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17th Virginia Infantry Regiment

            Company H           

The Old Dominion Rifles

Ration Experiment (Bath 2002)

    The members of the 17th Virginia, who attended, decided to spend the weekend on rations. Arriving before Roll Call on the Saturday, the brave guinea pigs were presented with a bag of goodies representing their sustenance for two days. Like children at Christmas all dived into their bags to discover their fate! 

    Wendi, (my long suffering other half) and I had decided to use this weekend as an experiment and try out as many period ration items as we could. The result was;

Hard tack (Over cooked by me - shades of Alfred the Great!)

Corn Pone (Lovingly created by me and not burnt - too dry though!)

Corn meal (in a bag and no instructions on how to use it!)

Salt pork (Needs boiling for at least 15 minutes before frying it, to remove a lot of the salt - as 1st Sgt Widey Pring found out....... later!)

Beef jerky (Mmmmm. Delicious and prepared by yours truly - recipe available.)

Black eyed beans (soak before use and they still make you f***.)

Rice (Brown and with husks on.)

Onions (Small and red and essential to make meals edible)

Turnips (small and juicy)

Sweet potatoes ("How do we cook these?" most common question.)

Yams ("What the hell are these?" and "All slimy - yuk")

Sweet corn on the cob (Soak in water and roast BY the coals NOT ON them as was found out.)

Red chili peppers (Few and far between and highly desirable)

Salt (Essential)

Coffee (Watch the different ways to grind these!)

Molasses (Where's mine?)

Cigars (2 of and in only one bag - a non-smokers! Trade item)

Small bottle of bourbon (Makes lovely gravy and makes weak coffee drinkable)

The fun part? Not every one had everything! Those with coffee didn't get molasses ...etc. This required co-operation and soon, 3 messes were formed and then it dawned on people..... how am I going to turn this stuff into something I can eat?

Myself and Corporal Simon Morse obtained an old canteen and, after a false start, managed to separate it into 2 halves. We were sorted with our skillets. (Don't use a tin plate that has been riveted and soldered as a skillet as the solder melts - the voice of experience!) A couple of us had muckets and one mess acquired an old tin and a piece of wire and made their own. Well done Ptes Chris and Martyn Charity and Jed Gibson for the initiative award!

This sorted out to a greater or lesser degree the culinary experience began. Watching the lads muck in was like watching an 1860's version of Ready Steady Cook! Some really delicious meals were produced out of the ingredients provided and I feel that I must mention a few here.

1st Sgt Widey's "Vegetable Surprise" was just that - surprisingly tasty. Using a sweet potato, some mushrooms (acquired later), some corn kernels, black eyed beans, corn meal, salt and one very small chili pepper he produced a meal fit for a king. By the time that the company had all tasted a bit (including the Battalion 2-i-c, Captain Dave Gibson and the fifer) there wasn't much to fill the hole but my mouth waters just thinking about it now!

Cpl Simon Morse's "Rice Stuff" was also a culinary masterpiece! Armed with 2 handfuls of rice, salt, a bit of salt pork, an onion, red chili pepper, turnip and another sweet potato he produced another scrummy scoff. (Lots of it too - The fire claimed a lot of it - too much rice, eh?)

I have to mention my "Pork and Apple Delight". Fried salt pork, red onion, apple fried in pork fat and molasses were all added to a pot and treated to a little of the "secret ingredient" which made lovely gravy! Half the camp tasted this including Marc Swatton from the 55th!

The Charity brothers and Jed opted for the "All in". Almost everything they had went into one big boiler and eaten over the course of the two days - added to when necessary. It had an "interesting" taste and was quite safely left by the fire during the day and over night - unmolested by man or beast!

If anything, the rations were overdone as we were handed back food at the end - mainly corn meal and beans I have to say! Everyone considered it to be a success (with the exception of the hard tack!) and want to do it again..... as long as we prepare the rations before hand again! Here's to many more delicious meals from nothing in the seasons to come.

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Last updated - 28th November, 2003