receive many requests about amounts of food needed
for a weekend, week or longer period of time spent
when out and about. In an effort to try and help
the new person or the seasoned adventurer I send
them this information shown below. It seems if one
just adjusts some of the items, it will fit in
most camp site very nicely.
A good example of a "camp mess" or
"camp kitchen" (cooking items needed in
a period camp) are those used by our own father of
this country, George Washington.
WASHINGTON'S MILITARY KITCHEN
"General Washington's Military
below is information on this military "mess
kit" or "camp mess" once owned and
used by General George Washington, a set-up like
this was not uncommon to European Officers, but
unusual to the American Forces.
A small 44 page booklet titled "General
Washington's Military Equipment" [Mount
Vernon, 1963], p.20 says: "His [GW's]
military equipage grew gradually as the war
dragged on. In April 1776. Benjamin Harbeson of
Philadelphia provided a "mess kit"
consisting of the following:
Nest of Camp Kettles
3 large Tin Canisters
1 doz. Oval tin dishes
9 Tin plates
He [GW] added more plates and canisters the
following month. Perhaps part of this order is in
the chest of camp utensils preserved at the
Smithsonian Institute (Fig.11).
MESS KIT : Chest of wood - covered with leather,
lined with green wool. Interior divided into
fourteen compartments and containing a tray with
Equipped with the following:
4 tin pots with detachable wooden handles,
6 tin plates, 3 tin platters,
2 knives and 4 forks with black handles,
1 gridiron with collapsible legs,
2 tinder boxes, 8 glass bottles with cork
2 glass bottles for pepper and salt with pewter
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.
of American History, A
" on page 104, there is a photograph of a
field mess chest attributed to George Washington,
possibly the same kitchen mess referred to. It
contains tin plates, platters, utensils, and a
is a similar "mess kit" at the Valley
Forge Historical Society at the National Park in
Pennsylvania, planned to be on display in early
2000. Had seen this "kitchen mess"
thirty years ago at this location.
The "mess kit" in question is tin of a
high quality that has turned dark with age, not
pewtered [tin-lead alloy] as has been suggested.
The gentleman from the society said he had trouble
finding the mess kit as it is not on display at
this time (hoped to make a new setting with it to
be included - early in 2000). This is the trouble
with the cost of floor space, many items of
interest are packed away (if not sold to private
a "camp mess" I carry a small tin lined
brass kettle, carrying this one for the last 7-10
years on horseback, canoe/bateau, or trekking. Had
Peter Gobel of GBW make a tin lid which works
better than the boilers I have tried,
easier to clean because of depth, plus your can
pack your edibles in it.
I boil my tea water, cook my meal and then end up
washing in it. Have washed my socks and scarfs as
well as myself, a one pot camp.
It's 3-1/2" high, 6-1'4 wide @top,
5-1/4" wide @bottom, has a 1/4" rolled
edge with a hand forged iron bail.
About the only thing that is safe to use with pure
brass or copper is drinking water and would really
question this anymore. I have seen many top
quality copper canteens and at least one big
samovar looking water can and none were tinned.
However, anything acidic (including coffee) will
react with untinned copper/brass with adverse
I make do with coffee, steel-cut oats, dried
beans, blue parched corn, pinole or blue corn
meal, wild rice, cone or Havana Brown sugar, salt,
baking soda, pepper corn, dried fruit, smoked
meat, sometimes maple sugar and not much else.
Herb tea can cure what ails you; peppermint, red
clover and rose hips is excellent and nutritious.
If you live on the trail (unless you're a rich
Lord or Duke from Europe and can forward supplies)
you must be able to resupply staples as you travel
around your area.
CONSIDER YOUR COOKING ITEMS:
Do you have enough room to pack your edibles in
your pots, that was one requirement I wanted when
looking at the different sizes available from the
number of sources.
This small pot will hold enough edibles, tea or
coffee bean for a week camp for two, tie the lid
on to keep from loosing contents and keep critters
out. This one that I have now is starting to get
some good miles on it from a number of trips
This is something everyone should consider doing;
test your equipment - how many different uses can
each items be used for.
Example : a long handle (6-7") hand forged
spoon with a hook or loop on the handle end can be
used for several camp duties, such as lifting hot
items from a cooking fire, hangs to dry, long
enough to reach the bottom in most cooking pots,
have used hook to carry fish and other items that
Another example : is the cooking pot, it can have
several uses like; cooking your meal, boiling your
water, washing you and your camp items, washing
your clothing, a fire bucket and a water
Always select an item that can be used for several
uses, less to care for or carry; our forefathers
(most common folks that is) did not have the
resources to own all the neat types of equipage we
see available today, if it was even available.
With research we find some items advertised today
that are modern items or ideas that have been
reproduced to look old and sold as correct, when
they where not even invented yet for the
advertised time period. Look at the Rev War books
available that show actual equipment from the
period, lots of good information, many of these
items we see today, only made of modern materials
like stainless steel or plastic.
How early in the "North American" trade
has the brass kettle been traded to the natives or
was otherwise available commercially? There are
many account or records of brass kettles used in
the American and Canadian fur trade, from the late
1600's to late 1800's.
A few examples are:
Plymouth Plantation (supply list date May 1679,
Rivers Trade, p.181) lists
(7) brass kettles, (4) copper pots.
Ross Cox (_Columbia River, p. 75) says the Pacific
Fur Company was
trading brass kettles in 1812.
Copper fragments found at archeological digs of
pre 1821 Canadian fur posts are often tinned, not
always but a good percentage, same for digs at
several Forts in the United States.
Copper and brass "preserving
pans" used for making jams and jellies were
not tinned because the sugar mixture in the pans
got hot enough to melt the tin.
A great book on fake Canadian antiques :
"Can fake" by
curator emeritus Donald Webster (ISBN
0-7710-8905-8). To anyone interested in buying
antiques although the examples are Canadian, the
principles of fakery discussed apply to antiques
everywhere, and fakery is widespread. I had heard
about this book on the e-mail hist_list and picked
one up, interesting.
I got several pots that where from the 1850 to
1870 period when the government put the Indians on
the reservations, two are not tinned and one is,
same with a couple of pans made of brass - tinned
and not tinned. Asked Charles Hanson about this
and from what he found, it depended on the
government contract, supplier, pricing and quality
as to how heavy a material the items were made
from. Tin was cheaper than brass or copper, so he
felt that it was possible a tinned brass or copper
pot (lighter gauge brass or copper material) could
bring as much $$$$ as a same weight item that
wasn't tinned. Thus the tinned pot, or pan item
was cheaper and would show more profit for the
trader, health issues weren't a problem in those
It's only been since W.W.II that we have been
really worried about what we use to drink from,
eat on or cook in, look at the amount of pewter
our grand folks used for those special events.
daily rations are taken from the French and Indian
War's period records:
Cornmeal or oats 2 handfuls
Peas or beans 2 handfuls
Parched corn 2 handfuls
Dried meat 3-6 pieces (venison, beef, fish)
Dried fruit 1-2 handfuls (apples, peaches,
raisins, pumpkin or combination)
Small red potatoes 2-3 each
Small onions 1 each
Maple or muscavado sugar 1-2 Tb
Salt 1/2 Tb
Peppercorns 4-10 each
Coffee 1-2 handfuls
(Alternate) Chocolate 1/2 - 1 full cake or tea 1-2
Another daily rations from the Fur Trade period
are much similar:
corn meal (per person) mixed with Havana sugar (2
cupped hand fulls),
corn flour (2 cupped hand fulls),
wild rice (cupped hand full),
barley pearled (cupped hand full),
split peas (cupped hand full),
fruit [dried apples or peaches] (2 cupped hand
dried meat strips broken into 3" pieces (2
cupped hand fulls),
parched corn w/ local nuts (3 cupped hand fulls),
tea (same measurement per person, lasts for 3-4
days - cupped hand full) a little on the weak side
last day or two.
has worked for a 5 day outing, moving around camp,
scouting, etc. but only lasts about 3 hard days of
paddling (hard work will use up your supplies very
start with the measurement for:
a "cupped hand full" = ( 1)
This doesn't sound like much, I agree, but
remember most dried edibles do swell when water is
added. Rice, barley and peas will double in size
or mount prepared.
Most of us (not all) can go with less food
from a few days to several weeks without any
problem - doctors will tell you that the amount we
eat regularly is a mind-set in most cases, we can
do with less and would probably do better weight
and health wise.
We try to eat two small regular meals daily,
gathering or foraging for edibles in our short
trips around camp when scouting game or looking at
the area. When you get in a mind-set of watching
for edibles as you make your scouts, it's
surprising what you find, even if not hunting for
squirrel, rabbits or flying foul. Wild edibles are
everywhere it's just the problem of figuring out
what your looking at.
Working around water is always a good place for
small plants that are edible, as well as the
little crayfish, fish and small animals getting a
drink. I think you are getting the idea or already
do this in your normal outing experiences.
I have a good friend that I wrote an article about
a few years ago in the T&LR journal Dr. Jerry
LaVelle, he's an expert at foraged edibles in the
Rockies, takes a small frying pan, buffalo grease,
period fishing kit and he's off for the weekend.
His wife gets a little rattled about his limited
resources, but he uses what is available at
hand, cat-tail flour for bread (bannock), has
different plant leaves for a salad and so on,
she's good for about two weekends like this a
year. But it can be done, so she goes to prove
that she's a tough as he is !!!! I wish I had the
mind-set, the ability or guts to believe enough in
myself to do this as much as he has.
corn meal w/ Havana Brown sugar, (Havana Brown is
an old sugar [less costly than white sugar in the
days] have switched to blue corn - better taste)
1/2 cup per person with water, a few small pieces
fruit and small amount of tea (save the tea
leaves), corn flour, use a 1/2 cup per person of
flour to make "bannock"
bread (will produce a loaf per say the size of a
regular hot dog). Surprisingly this will satisfy
you, no matter what your brain says.
some parched corn, a little fruit and whatever you
may find in your travels.
with a little testing you will be able to judge
the amount of rice or barley needed to make a
portion, and not waste anything. We have used
mixed small amount of wild rice, barley pearled,
split peas and a little jerky (changing the meal
of one or two items) to make a stew, make with a
little more water than what your
wife would use - fills you up with the broth. Use
your used tea leaves for a mild tea flavor. Use
left overs and try and eat late in the evening
(going to bed on a full belly).
Don't forget what you have foraged during the day
that can be prepared to supplement your evening or
morning meal. Our biggest problem seems to be
mind-set that we are going to starve, hell you'll
die from lack of water long before you'll starve.
old friend (in his mid 70s') had a heart attack,
had been very active all his farming life, he
refused any medical care when he found it was
possible he would not walk again, his doctor
respected his wishes and had him taken home. I
would visit him in the evenings, he refused food
and liquids and it took him 14 days to die. The
lack of liquid is what shut him down, he only lost
a few pounds in that period.
So the chance of you doing great harm on a weekend
or a week from the lack of food is really not a
major problem according to most doctors, unless
you have medical problems, special medication,
etc. that may require you to use with food.
But do make sure you keep liquids in your system,
plus a good drink of water is somewhat filling by
This all sounds great, right. Well it's easier to
write or tell it - than when packing for that
adventure, you'll find yourself cheating and
adding this and that - just in case. You'll stop
and think and remember that first hunting trip (a
day long) and all the extra stuff you took that
Dad told you wasn't needed, well just in case.
The big thing is do some testing the night the
wife had to work late, make up a meal, simple -
small in amount, bottom line is testing. With your
experience you'll have NO problem, it's just that
mind-set that we all fight with. I'm always
packing and unpacking different amounts, if you
take just so much - small amount of food, and
leave out "the just in case" factor,
then your options are get along with what you got
and start foraging.
A GOOD REMEDY:
In one of the back issues of T&LR a fellow got
sick from his copper pot. He remembered from his
military training, took a bone and burned it in
the fire and charred deeply, then ground it fine,
added water and drank it. In a few hours he felt
Charcoal sure does work. I been there and made
myself the medicine from burnt wood. I made a
thick past and ate it like pudding. Then drank
just enough water to wash it down. In a few hours
I felt ok.
With our ability to cultivate, forage, or supply
ourselves in the New World and the chance for a
free life style, still some would turn their backs
on opportunity and accept the English Rule, their
taxes, etc. But several of our statesmen saw this
as an act of treason and thought such acts where
unthinkable, see Samuel Adams remarks below.
good old common sense and a little knowledge will
take you a long ways.
Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of
those that went before us.