The last scurvy victims

Canned sausage, source of infinite delicacies

Canned sausage, source of infinite delicacies

My father was to take my brother and me on a camping trip in the Ardennes, in Belgium. Just us boys: my mother would be in Indonesia with my grandma to celebrate some distant relatives’ wedding. Of course my dad had a secret objective: finally he would be able to indulge his passion for all things war-related without my mom spoiling his fun.
So off we drove in the (t)rusty old Volvo, for a boys adventure in the wild, wild lands of Belgium. Where wild boar roamed among ruined castles and limestone caves. And where, as we would soon find out, every town, village or hamlet had at least one burnt out Sherman tank proudly standing in the village square. I have dozens and dozens of photographs of me and my brother posing in front of tanks, on top of tanks and obscured by tanks. Not to mention concrete bunkers and Howitzer guns.
Anyway, on our many manly excursions past battlefields and war museums, we of course only ate manly food. My father, who was challenged in the kitchen, had brought two big cardboard boxes from the Army with assorted field rations. A collection of tins and cardboard boxes, all in the same attractive shade of murky green. Some of the tins held meatballs, mash and greens. Others macaroni and beef. And yet others were entirely filled with sausage, I guess Spam comes closest to it.
Alas! Already on our first night we found out why my dad had been able to pick these rations up for a bargain. The labels were all wrong. Instead of a lovely meal of meatballs, potatoes and spinach, the tin was filled with the solid pink mass of sausage. And, as we soon found out, that’s all we had for food. Sixteen tins of canned sausage.
My father was nothing if not a great improviser. He cut thick slices off the sausage and fried them in our camping skillet. ‘Gelderse Schijven’, he proudly called his creation. ‘Guelders Disks’: a weirdly addictive greasy clump with lots of salt, burnt edges and chewy bits of gristle. The perfect accompaniment to ‘frites’, as the Belgians call fries (or chips, for the English readers). Nothing French about fries, by the way. They’re Belgian more than anything. (But the nicest fries are the Dutch ones).
And so our holiday went… tank-hopping and cave-exploring by day, sitting around campfires by night. And eating Gelderse Schijven three times a day.
The first thing our mother noticed when we came to collect her from the airport after her month in Indonesia were our bleeding gums. Our manly diet of processed meat and fried potatoes had wreaked havoc on our health. I am certain we were on the brink of scurvy, a disease that more belonged in the 18th century. Only by forcefeeding us oranges for a week was my mother able to nurse us back to health.
I have never eaten friend tinned sausage since that trip in 1976, nor do I wish to renew the acquaintance. But I do miss my dad… just not for his cooking.


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