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Camp Cooking

Camp Cooking & Helpful Food Tips.

One of the most important aspects of a Civil War soldier's life, in camp and on the march, was food. Much of a soldier's time was spent finding, preparing, eating, or complaining about his food. Soldiers would form mess groups with their mates that would share in the preparation of food. The Union army was generally well-fed and supplied, so army rations of hardtack, salt pork, coffee, dried vegetables, and occasionally beef were the staples of the enlisted man's diet. Canned products were not readily available for the enlisted man and were most often consumed by officers. While on campaign, the armies would often forage for food, taking fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products from farms, homes and businesses along their march route.

Here are some tips on selecting, handling and preparing food:

•If it is your preference, or for dietary reasons you must partake of modern foods, please be sure to cook and consume such items in period cookware or keep them entirely concealed from view. Dispose of all modern packaging waste in the camp trash bins.

•Coolers are permitted, but try to reduce the need for them. Canned meat can be opened in your tent and placed in an appropriate bowl or pot (i.e. canned chicken for soup or dumplings).

•Use dried meat and vegetables, such as dried beef, jerky, summer sausage, leather britches, dried apples.

•Some foods have a 'natural wrapper' and don't require much to maintain them (i.e potatoes, some fruits, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, onions) so try incorporating these into your reenactors' diet.

•Rely more on 'staple foods' such as rice, beans, and breads. If you do bring meat from home, cook it thoroughly at home (it's difficult to cook meats thoroughly on an open fire) then freeze it before placing it in the cooler. This reduces the chance of spoilage before your meal and also reduces cooking time at the site. (Note-one method of preserving meat before refrigeration was to cook, usually fry, pieces of meat, stack the pieces in crocks then fill the crock with very hot grease. Unknown at the time was the fact that the heat of cooking killed many of the bacteria and the grease being low in 'free moisture' slowed growth after cooking).

•Use canned (evaporated) milk for gravies, etc. Mix half and half with water before use. This makes the best milk gravy, better than whole milk!

•Water wick your cooler. Make a canvas or heavy fabric bag to contain your cooler and keep the bag wet. The evaporation of the water will help cool your cooler and reduce the use of ice. Keep foods dry and away from insects by placing in zip lock bags (these can be placed into drawstring bags to look more appropriate).

•To keep eggs safe, keep them dry. The inner membrane of eggs dissolves when wet, the outer shell being porous leaves the egg open to bacteria.

•Avoid potentially dangerous foods. Find substitutes for perishables in your recipes, such as Bisquick for flour to eliminate eggs. Avoid cream filled pastries, cold mayonnaise salads, meringue, etc. (creamed fillings are the most common source of toxin poisoning in the US today). Use Crisco for cooking since it doesn't require refrigeration even after opening. Misc. Suggestions:

•Old bottles may or may not contain lead (We've heard both arguments). To play it safe, don't keep liquids (alcohol or otherwise) in old bottles between events. In leaded crystal, any beverage will leech lead out of the glass. Short periods of contact is not harmful but beverages should not be stored for long periods in leaded glass.

•Canteens should be filled with WATER. This is what our body needs, not juice, alcohol, coffee, etc. Also, juices spoil quickly and alcohol and coffee are mild diuretics that cause you to lose more water than you've gained.

•Drink lots of water at events, even when it's not real hot. Heavy clothes, exposure to weather and exertion increase the risk of heat illness. Only drink water from approved sources to avoid ground contaminates. (Tip-freeze water at home in screw top plastic bottles such as pop bottles or water bottles, the place them in your cooler. They help keep cooler cold and dry, and you can drink the water as it thaws.)

Reenacting is great fun but getting sick isn't. Use common sense and the suggestions above and you should be set for a great season!

Note***Taken from 6th OVI's page. Many thanks. Visit their site!

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