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Taste of life: How Warren’s stove revolutionised cooking technique

ByChinmay Damle
Jun 13, 2024 05:32 AM IST

Warren was a Navy man, not a medical professional. But he was keen to improve the diet of the soldiers from a scientific point of view. He understood that soldiers needed a stove that would cook the meals faster without losing the nutrients in meat and vegetables

Technology impacts the way we cook and eat. It has revolutionised food safety and preservation methods, ensuring that the cooking is quicker and meals are safer.

Warren’s Cooking Apparatus, made and exhibited by Messrs Adams and Sons, London, 1867. (SOURCED)
Warren’s Cooking Apparatus, made and exhibited by Messrs Adams and Sons, London, 1867. (SOURCED)

The nineteenth century saw more British soldiers arrive in the Indian subcontinent to serve under harsh conditions. They had to adapt to local food, which many deemed unhygienic.

In January 1894, the “Committee on the General Question of Rations and their Cooking” visited Poona, Lucknow, Meerut, and Rawalpindi, the four large Indian cantonments, to inspect the conditions of kitchens in the barracks and the mess canteens.

One of the tasks given to the committee was to inspect the modes of cooking applied in the kitchens. The government knew that the appliances and modes of cooking were such as existed fifty years ago and needed to be modernised.

The report submitted by the committee and published in the British Medical Journal on July 7, 1894, stated that the Central Military Prison kitchen in Poona was a model of cleanliness, free from smells and smoke, and everything was neat and tidy as a cookhouse should be. The food cooked was excellent.

On leaving the prison, the committee visited the cookhouse of the station hospital adjoining. Here the contrast was extreme - the cookhouse a hovel, the rations being messed about as they had been for several decades past. On the one hand, there was cleanliness, economy, and properly cooked meals for the prisoners, on the other dirt, waste, and ill-cooked food for the patients in the hospital. Similarly, a few yards distant, was found an infantry battalion, where dirt, smoke, waste, and extravagance attended the cooking of the soldiers’ food.

The hygiene and “economy” present in the prison kitchen were due to an innovative apparatus known as the “Warren’s cooking apparatus”, developed by Commander Frederic Pelham Warren of the Royal Navy.

After the Crimean War, efforts were made for the reorganisation of cookery for the troops. It was widely believed that the physical condition of an army was almost wholly dependent upon the character of the food supplied to it and how it was prepared. Several doctors and engineers were involved in designing better equipment for cooking meals in barracks and in the fields.

Warren was a Navy man, not a medical professional. But he was keen to improve the diet of the soldiers from a scientific point of view. He understood that soldiers needed a stove that would cook the meals faster without losing the nutrients in meat and vegetables and turned his attention to better and more economical cooking of food.

Warren had been contemplating “economy in the cooking of food” for quite some time when in April 1865, he obtained permission from the Quartermaster-General, Sir Richard Airey, to modify the cooking apparatus used at the Cambridge Barracks, Portsmouth.

The experiments he initially performed merely involved the fitting of an inner tin boiler to the then-existing Galton’s steel boilers, which, with Deane’s Ovens, was the cooking apparatus in use. This tin boiler formed a jacketed vessel, in which the meat was placed, and kept from contact with steam or water. Warren noticed the large consumption of fuel and having seen difficulties in adapting this innovative system to the existing steel boilers, decided to construct a new apparatus, the leading feature of which would be economy in fuel.

This new apparatus, known as Warren’s cooking apparatus or Warren’s stove, was a tin boiler consisting of a pot within a pot with the outer pot providing heat to the inner one via the boiling water in the lining between them. It consisted, primarily, of a stand or plinth, about eight in tall, upon which the body, containing the oven, furnace, and two boilers, were placed. Meat placed in the inner pot was kept away from direct contact with steam or water while being cooked.

After a patent was granted to Warren on March 27, 1866, trials were conducted for almost a year at Portsmouth and Aldershot. The cooking properties of Warren’s apparatus were found to be vastly superior to the one in use, Deane’s. It could cook food for as many as 150 soldiers. Baked meat and vegetables, meat and soup, stew, puddings, steamed potatoes, and pies could all be cooked in the same appliance.

Lt-Col Q Nason of the 11th Depot Battalion reported in June 1867 that after Warren’s apparatus came into use, the men’s dinner became more varied; they had bakes, roasts, stews, soups, hashes, and dumplings, or vegetables. The meat was “more juicy”, and dinners were nicer. The gravies were richer, “being entirely free from adulteration”. According to Nason, the cooking tins were so well arranged that neither water nor steam could interfere with the food. At the 11th Depot Battalion, one hundred and fifty men could have on any day their three meals satisfactorily prepared with 28 lbs of coal, and by the addition of two cooking kettles, which could be placed on the top of the apparatus, its cooking capacity could be increased from 150 to 180, or even 200 men, if required, without additional fuel.

According to a report published in the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution in February 1869, no water was absorbed by the meat in the process of cooking; and burning, scorching, overboiling, and smoking were impossible. Dressed meat could be kept hot for a considerable amount of time. Since it was believed that a large amount of the “nutritious matter” contained in food was lost in the ordinary process of cooking, either by roasting or boiling, Warren’s apparatus, in which the viands were cooked without coming into immediate contact either with water, steam, or fire, was promptly employed in barracks, hospitals, and prisons across Britain. The process of cooking meat in steam without water came to be known as “warrenisation”.

At the Paris Exhibition held in 1867, the apparatus was displayed as “The Army Apparatus” and won a medal. It was made commercially available by Messrs Adams and Sons, London.

The first Warren apparatus in India was used in Poona in 1876. Within two years, six barracks in the city and the prison were using the apparatus for daily cooking. However, for reasons unknown, it did not gain popularity until the committee constituted to look into rations and their cooking recommended it for use on a larger scale.

The Committee mentioned in its report that the arguments in favour of the Warren apparatus were overwhelming, for meals could thereby be prepared and varied as much in India as they were at home. Many soldiers who arrived in India in the late nineteenth century complained that they were living much better at home and more cheaply. Warren’s apparatus could help improve the “economy of the soldier” while providing them with dishes they were used to, the committee believed. The Warren apparatus in the prison in Poona cost some 52 per month for 120 men, whereas in the barracks opposite the prison, 225 was expended on cooking using another stove.

By the early 1900s, Warren’s was introduced in almost all the major stations and battalions in India and continued to be in use for a few decades.

Even though Warren’s cooking apparatus revolutionised cooking for the troops, he was never paid for his innovation. After repeated petitions to the administration, he obtained his travelling expenses to Portsmouth and Aldershot cut down to £78 and £240 for his efforts of two years of designing and testing the apparatus.His stoves were replaced in the last century by newer models and cookbooks stopped mentioning “warrenisation” long ago.

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