Workmen Lunching in a Gravel Pit, circa 1797. Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
A compatriot asked how we handle food and cooking in the field. What do we do about “yucky stuff?” by which she meant meat.
She was doing just about the same stuff we were doing, and with Battle Road around the corner, I thought I’d write about food in the field, and ways we handle it. Other people will have other ideas, but the main things I think about are:
- Maintaining authenticity and food safety (Nobody wants flux.)
- Historical eating is seasonal, local eating
- Gear: less is not only more, but easier
Food safety is one of those things where you really don’t want to compromise too much, though from eating at the farm, I think there is more leeway than we admit. I will confess that when I was poor and in school, I stored dairy products on the windowsill of my studio when there was no fridge, so eating at the farm is like eating… when I was a whole lot younger.
Here are my principles. I’m not an expert, your mileage may vary, but this is where I begin.
Start with who you are.
Objects you bring, and food you eat, should be true to your impression.
Authenticity goes beyond the date of accouterments: a porcelain tea set may be quite correct for a 1778 Newport or 1763 Boston parlor, but it makes very little sense if you are with a Continental private. One chipped plate is different for a woman to carry, or a piece of pewter. How long either would last you is another story, but at least you’d have a story. If you are the Colonel’s wife, it’s a different matter, even more so if it’s a British Colonel.
Food safety trumps purest authenticity.
Cloth covered, hidden ice packs will hurt no one and may save you misery later.
Reapers, 1785. George Stubbs 1724-1806
Soldiers drank water.
In a hot summer camp, we keep a large pitcher full of water (see the Stubbs painting at left). Covered with a white linen or cotton cloth, it will keep coolish and free of dust & insects (or dog fur & fleas, if you’re in the Stubbs painting). We sliced limes into our enormous pitcher, and refilled it all day from the pump at OSV.
Limes are in period; justifying a source can be tricky, but at a certain level, safety trumps authenticity. 98 degrees and 90% humidity means drinking a lot of water.
Chances are you’re a caffeine addict like me, so what do you do? Boil water in a kettle, and bring tea in a screw of clean white paper is one answer. What’s your justification? I’m a personal fan of ‘stole it from my master,’ but in small quantities, perhaps you got it from home, or did a farm woman a favor. Or stole it from her. John Smith (I kid you not), Sergeant in Colonel Lippitt’s Rhode Island State Regiment, in Continental Service, writes in his diary* of apprehending geese and chickens who failed to respond with the correct password when challenged.
*Published as “Sergeant John Smith’s Diary of 1776”, edited by Louise Rau, in Mississippi Valley Historical Review, No. 20, 1933, pages 247 – 270. NB: Kitty Calash recommends reading, not stealing.
Tomorrow: Food-related recommendations by event type.