Cooking - Program Outline

Mess Hall

Title: What a Mess

Type of Program: Education Program

Venue: Mess Hall

Audience: Elementary Students

Tangible Resources: Tables, Benches, Fireplace, Pots, Pans, Dishes, Food.

Intangible Concepts:

  • Nutrition - Nutrition was not understood in the modern sense. If a soldier was full, he was considered healthy. Meals were often lacking in vitamins and nutrients; although, the army did understand that vegetables helped prevent diseases such as scurvy.
  • Variety - The standard army ration was considered bland and monotonous, and this often contributed to the soldier's discontent and affected his morale. Occasionally though, the ration was supplemented by vegetables grown in the gardens, food purchased from the sutler, and game that was caught while hunting.
  • Quality - The quality of the food was determined by the culinary skills of the soldier doing the cooking. Technically this duty was supposed to be rotated, but in actual practice, a soldier who could cook well was assigned this as his regular fatigue duty, in order to spare the men badly cooked food.
  • Sustenance - One advantage of the army was that a soldier did not go hungry. As long as supplies kept flowing, he did not have to worry about how to put food on the table, unlike many civilians in the era.

Universal Concept:

  • Survival, Health - Ultimately the food prepared and served in the mess hall enabled the soldiers' survival. Their health was affected by the quality and variety of the food, as was htheir morale. Good tasting and nutritious food led to better health and boosted morale. Bland, poorly prepared food, of course, had the opposite effect.


  • The soldier's diet affected not only his health, but his morale as well.


  • To discuss the soldier's diet and methods of cooking with the students.
  • To show that supplements to the basic army ration improved the soldier's health and his morale.

Objectives: After participating in this program, the students will be able to:

  • Name three basic food items that the army provided soldiers.
  • Tell two ways that the soldier supplemented his diet (e.g. hunting, gardens, sutler store)
  • Explain that cooking was a fatigue duty rotated among the soldiers.
  • Define open-hearth cooking.

Suggested Activities:

  • Pass herbs around for the children to smell.
  • Do a show and tell of the soldier's rations (e.g. have the various items of the ration set out on a table).
  • Have children peek in the kitchen and identify items found in their kitchens at home that are
    not in the kitchen at the fort.

Resource Managment/Safety Issues:

  • Because of the museum objects on display in the kitchen, children can only look in the kitchen, not go in.
  • Cooked items cannot be served due to health codes.
Pot of stew
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Last updated: January 8, 2021

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