18th Century Living History

The Soldiers Pot Always Boils with Fury

In Research on August 8, 2011 at 10:11 am

Having looked at what a mess was last week, this week we will look at what exactly soldiers were eating, how they cooked it and how they ate it.

The basic ration in the British Army at the time of the Seven Years War was one pound of beef and one pound of bread per day. If beef or bread were unavailable they would be repalced with salt pork and hardtack. Interestingly enough these rations were similar to those issued to Cromwell’s army at the Siege of Drogheda, each recieving bread, beef and pease. Other foods stuffs were issued when available and as we have seen soldiers were expected to suplement these rations with produce bought by the mess.

"A soldier pot always boils with a fury" soldier preparing a meal with new recruits in Yorkshire, 1760.

It stands the reason that solders bought whatever was seasonally and cheaply available at local markets or from sutlers attached to the various regiments. For example our much quoted soldier of the 68th prepared a broth of “which was a shoulder of mutton the vegetables were some long coleworts” (unknown:11).

Having gathered his provisions a soldier would then go about cooking them as best he could. Each regiment would construct kitchen, these would be 4 to 5 foot circles of earthern in construction with fire places dug into the side. Each company would have a kitchen and each mess would require it’s cooking place (Bland:245).

Each mess was issued a tin kettle in which to prepare their rations and the mess would select it’s cook from within it’s ranks. The method of cooking invariably was to create a broth or stew, Robert Jackson wrote “that the soldiers pot always boils with fury” in 1804 when describing the method of cooking employed by most soldiers (234). Again a soldiers journal paints a vivid picture of this in 1758.

A Mess in Scotland preparing its meal.

“Now I began to commence to cook; in the first place I lighted my fire, then filled my kettle with water, put in my meat, which was a shoulder of mutton the vegetables were some long coleworts and I had instruction to make a broth. But I managed indifferently it was the first attempt I had made in the art of cookery (unknown:10-11).”

Having prepared this broth to the best of his abilities, Jonas, as he was known to his comrade is ordered to bring the stew to his mess mates. His recounts how the meal is divided between the mess, “after the meat was divided and called, every one took up his lot, and proceeded to eat the broth in the best manner we could, with our canteen top as spoons” (unknown:12).

Private Walsh demonstrates eating his broth upon his canteen top.

  1. Excellent! But I don’t understand the use of a canteen top as a spoon. Can you explain please.
    Thank you.
    Regards, Keith.

  2. Excellent! But I don’t understand the use of a canteen top as a spoon. Can you explain please.
    Thank you.
    Regards, Keith.

    • Earlier in the chapter, the soldiers talks about the lack of spoons and how only a few of them had knives. So they were forced to use canteens as spoons. Hope that makes sense, I suppose it was due to the fact they were all new recruits.

  3. PS. Is your group on Living History Worldwide? If not, it may be worth your while joining.
    Regards, Keith.

    • Indeed, we are on Living History worldwide. Our group is 68th DLI I believe, it covers all the periods we cover as the DLI including Napoleonics and Seven Years War.

  4. The thing I don’t understand is, it does not say they filled the canteens with soup/stew, it says “with our canteen top as spoons”. What top? Are we talking tin water canteens with wood stoppers? What is there that can be used as a spoon. I feel I am lacking some knowledge here regarding the term “canteen”. Can you enlighten me please.
    Regards, Keith.
    A Woodsrunner’s Diary.

    • It is certainly the tin wooden stopped canteen to my understanding.My thinking is that if they are using the standard 18th century British Army canteens which have slightly curved back sides these can be used to some extent as a spoon. This is our understanding of this passage anyway!

  5. Thank you for your reply, but I still feel that there must be another answere. I have two of these canteens, & it would be the last thing I would think of using. I would use my cup/mug first if I had no spoon. Once the pot got down there would be no way of scooping with a canteen. I feel the answere in in his use of the word “canteen”. It must mean something other than the water canteen. That is my take on it anyway.
    Thanks again, appreciated.
    Keith aka Le Loup.

    • Hi Keith,

      Yes, I agree I would use my mug first and the last thing I would think of would be my canteen. I had another read through the proceeding chapter this morning and a few pages earlier he does say they were all “destitute of porringers or bowls”. It probably wasn’t the best case scenario, the fact he mentions it at all probably means it was as strange to him as it is to us today is my thinking!

      All the best,


  6. Corporal William Todd, 30th Regiment of Foot.

    “May 10th, 1758
    In Quarters at Reading. This day we receiv’d our Camp Equipage from London & we have orders to have it serv’d out tomorrow at Roll calling, & the men to be tented by the roll. We have got lids too our Camp Kettles & Larger tops too our Canteens, adeal better then we had the last year, which we like much better.” p. 39.

    Todd, William; “The Journal of Corporal Todd, 1745 – 1762.” Cormack, Andrew and Jones, Alan, eds. Army Records Society, Sutton Publishing Ltd. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, 2001.

    Keep an eye peeled for any evidence of tin canteens with a metal cap that could be used as a spoon or small dipper. 🙂

    Keep up the great work, gents!

    Your Humble Servant,


  7. Your presentation is very impressive and your attention to the details of how the soldier of the era lived his day-to-day live is admirable. I think you’ll find Corporal Todd to be an excellent source. Jonas is top-notch too.

    There seems to have been several minor but noteworthy variations in the patterns of tin canteens used in the middle and late 18th century. I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle; not by any means! But I hope that the following thoughts will be useful.

    In Ryan Gale’s “Soldier-Like Way” (which is very worthwhile), there is a canteen on page 61 that has a small tin cap on the spout. Spouts appear to have been in two forms; one rather short and wide, the other taller and narrower. This particular one has the tall narrow spout.


    is a canteen with a wide spout and a metal cap. Its hard to tell from the image, but the cap might perhaps be a different alloy than the canteen in this example.

    There is a very intriguing depiction of a canteen in Edward Penny’s portrait of an officer giving charity to a sick soldier and his family, auctioned in recent years by Sotheby’s. This is the one that is a version of his portrait of Granby – I’m sure you’re familiar with it. If you zoom in its the best depiction I’ve had the good fortune to find. But as good as it is, we just can’t see any sign of a stopper unless it is pushed in so far that it is almost flush with the top of the spout. Does it have a metal cap? I can’t say for sure!

    The canteens shown in Hogarth’s “March to Finchley” and in the Morier painting of the Grenadier of the 47th aren’t clear enough to see much detail, but there doesn’t appear to be a distinct cork or wooden stopper. Does this suggest a metal cap – or are these just fine detail omissions by the artist due to the nature of painting in the era?

    None of this of course precludes the use of wooden or cork stoppers depending on what was issued any given year, but it suggests that what Jonas and Corporal Todd were describing are a type of canteen having a useful metal cap rather than a stopper. Todd seems very pleased with this which also suggests that it was an improvement over the previous issue.

    New evidence is appearing in period artwork or coming out of the ground all the time it seems! The internet is enabling us to access information and share notes and the pace of learning is accelerating greatly. It has been nigh forty years since I first “took the King’s shilling” and it is great to see a group such as yours that is forging ahead with learning and living the life of the 18th century British soldier with such spirit and interest in historical accuracy. I wish you great success and satisfaction with the 68th!

    Your Humble Servant,


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