Friday, May 26, 2023

Army bake oven with a barrel

Memorial Day - To remember all who sacrificed their lives to preserve our democracy.

The Manual for Army Cooks 1896 image of an above ground dirt oven and an iron dutch oven.

The Manual contains images and information on several types of ovens, and cooking apparatus for soldiers. I bought the Army cook's book after years researching the Army bake ovens in the US Capitol, Washington DC during the Civil War. Blog posts HERE

"To build such an oven (plate 12) a rounded heap of dry earth or about 5 feet long, 2 feet 6 inches wide, 1 inches high, should be raised. This is the mold on which the oven is to be formed. Sand is more suitable for the mold than earth, it being more readily removed. Willow twigs bent over and closely wattled together, or a flour barrel laid flat and covered completely with earth, will likewise suffice to give form to the mold.

Mix a stiff mud or mortar, and plaster the mold over 5 or 6 inches thick, commencing at the base. Allow one or two days for it to dry and harden, plastering up all cracks which may appear. When nearly dry, cut out the door at one end and the flue at the top of the other end. A small mud chimney raised over the flue will greatly improve the draft.

Carefully withdraw the loose earth or sand from the interior. If a barrel has been used for the mold it may be burned out without damaging the oven. Keep a small fire in the oven for at least half a day before attempting to bake. Dig a pit in front of the oven for the convenience of the baker. Two men can build this oven in three hours, but it will generally not be fit for use for two days. It will last several weeks, and prove very satisfactory.

This oven may also be built dome-shaped, like the household ovens used by the Mexicans. This kind of an arch would be stronger than the semicylindrical form, but with the same quantity of material used would not have as great a baking capacity.

The clay oven is peculiarly adapted for use when camping on swampy ground. Under such circumstances it may be constructed upon a platform of stones or logs covered with clay."

"Considerable fuel is consumed in baking in Dutch ovens where a company is to be supplied--the capacity of each oven being small and several fires being usually required. Fuel may be economized, however, by building the fire in a trench of sufficient length to receive all the ovens.

Care should be taken that the ovens and lids are quite hot before the dough is placed for baking. During the preparations for the baking the ovens and lids should be heated over the fire in the trench. When a good mass of coals has been obtained, the dough should be placed in the heated ovens and the lids put on. The ovens should then be embedded in the coals and the lids covered with coals and hot ashes. If there are not enough coals to cover the lids a small fire may be built over each.

Mess pans may be used in a similar manner for baking bread, but great care will be necessary to prevent burning, owing to the thinness of the metal.

Dough may be mixed in mess pans, on a piece of canvas, on a rubber blanket, or in the flour barrel or flour sack. Dough should be set near the fire, and be allowed to rise well before baking. Very little fire is required at first. If time and fuel are to be considered, biscuits will prove more suitable than large loaves."

Manual for army cooks prepared under the direction of the Commissary General of Subsistence; published by authority of the Secretary of War for use in the Army of the United States 1896

The cut represents the old-fashioned Dutch oven, an iron kettle with a heavy tight-fitting iron lid. This is often used for outdoor cooking, and during the war the soldiers were delighted to get possession of one of these ovens to bake their pork and beans in or their corn bread or "pone."

The oven was lowered into the ground level with the top and the lid covered with live coals. There is no oven which bakes pork and beans and imparts the same delicious flavor, especially when the appetite has been sharpened by out-door work or sport and a moderate degree of fasting.

Dutch oven image and last paragraph from: Wilcox, Estelle Woods. Buckeye cookery, and practical housekeeping. Minneapolis, MN: 1877



©2023 Patricia Bixler Reber
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