Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Eat Mangel Soup


WITH THE AMERICAN ARMY IN FRANCE, Jan. 11 — Darmstadt’s civilian population has been staving off starvation with mangel soup, mangels stewed in water before American occupation, according to Edward Prunier, of New Haven, Conn., private in the 102nd infantry, 26th division, who was prisoner of war there for eight months.

“The Boche have been starving, around Darmstadt anyway,” said Prunier. “You cannot imagine how scarce food was. Mangels, stewed in water to make what they called soup was the chief diet of the civilian population. Why food was so scarce I believe anyone would have sold his soul for a biscuit.”

Prunier, who earned six cents a day on a factory while a prisoner, lived entirely on Red Cross food and found his sole recreation in playing games with equipment sent the 35 American prisoners at Darmstadt by the Y.M.C.A.

Aspen Democrat-Times, January 11, 1919

This headline sure is misleading. I thought we were getting a recipe for an early 20th century cure-all called Mangel Soup. Nope, instead it’s a retrospective morale-boost tucked inside a piece of World War I, POW journalism.

What the heck is mangel soup? Let’s start with the mangel, which is a hardy, weather-resistant beet that around this time in Germany was fed only to livestock, according to G. F. McCauley in Soldier Boys.

Ugly Food by Horsey and Wharton, illuminates the etymology of the word as a bastardization of the word “mangold” which means beet in German. Horsey and Wharton go on to describe the baseness of this vegetable by telling the story of John Le Marchant, a British cavalry officer who used the mangel as a means of testing swordsmanship because the oddly shaped beet with tough skin would flop around like a wounded man when tossed on a board, and therefore was good practice for new techniques of sword slicing.


Mangel soup, we learn, was made by stewing mangels in water “to make what they called soup.” Prunier was so disgusted by this food that was the “chief diet of the civilian population” that he thinks anyone would sell their “soul for a biscuit.” Excuse me, Mr. Prunier, but I think one Dwight K. Schrute would have something to say for such maligning of a perfectly good, hearty beet.

Regarding the use of the term “Boche” referring to Germans, we turn now to Current History: A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times.

Numerous attempts have been made to explain the origin of the word “boche” which is now almost universally used by the French soldiers when speaking of the Germans…

Boche is an abbreviation of caboche…This is a recognized French word used familiarly for “head,” especially a big, thick head (“slow-pate.”)…Boche seems to have been used first in the underworld of Paris about 1860, with the meaning of a disagreeable, troublesome fellow.

100 years ago today, a WWI POW survivor on pittance factory pay remembers the disgusting beet soup that (slur-described) German civilians had no choice but to eat because they were starving so badly that they probably would’ve sold their souls for a biscuit.

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