A simple solution

February 26, 2010

Conservation of salt

As salt is absent from the basic rations issued to POWs, potatoes etc. are boiled in sea water.

Book B, p.24

Peanut butter as a laxative

February 7, 2010

I doubt whether my father tasted peanut butter before arriving in Singapore, or even knew what it was.  It would have been a rarity in English shops before the War and for that matter some time after it.  Even at Changi he didn’t seem to know what to call it but wrote a note about its laxative properties, at least when on a rice diet.

On the following page he provided a recipe.  As usual, the language is more that of the scientific observer than the gourmand.


An appetizing way of serving these is to grind them up with a pestle & mortar until the oils are caused to form a vehicle for the remaining solids & a thick paste is obtained.  This paste may be spread, like butterscotch, on toast or bread & butter.

Book B, p.4

My father’s third notebook in Singapore was fashioned out of ‘The “Justso” Investment Register’ made by Henstocks stationers of Bristol. Curiously, it was labeled ‘Book B’ on the inside cover though it was the third of his Singapore notebooks in chronological order; the second, equally curiously, having been labeled ‘Book C.’

The first entry has to do with “the effect of certain gargles upon septic substances.” The second reads like a tropical parody of Mrs. Beeton.


The correct method of opening a coconut is to:
(1) punch two of the three micropyles (one of which is easy to pierce) & drain off the juice.
(2) Lay the nut on its side in the palm of the hand & strike it across the middle with a sharp heavy instrument. The nut will then crack transversely & break into two halves.

These recipes appear in a section on Indian food  The recipe for Ding ding is worth repeating in full given its complexity and the fact that it took several days to prepare, depending on the weather.  It was eaten (providing it hadn’t been forgotten about) with rice to which a little mulgatannie (pepper water), or sour milk had been added.

The recipe for pepper water follows on the next page of his notebook and was made from a tablespoon of black pepper, “1/2 tennis ball full of tamberind” (sic), 2 teaspoons of salt and a pint of water.  My father would have been unfamiliar with most of the spices, of course, and his spellings varied accordingly, especially in the early months.

Presumably one full tennis ball could only be measured by two halves.

Ding ding

This is made out of  4 lbs of beef or mutton.  Slice 1/2  inch thick say 4″ x 6″ without the bone.  Do not touch water (don’t wash it).  Then powder finely a tea cup full (1/4 lb) of pepper (black Indian pepper).  Buy 2 cents worth (1 tablespoonfull) of loose cloves and cinnamon & powder finely.  Also buy 2 cents (1 tablespoonfull) tumeric (or saffron) & powder finely with 1 tablepoonfull of  coriender & a teaspoonfull of mustard.  All the above to be finely powdered & mixed together.

Now you take each piece of meat & chop finely with a blunt knife to smash the pieces up without cutting up the slices completely.  Mix the meat with salt at the same time, rubbing the salt well in.  Place the meat cutlets in a bowl one on top of the other, reversing the heap after the first half hour.

After that hour take each slice of meat & rub it well with the above powder which has previously been mixed with 1 pint of English vinegar & place it on an iron sheet or cement in the sun.  Reverse the pieces occasionally as drying takes place.  Do this for a week (the slices become small & hard with drying) or less in really fine weather.

When dry, place the slices in a gunny (jute bag) or earthen pot and place same near a warm place such as close to an oven.

When required for use, take a few pieces of meat, wash them in equal parts vinegar & water (just a little), & fry it in ghee or butter or olive oil..

Beef usually gives a better taste, the best parts being the rump & loins.

On the second day of drying if it is found that the slices look too bare (lack of dark colour) it is possible to powder some more pepper with a little cloves, then mixing the latter with salt & vinegar.  Then rub the meat & dry as usual.

The recipe for coconut curry strikes me as somewhat misnamed given that the main ingredient was sardines or herring, the ratio of coconut to sardines being 1/2 coconut to 50 sardines.  The principal spices were temeric, cummin (sic) and green chillies.  My father put a question mark after cumin as he wondered whether it really meant caraway.

Book C (pp. 234-237)

Green Frogs

September 16, 2009

Both before he was captured and during his first months at Changi, my father made frequent notes about the food eaten by the local Chinese, Indian and Malay populations.  It is not clear to me how he gained this information after his capture though there was a good deal of freedom of movement during the early weeks at Changi and from what he told me there was always a level of contact with local inhabitants.  That was how he obtained his writing materials, for instance.

Whether the dishes he noted were at all representative I cannot say.  It seems to me that his selection probably tended to the colorful and exotic, at least from his perspective.  But that would have been natural enough.

Here is a dish eaten by the Chinese in Singapore, though the recipe is a little short on detail.  It was probably written around May or June, 1942.

Green Frogs

These frogs are about 1 1/2 inches long and occur fairly commonly in Malaya in flat grassland which is low lying and although subject to periodic flooding does not remain waterlogged for very long.  The frogs are nocturnal in their habits.

The frogs are eaten chiefly by the Chinese population and parties of men go out with torches at night to collect them.  About 200 of the frogs make a meal for about 4 people.

Only the hind legs & portions of the rump are consumed.  The frogs are cut up when they are alive.

The method of preparing the frogs is uncertain.  The result, however, is said to be very similar to young pigeon.

(Book C, page 230.)

As was noted on the next page, both wild and domesticated pigeon were eaten.  Wild pigeon were “commonly shot” in Malaya while domesticated pigeon were killed after they had left the nest but before they had laid their second batch of eggs.  Wild pigeon were “excellent prepared as pigeon pie.”

Diet – March 1942

May 24, 2009

It was a week or two before the Japanese began to issue rations to the 50,000 or so prisoners at Changi.  Food was very short, the POWs having to rely on any supplies they had managed to bring with them.   The meagre and eclectic nature of the diet is evident from my father’s notes.

Diet P.O.W.

Tuesday 17th March

Breakfast 9am; 9:30am

2 slices of bread (no yeast; sour)

Desert spoonful pork lard

Mug of tea

Dinner (Tiffin)  1:30pm; 2:00pm

Boiled rice with salmon mixed

1 slice of bread

Tea (Supper) 6:00pm; 6:45pm

Boiled rice with corned beef & a little mango boiled up together.

1 slice beetroot

1 slice of bread

Mug of tea

Chapati making

May 9, 2009

My father’s first observations about chapatis are sandwiched(as it were) between a note on blood films and kidney dishes and a method for sterilizing water when no Horrocks test is available.

At first, I was amused by his opening sentence.  Chapatis, he declares, are “really a substitute for European bread.”  Presumably the local population would have been surprised to hear this.  But of course the sentence can be read another way.  It is more likely — though perhaps not overwhelmingly so — that he was simply observing that the two kinds of bread had similar uses.

Chapati making

Chapatis are really a substitute for European bread.  They are, however, made from potato flour (not corn flour), and the absence of yeast causes the chapatis to remain flat, similar in size & shape to pancakes.

The following is the method of making:

The flour is mixed with water in a bowl and kneaded into dough.  When thoroughly mixed the dough is shaped about a foot in diameter and 1/2 inch thick.  Gee (minia sapi = Malayan) is added to prevent the dough from sticking to the hands etc. during the process of flattening.

Pans, shaped as in the sketch (see illustration accompanying this post) and measuring 30″ long and 14″ wide, & slightly curved, are then placed over an open brick fire and are allowed to get thoroughly hot.

After smearing the pan with gee the flattened dough is placed in position & is instantly turned over so that both sides are thoroughly toasted.

Chapatis are eaten chiefly by Indians although Malays are also fond of them.  The Chinese will also eat them although they will rarely make them themselves; they buy them from the shops.  The chapatis are not distasteful to Europeans, although they are rather stodgy.

Book A, Pages 163-164

Chapati making