What if I told you that George Washington donned a milk mustache as he led the colonial Americans to freedom from England. Or maybe he was enjoying a delicious Syllabub, or refreshing Posset. Milk was a big part of early America, and played a role in our fight for independence. Little did they know that they were using nature’s optimal muscle recovery drink.
It’s rarely talked about because there are things in life that we take for granted. One of those things we often take for granted, is food. What were those early American’s eating and drinking and did it make a difference.
While the British redcoats and Hessian soldiers were eating their rancid imported foods, the American soldiers were drinking fresh milk. Is this why the American’s won the war for independence, we’ll probably never know, but I’m sure the boost of healthy fat, muscle building protein, vitamins, and the array of health enhancing bioactive compounds played a large role in the health of our warriors of independence.
Milk in Colonial America
For the colonial Americans, dairy products were part of the local culture. Cows were in every one of the 13 colonies, and the inhabitants included dairy as a major part of their diet in the form of fresh milk, butter, and cheese.
Early settlers in the new world imported large amount of cattle from Europe. Cattle were imported directly to Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Delaware, and possibly southern New Jersey, from the colonizing European countries.The initial mass importations of cattle from Europe into the North American colonies ceased about 1640. From that date to the American Revolution the cattle needs of the colonies were taken care of through intercolonial trade, or through trade with the Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere. (Source)
Owning a cow in those days was like owning a car today, nearly every family had one. It was one of the best ways to have a stable source of nutrition, and offered an extra opportunity to sell any excess milk or dairy products. “Originally, English dairies were part of the house, not a separate building. That plan seems to have been followed early on in Virginia. There’s often a room called a dairy or dairy chamber that is a part of the house during that time period.” (Source)
Milk in your Beer
Because of the prevalence of milk and dairy products in the diets of early American, milk was used in a variety of ways. In those days, milk (or cream) was combined with alcoholic beverages (ale, sack) and standard beverages (coffee, tea)
One popular beverage was called Posset which is a beverage of hot milk mixed with hot beer. Apparently it was all the rage back then.
“Possets were all the rage in the later Middle Ages, and survived unto the nineteenth century, but are no longer heard of. They were a warming concoction of hot milk mixed with hot beer, sherry, etc., sugar, and various spices, excellent for keeping the cold at bay in the days before central heating, and no doubt effective as a nightcap too. The source of the word is is not known, although some have suggested a link with Latin posca, a term for a drink made from vinegar and water.” (Source)
Another type of beverage was called syllabub. Syllabub was a creamy desert type of drink that combined white wine with milk or cream. It was usually eaten as a desert drink
“Syllabub.–Traditional recipes cll for agitating sweetened cream and milk, well laced with white wine or cherry (or ale or cider), until a great froth is obtained. The agitating is accomplished by methods varying from milking directly from the cow into a bowl of rich cream and wine to the use of a charming ‘syllabub churn,’ and ingenious device that produces a fine long-lasting froth. In addition to its other virtues, wine serves to lightly curdle the milk and ‘set’ the fluffy mixture. (Source)
Those early Americans obviously knew about the nutritional benefits of milk as milk was a big part of the rations allocated to the American army.
Shortly after George Washington was elected Commander in chief, the Continental Congress created a Commissary General of Stores Provisions. Some of the earliest legislation fixed the components of the Army ration and was passed on November 4, 1775. A ration is the allowance of food for the subsistence of one person for one day. This first ration provided the following components:
- l6 oz; beef 6.8 oz.peas
- 18 oz. flour 1.4 oz. rice
- 16 oz. whole milk .1830 oz. Soap
- 1 qt. spruce beer .0686 oz. candle
In case you wanted to know, it is likely the soldiers were drinking milk that was locally sourced
The Milk Advantage – 16 oz. of Milk/ day as a Recovery Drink
The milk included in the ration has proven to be one of the best foods for active soldiers. Compared with our present dietary requirements, their ration provided more calories, twice as much protein, an adequate supply of all minerals and vitamins with the exception of vitamins A and C.
A study on milk’s role as a recovery drink shows that drinking 16 ounces of milk is optimal for muscle recovery after exercise, and helps to maintain muscle performance during the recovery period. Those men were drinking the best thing for their bodies.
The study showed that – “Approximately 20g of protein is needed to maximize muscle protein synthesis after exercise.” This volume of milk also provides about 30g of carbohydrate, which is necessary to help replenish muscle glycogen stores. Milk has been proven to be an effective rehydration drink. Consuming milk after training can help to alleviate symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage, including delayed-onset muscle soreness and reductions in muscle performance. (Source)
Compared with the British Army Rations
When it came to food, the British soldiers didn’t live off the enemy’s country like a Napoleonic army, but had to import most of their food supplies to the New World. Food supplies were not abundant in the colonies as America was still sparsely populated, and most inhabitants were hostile. As a result, they imported the majority of their supplies from the British Isles.
One of the main challenges the British encountered was keeping their army fed. When France declared war upon England, there was difficulty in transporting supplies from Great Britain to the forces in New York. Spoilage was also rampant, and the quality of food the British were receiving was often rancid, or rotten.
Overall the ration was similar to the American solders but minus the fresh dairy:
- 24 oz. Flour or Bread
- 16 oz. Beef
- 8 oz. Pork
- 8 oz. Pease
- 1 oz. Butter
- 1 oz. Rice
Historians note that the quality of food the British were receiving was so poor, it cannot be understated. An example:
Howe, on quitting Boston in March, 1776, left behind as “unfit for His Majesty’s Troops to eat” 61 barrels of pork, 32 firkins of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 12 casks of raisins, 393 bags of bread, and “A Quantity of Mutton in Puncheons…spoiled in curing and unfit for Use.” These were in addition to 4,000 barrels of flour which he had condemned in the preceding October. 54 Of 2,000 bags of bread landed at the head of the Elk River in the campaign of 1777, “300 were condemned as unfit for Men to eat and of the 254 Bags carried on the March 50 or 60 were left on the way on the same Account.” (Source)
Provisions were frequently so poor in quality they were absolutely inedible even by hungry redcoats. The commissary generals complained again and again of moldy bread, weevily biscuit, rancid butter, sour flour, worm-eaten peas, and maggoty beef.
Imagine General Howe tweeting this during their campaign in the colonies
So what contributed to the winning of the War of Independence? Many have noted that Americans were full of inspiration and fighting for high ideals such as Independence, and Freedom. But there are few people who note the fact that our glorious Army was also including milk in their daily rations.
While the British were dealing with rancid butter, moldy bread, and maggoty beef, our soldiers were enjoying nature’s perfect muscle recovery drink, optimizing their muscle performance, and recovery.
Am I claiming that milk was the reason we won the war of Independence, absolutely not, but as one of history’s greatest military geniuses notes:
“An army marches on its stomach,”- Napoleon
Milk was probably one of our army’s greatest allies in the war for Independence.