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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 9 - Two False Legs and One Ruined Bakery (Food Week)

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Sam's Episode Notes: The Pastry War. A Very Silly War Over a Ruined Bakery.

It's official name, the first Franco Mexican war of 1838-1839. Spanish: Guerra de los pasteles, French: Guerre des Pâtisseries To set the scene: In 1821, Mexico had officially gained independence from Spain after an eleven year war of independence. It was bloody, it was brutal, and it plunged the newly freed Mexico into turmoil, with numerous regional and local leaders vying for power and their slice of the pie. Looting was not only common, it was often Government sanctioned, and there was nothing anyone could really do about it. Mexican citizens just had to suck it up as a fact of life that soldiers would raid their homes and take what they wanted. However, at least foreigners could appeal to their home governments for help, though it rarely did any good. One such victim of looting was a Monsoir Remontel, who owned a bakery in the town of Tacubaya on the outskirts of Mexico city. In 1832 he wrote to King Louis Phillipe of France, declaring that his shop had been ransacked by Government officers, and asking that the French demand 60,000 pesos compensation on his behalf. This was a ludicrous amount, the shop was estimated to be worth 1,000 pesos – so it's entirely possible this was an arrangement between the baker and the Government. One peso was a days wage for an average man. So what did the French do? They demanded 600,000 pesos for the shop and several other looted market stalls and homes from the Mexican Government. Why? Well Tom, this is where it gets interesting, and frankly, a bit silly. France was one of Mexico's largest trading partners, but had been a bit slow in setting up trade agreements and the two had a difficult relationship – Mexico owed France quite a lot of money in war debts from the Texan independence war in 1836. But more on that in a bit.

Britain and the US, the largest partners, had very quickly recognised Mexican independence and sent out trade emissaries. However, France didn't recognise Mexico until 1830 and didn't have a formal trade agreement, meaning that French imports and exports to Mexico were taxed at much higher rates than for the UK and US. This didn't sit well with the French, who wanted trade on equal terms. So the claim for 600,000 pesos was at least in part to pressure the Mexican government into signing a favourable trade deal. Kind of makes sense, in an odd way. However, when the president, Anastasio Bustamante refused to pay, France used this trashed bakers shop as a pretext to launch a naval blockade of Mexico, even going so far as to land raising parties. So from Spring 1838, the French navy blocked all the ports on Mexicos Atlantic coast, and in November 1838 the cold war became hot when they bombarded the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa which guarded the city of Veracruz and siezed the town, which was one of the most important harbours in the Gulf coast. At the same time, they more or less captured the entire Mexican navy. As a result, Mexico began to starve, and smugglers began pulling in food supplies through the US and Texas – by then itself an independent republic. The Texans were furious, worried that the French would see them as supporting their old masters, Mexico. So they themselves raised a militia to blockade the Mexican border and hunt down smugglers. The US, for similar reasons, even sent a ship to help the French blockade. As a side note, but an important one - the Mexican forces were led by a retired general, Antonio López de Santa Anna. He'd once been president of Mexico but had failed as military commander to stop the Texan independence movement. He had a brutal reputation, having been the commander of the Mexican forces at the battle of the Alamo, which had seen the Texian defenders slaughtered by the mexican army with no prisoners taken. However, he'd later been captured by the Texans in 1836, and had been living in exile before returning to Mexico and retiring in semi shame. Without getting permission from the Government, he came out of retirement, took command of the Mexican forces near Veracruz, and ordered a mass mobilisation, calling every able-bodied Mexican to arms before launching a counterattack on the city – he was wounded before the attack could be properly launched though, losing a leg to a French cannonball. He was considered such a hero after this that he was able to have his leg buried with full military honours, including being ridden through Mexico city in a gilt carriage with a military escort, and being buried with a military gunfire and cannon salute. His actions propelled this retired and frankly embarassed general back into the public eye. He would parade around with his wound building up his own reputation as an all-Mexican hero, and eventually won the presidency back on the back of his pastry-war wounds. Not that Santa Anna winning the presidency was anything special. How many times do you think he became president, Tom? 11, correct. 11 times between 1833 and 1855. He was also really bad at losing legs. In 1844, during one of his more difficult presidencies, rioters who were angry about taxes also dug up his real leg from the military cemetery and paraded through the streets dragging it on a rope behind them and shouting death to the cripple. And during the US-Mexican war in 1847, he was having lunch during the Battle of Cerro Gordo when American troops surprised him, and he ran away, being (as he was) not actually a very good general. The soldiers captured two of his false legs. One was used for a time by soldiers as a baseball bat, and the other was toured as a bizarre attraction at country fairs. They are currently in a US military museum in Springfield, Illinois, and there is an ongoing international appeal by the Mexican government to get them back. Anyway, back to the pastry war. Eventually, in March 1839, the British managed to broker a peace deal to re-open Mexico's ports and end the blockade. But not before 32 Frenchmen and 92 Mexicans were killed and dozens more wounded. The end result of the war was that Mexico agreed to open up to French trade, and pay the 600,000 pesos. Which it didn't have, and so never paid, which is one of the reasons why the French invaded again in 1861 in a much more bloody war which saw tens of thousands killed in five and a half years of bloody war. And that's a lot of pain for one bakery. It's not known what happened to Monsoir Remontel. This isn't the only time in history that food has started a war – the Pig war, 1859 – when the US and UK (or British north America, later Canada) entered a military standoff involving a naval fleet and thousands of men over a British farmer's pig which had wandered across the border and eaten an American farmer's potatoes.

Tom's notes: The Siege of Paris

· Autumn and Winter of 1870-1871

· French defeated by Prussia and allied German states (North German Confederation , led by Otto Von Bismarck) to end the Franco-Prussian War

· The Germans defeated the French at the Battle of Sedan, captured Napoleon III and ended the Second French Empire

· The French Third Republic took over control and continued to fight despite the dire predicament

· Their armies in the field weren’t too successful and Paris and Metz were under siege.

· In late January, an armistice was signed and the Prussians left France

o The war had been an opportunity to unify Southern German states and create the German Empire

o Massive power shift in Europe from France to Germany

o Reparations and securing Alsace Lorraine as German territory

Robert Lowry Sibbet ; a Doctor from Pennsylvania on holiday!

Early on in the siege:

· Cattle, sheep and pigs disappeared quickly

· Fat cattle and milk cows are reserved for the sick, aged and children

It doesn’t take long before the horses are targetted

· There’s an audit of horses and mules; 100,000 horses, mules and assess at the start of the siege, rapidly diminishing

· Flour being manufactured using steam trains to turn the mills; didn’t seem to be as much of a problem

Mid November, rationing in full force

· 100 grams of fresh meat per day

o Calculated fresh beef or veal for 28 days, horse meat for 45 days, salt meats for 20 days, salt fish for 12 days (105 days total)

o Flours for six months

o Five months of non-necessities like salt, rice, oil, coffee, tea, chocolate

o Booze for 10 months

Sibbett describes a shop

· Several large dogs neatly dressed

o One man buys some

· Several large cats

o Butcher’s wife is trying to sell some to an older lady

· 12 rats on a tray

o A timid young mother is checking these out

o Worried about her children

· Cats and dogs sold in butchers in the 20th Century

Canteens set up under the control of Paris’s mayors

· Selling horse bone soup

Many of the poorer people were heading out to the fields to collect food

· Too many being killed too close to the picket lines

Small pox as well as famine

· “Loathsome scourge of mankind”

· Mortality raised from 150 to 400 per week

· Free vaccinations ordered at the Academy of Medicine

When horse start being butchered, care is taken to keep it very hygienic

· The Central Sanitary Commission order a meal of horsemeat for guests to demonstrate what can be done with the food

Christmas, he and some friends treat themselves to a restaurant meal of horse

· He muses guiltily that he is eating this whilst many other people are queuing for horse soup

o Including well-dressed individuals with no money

o People who cannot even afford a dog, cat or rat and extravagant prices

December 27th, half-starved horse falls to the ground. Within minutes the horse is being cut up by locals

The Zoo eventually gets targeted

· A young elephant and two camels on the market; camels purchased for 1500 francs.

· Castor and Pollux probably eaten

· Kangaroos

· Ostrich

· Antelopes

· Cassaways

· Elks

· Speculation is fine, just no lying about the meat

· Monkeys were left because they were too similar to humans

· Lions and tigers were too tricky to get near

· Hippos too unsanitary!


Dumbo gumbo

Ostrich biscuits

Emu ragu

Sautéed cat

Poodle noodles

Sewer rat kit kats

Nelly jelly

Kangaroo stew

Skippy chippies

Caramel camels

Carraway takeaway

Tom cat cakes

Chou chou chow chow

Ground down bloodhound

Reindeer craft beer

Chocolate moose

· Possibly a piss take

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