So you've been asked to be a Mess Leader.....

 

You're asking yourself, what the hell do I do!? Where do I begin?

The first place to start is the menu. Take a deep breath. This is not hard. The menu can be one of the most fun aspects of the job.


After you have figured out from your officers how many numbers to expect (approximately), it's time to look into provisions. The following is a list of common foodstuffs available to soldiers during our period. Use it as a reference when you are building your shopping list. It's broken down by source, with an explanation at the bottom of the page.

Army Issue

dried split peas
hard biscuit
salt beef (corned beef)
salt pork
fresh beef or pork
flour
butter
cheese (parmesan)
grog (rum, beer)
oatmeal
sauerkraut

 

Forage

bohea tea (black loose tea)
coffee
salt
maple sugar
cheese (English varieties such as Cheshire)
fresh bread
sausage (especially harder varieties)
raisins / currants
bacon
ginger
onions
garlic
turnips
parsnips
brown rice
corn meal
fresh corn (seasonal)
carrots
cabbage
chocolate
apples
lettuce
fresh poultry
eggs
wild game
fish (i.e fresh or smoked trout)
other seasonal produce and fruit
herbs and spices
goober peas (peanuts)

 

Native

dried corn (i.e. cornnuts - saltless)
fresh corn
kidney beans
cranberry beans
squash
dried berries (cranberries, blueberries)
maple sugar
musk melon
watermelon

burdock root

Iroquois potato (jerusalem artichoke)
ginseng
asparagus
spring onion
leek
hazelnuts
acorns
sunflower seeds

 

Army Issue

Army Issue Provisions were foodstuffs provided by the government and distributed by military authorities to feed the troops. Often these provisions were simple, durable, and inexpensive. There was an understanding that a soldier should be provided with a staple such as dried pease or flour, a meat such as pork or beef (fresh, if at all possible), and an issue of rum or an alternative such as spruce beer.

Under campaign conditions, a soldier's diet could vary considerably, and sometimes in the merest of portions. However, when in garrison or peacetime, the soldier rarely put up with living on drab army issue food exclusively.

For one, subsisting solely on such food was conducive to the disease scurvy, an old and bitter enemy of soldiers and sailors of the period. Thus, the army made an effort to supplement provisions with fresh food, such as cabbage, fresh bread, apples, lettuce, roots, etc. These would have been purchased from local suppliers. There are also references to orders being given to establish garrison gardens.

Army Issue food should form the base of a mess leader's shopping list.

 

Forage

Forage represents some of the 18th century foods that a soldier might expect to be able to obtain through other sources. The army would often offer such victuals (pronounced vittles) on top of the regular provision or a soldier was likely to selll or trade part or all of his own rations for different foods as the opportunity arose. The word forage when it applies the military refers to provision supplements soldiers get any way possible. Whether it is Bohea Tea purchased from the sutler or lettuce stolen from a civilian garden, foraging is one of the ancient arts of war in the field.

Often locals who supported the cause would donate provision and sometimes locals (friend or foe) would be forced to donate, whether they liked it or not. Civilians were almost always compensated with cash, but in extreme cases a soldier was authorized to take in the name of the King's cause. Even when he was not authorized, a soldier would sometimes risk the severity of martial punishment by thieving and looting. As rare as it was, stealing did occur, complaints were made, people were punished.

The forage list is perfect to decide on the personal snacks that one can pack in their haversack.

 

Native

Due to the nature of the war in the North, raiders came into contact with the Iroquois and Canada Native allies. One of the benefits of this contact was assuredly the Natives' benign and generous sense of hospitality. Men would often have access to Native food stores while in residence near Native communities. There are many references to Natives sharing everything they owned, especially food with strangers, even if they themselves were on the verge of starvation. This list which is essentially an addition to the forage list, represents food of Iroquois/Eastern Woodland cultures. These foods would certainly be eaten by men on campaign.

All these foods are traditional Native crops and or wild foodstuffs. Period records often marvel at the abundant wealth and wide choice of food available to 18th century Native people. It should be noted that the Native warrior of the 18th century Eastern Woodland region lived off very little while on the warpath. There are records referring to the warrior living off as little as a handful of parched corn a day. Other references mention warriors returning home half starved and living off of the scrapings of tree bark. This self-imposed restraint was due to the fact a Native Warrior traveled very light. They were efficient at movement and survival, compared to the European and Colonial armies which depended heavily on supply lines.

 

 

 

The King's Royal Yorkers