Five Ways for 18th Century Reenactors to Eat More Authentically
With the huge Revolutionary War reenactment at Rockford Plantation this weekend, there’s been a lot of chatter on the boards about food, cooking, and authenticity. Since I love cooking, food, and reenacting authentically, this seemed like a natural topic for this blog. I hope this is helpful!
Eat seasonally and regionally.
We’re reenacting the days before refrigeration and long-haul shipping, so if it wasn’t in season where you were, it wasn’t available. As my friend Anna pointed out, whereas strawberries are still in season here in Virginia, they’re long gone in North Carolina. Check to see what is in season where you are, and try to stick to those foods.
Forego the roasts and other complicated, time-consuming cooking.
Most armies on the move had minimal cookware with them, as baggage trains were often quite behind the troops on foot. The references I’ve seen lead me to believe that only a cookpot and maaaybe a frying pan per mess of men. Stick to simple recipes that don’t take forever to cook and that can be made with minimal cookware. Leave the fancy reflector ovens and toasters to the officers.
Have the men cook.
Though cooking is a duty that generally falls to the female campfollowers at events, most historical accounts show that the men did their own cooking, and that the women who followed along were largely engaged in tasks such as laundry, mending, etc. Cooking over a fire is NOT that hard, and having the men cook their own food is not only more historically accurate, it also frees up the women to do more historically accurate tasks or to get to see more of the event, since they’re no longer tied to the campfire.
Keep it simple.
Bread. Cheese. Porridge. Smoked and salted meats. Root vegetables. These are all core foods that pop up over and over again in accounts. Not only that, but they tend to do well when stuffed into a haversack, market wallet, or pocket, so you don’t have to go back to camp to grab a bite to eat. It may not be tasty, but it’s not all that bad and really, it’s only for a weekend. If you really care about having a period experience, this is a good way to do so.
Do actual research on what the people in your unit (or a similar one) were eating.
Try to find regimental histories or accounts of the army on the move. If you can’t find one for your unit, try to find memoirs such as Joseph Plumb Martin. As you read, try to keep an eye out for mentions of food or cooking. Take notes on what you read, and compile them into useful info for your unit.
All of these are fairly simple changes that units can make, that have a huge effect on the overall authenticity of a unit. It helps cut down on the “Williamsburg on Wheels” factor, will give you a more period experience, and will raise the esteem and reputation of your unit. If you don’t do these already, give them a shot, and if you do, good for you!