The Thread Counter

By Brian Hathaway and Steven Sandford

[Editor's Note: This column came about in response to a topic on the Revwar MailList encouraging open discussion about "pet peeves." Brian volunteered to collect the information, research the topics, and come up with a series of pamphlets that directly addressed each "complaint." The result would be to encourage change through education. He has also offered to share this information with The Continental Soldier. With this goal in mind, if you have the same "pet peeve" as The Thread Counter, feel free to keep copies of this column on hand to give to those folks who may not see things quite as you do.]

We often hear about the terribly inauthentic ("farby") behavior and possessions of others, but it seems that only rarely does the situation end with the problem being fixed through education. This column is an attempt to positively deal with the authenticity problems you, the reader, see on a regular basis.

The subject of this article is camp authenticity, focusing on foods and cooking. The camp is perhaps the most truly educational portion of any public event, with so many materials on display and 18th century activities going on all the time. Unfortunately, while much time and effort is put into the camp, the result tends to be far different from historical reality. Why bother to have the correct musket and buttons, only to leave the public believing that AWI soldiers carried more cooking equipment than many real 18th c. people had at home, or that all soldiers had at least one female wife/cook/maid each to take care of them?

When you set up your camp, consider if you are carrying the right types and amounts of things for an army on the march.
A simple test is to see if you can even carry all your equipment from your vehicle to the campsite, in one trip! Soldiers on the march carried very little more than clothes and basic equipment. What is in your pack? Do you even own one? Could you go to an event and live out of your pack and haversack? Try living off food exclusively out of your haversack for a weekend.

What might you carry in your pack?
Some things to consider include: a tobacco kit, a fire kit, tea, a comb, soap, a cup, bowl, spoon, dried corn, dried berries, etc. Notice that many of these things are food luxuries, which is understandable considering you are reenacting someone who probably has marched for several days to get to the battle.

How would your food be prepared?
Most likely it would be prepared in small mess groups, with some help from the wives of soldiers in your mess. Cooking could not be an all day affair on the march, and who is carrying all those cast iron skillets? If they are in the baggage train, that might be a week behind you. Try a tin pot and a tin kettle for each mess of six to eight people.

Men, why are the women doing all the cooking?
It never ceases to amaze me that the idea of the men cooking in the correct fashion (for themselves in small groups) seems impossible to grasp. The most common argument seems to be that the men do not have enough time to cook, but this is really not true, when you consider that many of the dishes you should be eating are simply prepared by putting the ingredients into a mess-sized tin pot, adding water, heating and serving. In the true tradition of armies everywhere you can easily cook, eat, smoke a pipe, and get back to your duties in 30 minutes.

What foods would you have?
Pease, flour, butter, sauerkraut, biscuit (hard tack), meale (oats), roots, lettuce, pork, beef, and cod were all issued. In addition, you could have purchased tea, coffee, sugar, or Indian frontier foods such as corn, corn meale, berries, fruit, squash, etc. These are all things you could easily have had on hand, and can bring to an event.

For other items, forage.
This one is for you, ladies, as it is a pastime suitable for a camp follower. First of all take note of the season and then ask yourself, what would the local garrison, village, or farmer be able to sell to a soldier or sutler? Then, while the battle is on go out and get it. Get rid of the packaging and carry it back to camp in your apron. It's amazing how popular a lady can be with a round Iroquois watermelon in her skirts!

I know that hard-core 100% authentic camp cookery is not for everyone all the time, and I am not suggesting that you get rid of all the comforts that make events enjoyable, but during the day when the public is viewing, your camp can easily be made much more correct without any real hardship. You may find you enjoy it more as well! As an experiment, try living out of the pack for a weekend. It is something we should all try once.

If you have a "favorite" farbish activity, and have a solution to the problem, e-mail it to Brian Hathaway at I try to choose one or two topics per issue, and you will get full credit as a co-author if your topic and solution is chosen.

Brian Hathaway is the author of several articles on 18th century life. He is particularly interested in naval matters and the social history of military units everywhere. Brian is not currently in a unit, and is looking for a militia unit with a strong history of accuracy. He lives in extreme northeastern Indiana.

Copyright © 1998 Brian Hathaway and Steven Sandford. All rights reserved.