Coke Bottle Bread- A wartime treat

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It is World War 2. The mail came to the army base that day. He was fighting on the front in France and although they had their meals provided each day, it wasn’t anything like what his mother cooked on the farm at home. Jacques opened the parcel from his mother sent all the way from Canada and there were some surprises to be eaten.

“I got some Coca Cola Bread,” he shouted. The fellas surrounded him and there was obvious jealousy in the air.  He lifted up the loaf of homemade bread, a bit stale by now, but the real treat was inside. A bottle of Coca- Cola. His mother had make a large loaf of bread, cut a hole in the centre and tucked a bottle of Coca-Cola inside. That way the bottle could be sent through the mail with bread as the packing material with hopes that it was edible by the time it arrived.

(I wrote the above description as a story based on an actual fact about how coca- cola was sent during WW2. I also recreated by version of Coca Cola Bread in the photo above)

This beverage was a favorite with the troops in both the first and second World Wars. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist, invented the drink in 1886. Originally the ingredients included the coca leaf and cola nut from Africa that was combined to make syrup to be added to carbonated water. It was sold as a alternate drink to booze in Temperance times but originally marketed as a medicine. In 1903 the small traces of cocaine found in the coca leaf were removed from the formula but the caffeine content remained high. It was popular as a wartime drink for the soldiers. They loved it.

A Coca-Cola poster shows the war time popularity of the drink.

The transport of the beverage overseas was difficult, so small factories were set up in 64 countries during World War 2 to provide the soldiers with their well loved beverage. In 1941, a declaration was made by the president of Coca- Cola, stating that all troops could purchase a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents.

Sending Food Parcels during the Civil War

In the 1860’s, during the U.S. Civil War, food was regularly sent by loved ones in packages to soldiers to supplement their often inadequate and unappetizing meals. The book Northern Ladies’ Civil War Recipes by Patricia B. Mitchell describes what some of the soldiers ate while they were away for months or years at a time. Because supplies were often delayed by bad trail conditions the soldiers existed on minimal rations. A typical diet in some areas was hard tack, salt pork, beef, beans, and coffee. At times they may have had dried vegetables, corn and cornmeal. If they could forage around in the fields they might find turnips, potatoes, chickens or honey. The parcels from family and friends often arrived damaged and at times the food was too spoiled to eat. The diets of the troops varied depending on where they were, and whom they fought for, but many soldiers faced poor nutrition. In the book, Northern Ladies’ Civil War Recipes are also a collection of letters sent about the packages received.

From that book I include an excerpt of the Civil war version of Coca- Cola bread, but rather a Rye ( Whiskey) Bread version demonstrating that this custom was not new in the later World Wars. An artist named Edwin Forbes, wrote this about Christmas at the front.

“Some of the men were fortunate enough to have received boxes from home, and their faces grew bright as they lifted out roast turkey, chickens, bread, cake and pies that friendly hands had prepared. An occasional bottle of “old rye” secreted in a turkey or loaf of bread, would give rise to much fun and expected enjoyment. The provost guard, however, seldom overlooked a bottle, and confiscated any contraband liquor; and his long experience had bred in him a sort of special sense for any such little infractions of the rule…”

It is the time of the Covid 19 virus as I write this entry. Today I delivered to the door of my friend a package including a meal, and some banana bread. She cannot leave her apartment and I thought it might cheer her up. It was a treat, but I knew that her refrigerator was full of food. Where I live, in Canada, most of us do not want for food. The grocery store shelves are stocked daily and once shoppers stop over- buying, most foods will be available. This summer our farmers will keep working, and we will bring workers from Mexico to help plant, grow and harvest our food. Trucks will bring fruit and vegetables from California.

But let’s remember those in Canada or the rest of the world in this crisis, who may be lacking food or unable to get to the store, and are relying on small packages of food delivered by charities. Food will be scarce for many.

It important to remember our history. To remember the times when food was scarce because of wars, disease, famine and during the depression.




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