What did the Royal Engineers eat?

Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer, chef and inventor

Alexis Benoist Soyer was a French chef who believed that soldiers could be saved through good food. He invented a field stove which he took around to every regiment he visited in the Crimean War. It’s no wonder then, that the British Army adapted his recipes and his field stove.

When the Royal Engineers came to British Columbia to chart the boundary, they were well prepared. Soyer’s recipes included “Salt Meat for 50 men” and “Soyer’s Food for 100 men, using two stoves”. This worked when they were stationed at Fort Victoria and later as they surveyed New Westminster.

It was a different story when they were out in the bush surveying a road to the Cariboo:

“our fare consisted almost exclusively of bacon and dampers, with tea and coffee. Now and then we might be lucky enough to shoot a grouse.”

Dampers were “cakes of dough rolled out to the size of a plate and one or two inches thick. They are cooked either by being baked in the wood ashes of the fire, or fried in the pan with bacon fat.”

Here is a recipe I found for dampers:

2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk

Add salt to flour, add sugar, then rub in butter. Mix in milk to make a medium-soft dough. Knead lightly on flat surface until smooth. Pat into a round shape. Place damper mixture on coals or hot ash. Cook for maximum of 40 minutes. Discard burnt outside and eat the inside. Serve with butter, syrup or jam.