Submitted by: E. Wickenheiser
It’s said that an Army fights well on a full stomach and the Marine Corps is no exception. Always and foremost, in training or in combat, the breakfast meal is number one. For every “grunt”, “airedale” and/or “pinky” at the start of the workday. Breakfast is the link to “making it” that day, and “a breakfast without SOS is like a day without sunshine.”
We can only imagine or guess at what the meals and types of food were being served at Tunn’s, or with O’Bannon in Tripoli, but I’ll bet you, they had some sort of S.O.S.
The original creamed ground beef now served at every Marine breakfast had many stories of origin, the story that I was told was, that it was first served during World War I in France.
The Marine forces on the line were served meals that were prepared by the Army, from field kitchens in the rear. On this one occasion during a battle, the Marines moved so fast forward that the Army Mess Company couldn’t keep up with the advancement. On that particular evening the cooks had prepared a meal which was roasted beef with a cream gravy (Boeuf le Creme de Argonne) and sent it up to the front lines.
It took the mess men all night to find the location of the fast moving Marine Brigade, and the meal was not delivered until the next morning.
Not wanting to waste the food and not having the tools to serve it properly, the Marine First Sgt. ordered that the meat and gravy (sauce) be placed on the dry bread and handed to each man. The men being very hungry did not complain but instead requested that this meal be served again, but with the proper utensils.
Over the following years the recipe changed depending on the availability of supplies and the mood of the cook. Do to the lack of funds given to the Marine Corps by the Navy, especially in hard times (like now), many of the cooks could not afford to purchase the beef roasts needed in the recipes for “Boeuf le Creme de Argonne” and other beef dishes. They therefore substituted the less expensive, ground beef in place of the roasts.
This was quite popular as an evening meal and was served a number of times a week. One big advantage that the cooks liked was that there was little or no waste, leftovers could be served the next morning. It grew in popularity more for breakfast than for the evening meal and today it’s never served other than for breakfast.
The other branches of service (Army, Navy, etc.) will also serve their version of SOS, but they haven’t mastered the Marine’s technique of preparing this marvelous breakfast presentation.
The Army uses chipped and salted dried beef (yuk), and the Navy uses beans and tomatoes in their recipe (barf !), the Air Force gave up trying and our friends in the Coast Guard now eat breakfast in the nearest Marine mess hall.
A number of years ago (back in the 70’s), San Francisco’s own Marine Artillery General (Brigadier) Tiago, requested/ordered that a recipe for the Marine Corps famous S.O.S. (creamed beef on toast) be developed so that it could be serve to a small group of about eight (8) persons, this way the general could have his wife make it at home. The official recipe for the mess halls is for serving 300 or more. This challenge was taken up by his chief field artillery cook, M/Sgt Bernie Parker. After many tries and a few mistakes “Top” Parker came up with the following, near perfect, recipe.
Recipe for “Marine Breakfast”
(Serves 8 or two hungry Marines)
1/2 lb. Ground Beef (ground chuck for flavor)
1 tbs. Bacon fat (lard/Crisco or butter)
3 tbs. Flour
2 cups Whole milk (add more milk if you want it thinner)
1/8 tsp. Salt
Pepper (to taste)
8 slices of dry toast
Using a large skillet (12″-14″), crumble and brown the ground beef with the fat and salt, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.
Mix in the flour until all of the meat is covered, using all of the flour. Replace the skillet on the heat and stir in the milk, keep stirring until the mixture comes to a
boil and thickens (boil a minimum of 1 minute).