Salting meat for garrison troops (meat preservation bonus episode)

This is the relevant section from Fronsperger’s Besatzung, a treatise on managing garrison troops and defending fortresses. It is has many similarities with Coler’s Oeconomia and notably, instruction for proto-pastrami.

And when bacon is to be had in the towns and country the same should be kept provisioned at all time. And if it were the case that this bacon should hang too long and there was concern that it was growing too old and spoiling, the same should be fed to and sold among the troops over time and replaced with new. That way, you will always have a good supply. But there must be good care in this regard that the bacon be hung up in such places and kept with smoke and air drying as it should be. Where it is not treated this way, it spoils, that is why these measures must be taken. The same should also be done with other meat, be it of cows, oxen, and so forth, when a garrison can have them they should be slaughtered and nicely and cleanly laid in salt and lay up in store. When such meat is kept clean, it will keep an entire year. When it is slaughtered, it much be chopped to pieces and the blood washed out and the meat allowed to cool. Then it is laid into casks with salt and salted well, and when one wishes to eat of it, it should be hung up in the smoke for a day or more and then cooked. But because it has lain in the salt, it has taken on much salt to itself and one must not use as much salt in cooking as one would with meat cooked fresh.

And whoever would keep such meat over the year so that it stays good should wash it again in clean water when it has lain in salt for two or three months, lay it on clean straw and let it dry. Then the salt has drawn out the blood that spoils the meat. And then lay it in (the cask) with salt again as before, and the brine (Lach oder Soltz) that was over it before is red and unclean, therefore you shall boil and skim it again until it turns clear and pure and then let it cool. It is then put back into the cask over the meat and look to it timely that the brine reaches above the meat. If it dries out, you shall boil a fresh brine of salt and pure water, skim it well and let it cool and pour it over (the meat). You must always keep it full, that way it keeps as long as you wish.

This is, unsurprisingly, fairly close to the instructions for wet-salting we get in the Oeconomia in general and specifically for the way of the port cities. This is apparently how it was done properly, and Fronsperger cannot have been the only one to actually clean the individual pieces when replacing the brine.

What I find especially interesting is the instruction to smoke salted meat for a short time before cooking it. this cannot have helped with preservation, but it likely added a desirable flavour, much as we do today in making pastrami. In the absense of seasoning instructions and, more importantly, keeping in mind how long such meat would have been salted before being served, we should probably not imagine anything as good as you would get in a New York deli. But the idea certainly existed, and we can easily imagine it applied at upscale tables.

Fronsperger describes elsewhere that garrison troops were not fed on an industrial scale. Commercial cooks served food prepared in their kitchens, and soldiers sometimes cooked for themselves in groups. It is not far-fetched to imagine a degree of care taken over turning supplies into palatable meals. Certainly there was no ‘mess hall chow’. In fact, one phrase a sixteenth-century German landsknecht song used for military service was hart liegen für gute Speis, roughly translated as “a hard bed, but good food”. More detail can be found in my Landsknechtkochbuch – English edition forthcoming this year.

Fronsperger, an officer in imperial service who served in the wars with the Ottoman Empire, wrote a short book on managing and provisioning garrison troops that was printed in 1563. In later years, he would follow it up with considerably larger works on the laws and usages of war and the management of landsknecht troops. These are excerpts from his ‘Besatzung’ pertaining mainly to food and provisioning.

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