A Stir The Pots Post

Recipe cards – it’s about the math!

by | Oct 21, 2010 | Food


As a kid, I was your typical late 1970s long haired, art class  social outcast. Not exactly a high achiever at school, especially since I was  prescribed with learning disabilities. Math was my biggest enemy. When I joined the United States Army and trained as  a cook, who knew I would be having to learn math, again? Percentages, no less!

Thankfully even with mediocre math abilities, I would later be able to use my Quartermaster school training  as a professional chef and home baker! I still have a set of Armed Forces recipe cards procured decades ago, holding those precious recipes for making it easier to cook for crowds ranging from eight to eight thousand and overly hungry troops.

They aren't bad recipes, either. Some of my favorites were for Yakisoba or peanut butter cookies. We often veered from the recipes to add our own touches, to the ire of many an inspection officer. "How many tablespoons?" they'd ask us, as we squirmed trying to look through the card they were holding in front of us. Call it learning disabilities or improvisation, but whatever it was we managed to create some great food. At least the troops seemed to like it.

To this day I still use the biscuit recipe, but always get pissed off that there isn't a metric set and have to convert! No worries. Because, low and behold, today military offers conversion guides for measurement. Today there's even a CD version of the recipe cards! And if you look through the index, there's all sorts of good cooking tools for capacities and "how toos!"  There are even guidlines for halal and kosher meals, along with trimmer and leaner healthier options! That means so long to SOS, chipped or creamed beef!

All to say that these days, I like learning. And looking back at the cards, they hold surprises. Like who knew that the Continental Congress  was learning the art of rationing and procurement so early on – simply as a way to control costs on salt, a method of preservation since they didn't have refrigeration. Now that is a proactive government! And did you know that our Army started company food service as early as 1777, then standardizing in 1869. It was Napoleon who said an army marches on it's stomach!

I still make biscuits for parties at Christmas, but I haven't dared to re-create SOS or creamed chipped beef. aka "shit on a shingle!" Funny we used to throw the dried up biscuits at the base theaters red shingles and see how many we could pop off to the consternation of the maintenance crew! 

I am just glad to have learned something more then shooting at someone, better to feed them!








  1. Kitchen M

    Cool! They serve yakisoba instead of chow mein?
    I know, I’m not too good with math, either. Thanks to my iPhone. 🙂

  2. MC

    Great post! Now could you, would you share the recipe for peanut butter cookies? In grams please? Or is it a military secret? 😉

  3. Mike Avery

    Despite the scatology, well made SOS is a treat. If you like biscuits and sausage gravy, SOS is in the same family. The hard part is finding chipped beef.
    Also, the link to the recipe cards seems to be broken.
    And – did you ever see one of the WWII vintage mobile bakery trucks? They were an amazing use of space!
    Along those lines, there is also 1917 Manual for Army Bakers that is available at the Google archives. Well worth a look! http://preview.tinyurl.com/2uk7wr3

  4. Teresa

    I hear you Jeremy, when I started baking more seriously, I had to get over being “math challenged”
    I didn’t really get over it, I had the help of a programmer who helped me “over” it. He made me up hydration and recipe calculators etc. Now I feel like I can do almost anything with math and baking…. 🙂 I like digital help.

  5. drfugawe

    Reminds me of a Playboy piece done by Jean Shepard in 1968 (“Banjo Butt Meets Julia Child”) a tale of a company of dissatisfied new Army recruits who become the subjects of an experiment to see just what might happen if Army food is upgraded to haute cuisine.)
    A delightful story, and knowing Shepherd’s penchant for basing his stuff on real life experiences, one wonders how much truth there was in it!

  6. Jeremy

    Larousse Gastronomique was my guide to making Hollandaise for eggs Benedict one time, the generals loved them!

  7. Anna Johnston

    Recipe cards are the business, love em, had a stash still from my apprenticeship days, mine didn’t come with handy little patriotic tips n hints though 😉


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