Bully beef (also known as corned beef in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other Commonwealth countries) is a variety of meat made from finely minced corned beef in a small amount of gelatin. The name "bully beef" likely comes from the French "bouilli" (boiled) in Napoleonic times, or possibly from the head of a bull depicted on the popular Hereford brand of canned corned beef. The cans have a distinctive oblong shape. Bully beef and hardtack biscuits were the main field rations of the British Army from the Boer War to World War II. It is commonly served sliced in a corned beef sandwich. Potato-based dishes, such as "Hash and hotch-potch", in which the potatoes and beef are stewed together, and "Corned Beef Hash", where pre-boiled potatoes and corned beef are mixed with Worcestershire sauce then fried, are also made. Tinned corned beef is also used in France. Some places where British troops had a heavy presence in the 20th century (especially during World War II), such as Malta, have adopted bully beef as part of their national cuisine. In February 2009, the British Defence Equipment and Support announced that they would be phasing out bully beef from ration packs as part of the introduction of the new Multi-Climate Ration Packs until this change was reversed due to backlash.
As shown at wikipedia entry for Soup and bouilli, this dish was been being called 'soup and bully' by 1753 , and probably earlier, with the meat portion referred to as bully beef. As use of canned soup and bouilli increased on merchant ships and in the Royal Navy over the 19th century, sailors were also calling it bully beef and extended the expression to all canned meats.
This would include corned beef, as by 1862 "very good corned beef" - in the opinion of Lord Paget - had replaced "old mahogany" on naval ships
English soldiers also used the term "bully beef" for their tinned meat ration. This may still have been soup and bouilli in 1871 as there is an account of "bully" soup being served that year at a training exercise, but by The Ashanti War of 1873-74 corned beef was being used, with a newspaper reporting one large tin being divided among four officers. Corned Beef may have been just introduced as part of soldiers' rations as it was described as a novelty.
During the Zulu Wars of 1879 corned beef was being used extensively with over 500 tons being sent to South Africa in 6 months. Most of this was supplied by American packing companies but about 10% came from Canada and Australia. It was not the only meat. "Boiled tin mutton..... or "bully soup" as it is more frequently called" was an option for some soldiers.
The iconic rectangular bully beef tin of the Boer War and Great War of 1914-18 possibly first appeared in soldiers' rations in this campaign. Although a similar can may have been used earlier in Australia, in 1875 Arthur Libby and W. J. Wilson obtained a patent for a rectangular can with tapered sides allowing the can's contents to slip out as a rectangular block. The meat was precooked and packed into the can under pressure, hence the compressed corned beef description on the label. It was reported that over 4400 tons of preserved beef had been exported to England by Libby, McNeil and Libby in 1879 with over 260 tons sent to the troops in South Africa.
As was common at the time, the newspapers used letters from soldiers to provide news of the war and it was in a letter from Private J. Smith of the 91st Highlanders that the expression bully beef and biscuits first appeared in print. A few years later owing to the intense interest it created in England, correspondents accompanied Lord Wolseley's (Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley) expedition to relieve General Charles George Gordon, besieged in Khartoum. The journey up the Nile took months and with no fighting to report, journalists wrote about the more mundane aspects of soldier's lives with mentions of 'bully beef' appearing in a majority of their articles and 'bully beef and biscuits' appearing occasionally.
"Bully beef: Part of Australian history". Taste.com.au. Taste Magazine. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
A hundred years ago our soldiers at Gallipoli knew it as bully beef. It came in cans.
- "Exhibitions : Changing the World : Fascinating Facts – Page 2". National Army Museum. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
- "Recettes à base de corned beef – Les recettes les mieux notées". 750g.com. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- Harding, Thomas (5 Feb 2009). "Army says goodbye to bully beef". The Telegraph. U.K. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
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- Freeman's Journal, 15 July 1879
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- advertisement for "Fitzroy Compressed Corned Beef" label 1871-1874, Tommyspackfillers
- The Story of Canned Foods, James H. Collins, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1924, page 154
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- The Nile campaign, London Daily News, 4 December 1884