward to eat and digest.

One Union soldier marching by means of the south recalled: “Many a soldier will bear in mind how, when he fell out of the ranks throughout a kind of extreme marches, and the planter close by scowled and glowered in order that he couldn’t enter the wealthy man’s door,” some sympathetic slave girl “helped him to her personal cabin . made him tea and gruel, and nursed him as tenderly as his sister would have finished.”


Throughout the 1864 Crimson River Marketing campaign, Lt. George G. Smith of the 1st Louisiana (U.S.) Infantry put the 2 staples of rations collectively out of necessity. All he had accessible to eat was “a chunk of boiled salt pork, a number of items of exhausting tack and a few espresso. Salt pork I couldn’t, and exhausting tack I might not eat.”

Lastly, Smith determined, “I’ll soak my exhausting tack in some scorching water and soften it up just a little, and fry a few of the salt pork in my tin plate after which fry the soaked exhausting tack within the gravy. Superb!”

After creating the makeshift white gravy, Smith observed comrades have been watching the method. Inside per week, as an alternative of garnering the credit score for the combination, he observed the whole camp was relishing the brand new dish created from gadgets everybody had of their haversacks.  

Whether or not a treatment for illness or not, anybody who has ever learn the ebook or watched one of many quite a few film variations of Charles Dickens’ basic “Oliver Twist” absolutely recollects the protagonist uttering the plaintive line about gruel: “Please, sir, I need some extra.” One can assume that is the juncture the place being orphaned, poor and homeless turned related to the time period “gruel.” The derogatory that means related to the phrase has even discovered its method into mainstream media because of a statewide sports activities column. Headlines of a postseason loss for Louisiana State College soccer a number of years again opined, “LSU’s vacation bowl gruel typified a mushy season.”


White gravy has ingratiated itself with the USA army; for instance, add sausage and you’ve got sawmill gravy. Chipped beef even discovered its method into the white gravy combination with the long run doughboys proper earlier than World Warfare I.

Troopers and sailors finally dubbed it “SOS” (“Save Our Souls” or “Identical Outdated Slop” being the PG-rated translations) when served on a chunk of toast. The very first documented proof of the army making SOS was the 1910 “Guide of Military Cooks.” Subject situations prompted some substances to alter resulting from availability however for essentially the most half the stuff used to make the concoction for the troops included … effectively, see for your self.

Recipe #251. Beef, chipped: 15 kilos of chipped beef; 1 pound fats, butter most popular; 1½ kilos flour, browned in fats; 2 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk; bunch parsley; ¼ ounce of Pepper; 6 quarts of beef inventory

Earlier than you begin cooking this up, please understand it’s a must to invite 59 associates over to devour this large portion with you, because it was measured out to feed 60 hungry troopers.

One of many tales of the well-known “Band of Brothers,” Straightforward Firm of the 506th Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, occurred stateside, earlier than they crossed the ocean to struggle the Germans in World Warfare II. They boarded a prepare certain for Sturgis, Kentucky. On the railroad depot, girls from the Crimson Cross gave them doughnuts and occasional. The troopers camped outdoors of the city and have been handled to what gave the impression to be the Military’s meal of selection to supply troops within the subject, creamed chipped beef on toast.

Gerry Stearns of the 89th Infantry Division recalled his experiences with SOS in World Warfare II.

“Typically the GI’s names for staples may have been off-putting,” he wrote. “The Mess Sergeant’s menu listed ‘cream chipped beef on toast.’ What we referred to as it was ‘One thing on a Shingle,’ or often ‘S.O.S.’ I used to be uneasy about attempting that till about three or 4 o’clock one morning I used to be checking the buildings of the reception heart the place I used to be a restricted service MP. There was an fascinating odor of frying meat as I approached the mess corridor. I’m fairly certain my Normal Orders required me to research. What I discovered have been mounds of hamburger being cooked in massive pans, a milk and flour sauce being ready and a whole bunch of bread slices being toasted. I turned an instantaneous fan and an everyday participant on this and plenty of subsequent S. O. S. Breakfasts.” 


SOS grew in recognition throughout each world wars and in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the tip of World Warfare II, the Military printed the recipe in “TM 10-412” in August 1944 however made a number of modifications within the beforehand normal substances. The parsley and beef inventory had been eliminated in an effort to make a creamier chipped beef serving. It was successful, however cooks nonetheless needed to be reminded to soak the chipped beef beforehand to take away the preservative salt. The U. S. Air Drive joined in serving SOS in World Warfare II and thru the following few wars.

Dennis Peterson of the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron fondly recalled many SOS meals in the course of the Vietnam Warfare.

“Good consuming,” Peterson wrote. “It [SOS] was all the time accessible on the meals tray. Eggs and bacon have been my desire, however SOS was scrumptious, too.”

Turning into an expert truck driver after the struggle, Peterson would typically pattern related meals on his travels throughout the Southern United States roadways.

The U. S. Navy had their very own various substances, which included tomatoes, recent floor beef and nutmeg. One sailor commented that his ship obtained upset once they got the SOS with chipped beef Military variant as an alternative of the minced beef type that they had been served for thus lengthy. They finally satisfied the cooks to limit the chipped beef model to annually.

Apparently sufficient, for those who look by means of any Navy cookbook from 1927 till 1952, you can find that there isn’t any recipe for making creamed beef. Palms down, they most popular minced beef, one thing distinctive to their department of service. The one different group to eat it have been U. S. Marines being transported on Navy vessels. A Navy prepare dinner was taught to thicken the tomato sauce for the minced beef with cornstarch. Their nautical SOS was served for a complete week after which alternated the following week with corned beef hash and hard-boiled eggs and so forth all year long.

“Most likely as a result of area is such a premium aboard ship, we didn’t have chipped beef, simply good previous hamburger meat, minced with loads of black pepper and salt, “ mentioned U. S. Navy Cook dinner Striker (apprentice) Jon Lord, aboard the usS. California from 1974 to 1975. “It was extra of what as we speak we’d name sausage gravy. We fed 450 males, thrice a day at sea. Breakfast was the favourite meal. As I recall, there can be one or two meats on the road each morning: bacon, sausage, ham, or SOS. SOS was all the time a crew favourite.” 


Extra just lately, some branches of service have determined to go along with a more healthy SOS, utilizing very lean floor beef (lower than 10% fats) or implementing floor turkey to offer the meat within the meal. Whatever the combination, the recognition of this dish has persevered within the army over time.

Within the aftermath of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina alongside the Gulf coast in 2005, the makeshift kitchens at Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Louisiana, have been filled with steady giant containers of the white gold, this model combined with floor beef. This was used to fill the various hungry stomachs of the varied items from throughout the USA despatched down on rescue missions all through the state and nostalgically housed within the previous World Warfare II-era barracks on put up. Contemplating the catastrophe areas they have been confronting each day and the scarcity of mills on put up, the nice and cozy, tasty SOS made an enduring culinary expertise akin to the sooner days of the army camp.

In garrison conditions, the Military SOS can be served over toast. In field-based eventualities, the SOS can be put atop baking powder biscuits.

“For the reason that cooks began to prepare dinner breakfast earlier than dawn, they needed to work below blackout situations,” one prepare dinner mentioned later. “The partitions of the mess tent have been drawn, and the cooks needed to work with flashlights. This was vital since you may see a cigarette for miles.”

However whether or not you may see it or not as you eat, SOS or chipped beef, or no matter you favor to name it, has seemingly made itself a everlasting dwelling in America’s army mess halls.  

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