Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Slum Gullione: In Their Own Words

...To you from failing hands we throw the torch; 
be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die, 
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
in Flanders Fields...

"Today, Veterans Day recognizes all members of the armed forces, living and dead, who served during times of peace or war. This holiday was established to honor those who had served in World War I and was originally called Armistice Day. Armistice Day was first officially proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919 one year to the day after the war ended in 1918. Congress proclaimed the day a federal holiday in 1938. In 1954, Congress changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day. It is a day to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. Veterans' organizations hold parades, and the President customarily places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

The inspiration for today's post comes from the November 1931 issue of American Cookery Magazine. A few months back while I was skimming through its pages, I came across an article titled "Slum." Hmmm...I thought what is "slum" and what pray tell is it doing in one of my favorite magazines? Thankfully, the article is pretty short so I have included it below.

"Slum" by Lilian A. Ettinger: The celebration of Armistice Day is an institution in our household. My husband has a half dozen or so old cronies whom he gathers around his board on that day, where they fight the war all over again.

The bullets fly, machines gun nests are retaken, mighty ships plow through turbulent seas, zooming airships sweep the ceiling of the blue skies. In general, they work themselves into a fine frenzy of reminiscing.

On the first of these gatherings, I asked, hesitatingly, what they would like to eat.

"Slum" was the reply in unison and their lips smacked in gastronomical anticipation and immediately they plunged into amusing anecdotes of the gallons of "slum" they had consumed during the war.

"How do you make it?" I asked trying to sandwich in a word. Astonished, commiserative glances were cast in my husband's direction. They were, frankly, feeling sorry indeed for him. Was it possible that there lived any one so dumb that she didn't know about "slum?"

"Empty the kitchen into a pot and boil it up together," some one suggested. It was rather a staggering order but it was my aim to please if possible, feed the brutes.

I bought a nice fat hen and a large soup bone with plenty of meat on it, then every sort of vegetable known to man kind.

I stewed the chicken until the meat fell off the bones, at the same time boiling the soup bone until the same conditions existed.

The two kettles of broth and meat were left separate until the last minute, for the slices of cabbage must not be cooked with the rest of the vegetables.

In the chicken broth were cooked celery, onions, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and green peppers. When the latter were about half cooked, tomatoes were added. All vegetables had been cut in fairly large cubes and were not cooked too long; they should remain intact. In the last few minutes before combining the two mixtures a large can of button mushrooms, liquor and all, was added.

Great steaming bowls of the "slum" placed before each man brought such appreciative, prolonged "yums" and "ahs" as delight to the soul of every cook. Salad plates of stuffed celery, together with coffee, hard rolls, and butter, completed the menu. Since everything that goes into a meal was combined in the one dish, little else was necessary and the stuffed celery gave just the right balance.

The meal was voted a huge success and on every succeeding Armistice Day, when the "war dogs" gathered, "slum" was the order for the day. Much to my delight it is certainly the easiest way I know of to feed a group of hungry men with the minimum amount of work.


Slang, what is slang? Here is the definition from the free online dictionary.

Slang: A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect; Language peculiar to a group; argot or jargon

Not only is "Slumgullion" an informal military term, it is also "slum" a thin stew of meat and vegetables. Stumbling upon this type of meal aroused my curiosity. How many other unique military forms of jargon pertaining to food was I not familiar with?

"Slum gullion" or "slumgullion" or just "slum", is a term from the California gold rush. It meant the mud left in the sluice when panning for gold, and the miners also used it to refer to a thin, watery stew or soup made from leftovers. The term first appeared in print in 1850. Every recipe for slumgullion that I found had different ingredients, which is logical since it was originally made from leftovers. (War Slang by Paul Dickson)
The pudding that we swallowed we soon put over side, 
With gastric gurgitations that could not be denied. 
There would have been no difference if dessert had been ice 
The Bay was mighty turbulent, December, Seventeen.
Slum-gullion for breakfast, slum-gullion at noon, 
With frequent interspersing of the ever-faithful prune. 
Oh, these and other hardships would often intervene, 
When we sailed the Bay of Biscay in the Fall of Seventeen. 
But "slumgullion" is indeed a well-established word with a long history, today meaning a kind of hash or stew, especially one of humble origins...The earliest occurrence of "slumgullion" recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Mark Twain's "Roughing It" in 1872 ("He poured for us a beverage which he called 'Slumgullion'"), which Twain used in the then-current sense of "a weak or inferior drink." In the 1880s, "slumgullion" was apparently also used to mean the watery refuse from processing whale blubber as well as the muddy sludge created by mining operations. The earliest use of the "stew" sense of "slumgullion" yet found dates to 1902 (Jack London, "Daughter of Snows": "'What do you happen to call it?' 'Slumgullion,' she responded curtly, and thereafter the meal went on in silence"), and, given the earlier meanings of the word, that must have been seriously nasty stew. source

Well it appears, there are quite a few. I did a bit of scouting around and have made up a list to share, just in case you too are interested. Unfortunately, I wasn't bright enough to distinguish the meanings from the different branches of the armed forces so they are all tossed in together. I do know they are from an assortment of army, navy and marine doughboy websites. The highlighted few are links to the recipes.

a foot soildier
Groundhog Day
A name for Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), when the fighting stopped and everyone came out of their holes. Referring to unpleasant, unchanging, repetitive situations as “Groundhog Day” was widespread throughout the U.S. military. A magazine article about the aircraft carrier USS America mentions its use by sailors in September 1993. Even today in the Iraq War, "Groundhog Day" is American military slang for any day of a tour of duty in Iraq.
bug juice
kool-aid-like beverage
bullets in a pot, repeaters & pork
corn willy, willy, sir william, bill
hash (canned beef)
chow down
to eat
a gourmet on the rampage
chow hall
dining room
fried mush
doughboy breakfast treat
Place where food is prepared for consumption.
canned salmon
goldfish loaf
canned salmon
army goulash, spicy stew
hardtack, teeth dullers, sheet iron
hard dry biscuit
kitchen in a carton
three square meals
mess or mess deck
dining hall aboard ship or at a shore facility.
mess sergeant java, black jack
field kitchen coffee
pum frits
pan cooked potatoes
red death
poorly prepared corned beef with cabbage.
read lead
salva, grease
sand & dirt
salt & pepper
where dishes are washed
drinking fountains.
sea dust
intoxicating beverages
sewer trout
White fish
side arms
cream & sugar
beer joint
slum burner
a cook
slum gullion
hash, stew
s.o.s. or s#%t on a shingle
cream chipped beef on toast
steam shovel
potato peeler
swacked; swamped
target paste
creamed chipped beet or gravy. 
tiger meat

Military slang abounds. Biscuits were called "sinkers," "weevil fodder," or "death bells" by soldiers during the American Civil War. While Union soldiers had their "skillygallee", Confederates had their own version of a quick dish. "Sow-bosom" was cooked in a frying pan with some water and corn meal added to make a thick, brown gravy similar in consistency to oatmeal. The soldiers called it "coosh." (corn meal mush) If Confederate soldiers detected Yankee soldiers approaching, they would quieten their barking dogs by throwing them fried cornmeal balls or hush puppies.

The British had their pop-wallah while Napoleon's Army had its Bishop.

The Legend of the Poppy

The poppy has been adopted by many organizations as a symbol of commemoration of those men and women who we honor today. The Flanders Fields Red Poppy was immortalized by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in the poem, In Flander's Field. Moina Belle Michael, the "poppy lady," established the poppy as a universal symbol of tribute and support for veterans after reading Col. McCrae's poem in an issue of Ladies Home Journal. She was so touched by the author's heartfelt observation, especially the words, ...To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields.... she spent most of her life trying to make the flower the national "flower of remembrance." It was officially adopted as the "flower of remembrance" at the National American Legion Convention in 1920 and at the Auxiliary Convention in 1921. Today, Auxiliary members distribute millions of little paper poppies made by hospitalized veterans in the weeks preceding Memorial and Veterans Day. Donations are used exclusively to assist veterans and their children. Moine Michael wrote her own poem in response to Col. McCrae's poem titled, We Shall Keep the Faith

In Flanders Fields" was first published in England's "Punch" magazine in December, 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War...Before he died, John McCrae had the satisfaction of knowing that his poem had been a success. Soon after its publication, it became the most popular poem on the First World War. It was translated into many languages and used on billboards advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds in Canada in 1917...In part because of the poem's popularity, the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead of Britain, France, the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

“And now the Torch and Poppy red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.”
– from “We Shall Keep the Faith,”
  • 1. The Armistice
  • 2. The History of Veterans Day
  • 3. War Slang by Paul Dickson (online @ google books)
  • 4. Seabee Food Service in WW II The Story of the Can Do! Cooks and Bakers
  • 5. The Doughboy Cookbook (WWI) (easy to navigate)
  • 6. Marine Corps S.O.S. and Jarhead Jerky Recipes
  • 7. S.O.S., S#*t on a Shingle
  • 8. Mason-Dixon Line’s Civil War Recipes
  • 9. Civil War Food
  • 10 A Guide for Re-creating Foods and Rations


  1. Fascinating post. I've heard the word "slumgullion" before, but I never actually got around to looking it up.

  2. Ha! Well Slum sounds tasty enough. I remember the term bug juice from summer camp.Funny how thise terms crossed over to camp.

  3. Hi Adele,
    When I spied the word "slum" in a 1931 issue of a cooking magazine, I had no choice but to investigate further. I found it quite fascinating and felt compelled to share. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for visiting...

  4. Hi glamah,
    I was surprised to discover military slang prevails in everyday language. And, not only in the galley, or camp.

    Thanks for dropping by...shouldn't you be getting ready for your trip:)

  5. I loved this post Louise, I learned many things I did not know.
    I would like to try and bake hardtack---so many recipes to try and just no time!...

  6. This post must have taken you forever! I learned so much. How neat!

  7. Thanks for dropping by Blonde Duck. It was a "tough row of buttons to shine" but, it sure was fun!

  8. Very interesting! I love that war slang...




Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise