Period If the Guns Didn't Kill You, The "Hospital Diet" Might: Soyer's Food for fifty men

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Mar 15, 2013

Touted as the correct bill of fare for Hospital Diet in the Army, the tried and true recipes of Alexis Soyer were widely used in US Army Hospitals. It seems that Mr. Soyer's recipes may have been selected because they were simple, usually requiring only a few ingredients. Measurements were already calculated, based on the number of men you needed to feed. And there was very little preparation - just throw everything into a large cauldron, boil it for a couple of hours, and voilà -- it's what's for dinner!

Perhaps some of our reenactor friends will give this one a try and let us know how it turns out?
No. 10. "Soyer's Food" for fifty men. --<How about that name for this dish - "food" :unsure: Really? >

50 pounds Fresh Beef
7 pounds of onions
1 1/2 pounds of flour
10 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp pepper
4 Tbsp sugar
18 quarts of water

Cut the beef into pieces 1/4 pound each
Slice the onions
Introduce all the solid ingredients except the flour, with a little of the water, into the boiler
Set it on the fire and let it stew, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes or until it forms a thick gravy
Then add 1 1/2 pounds of flour, mix well together and add the rest of the water.
Stir well for a minute or two.
Regulate the heat to moderate and let simmer for about 2 hours.

A pound of rice may be added to great advantage, also plain dumplings, and potatoes, or mixed vegetables.

This, and other of Alexis Soyer's recipes, were reprinted in The Hospital Steward's Manual for the Instruction of Hospital Stewards, Ward Masters, and Attendants, in Their Several Duties. The manual was widely distributed by the US Army and served as the handbook for medical personnel serving in the various US hospitals. Soyer published the original work in 1857 in London. It was entitled Soyer's Culinary Campaign: Being Historical Reminiscences of the Late War. With the Plain Art of Cookery for Military and Civil Institutions, the Army, Navy, Public, Etc. In that volume, Soyer stated that his principal object was to perpetuate the successful efforts he made to "improve the dieting of the Hospitals of the British Army in the East."

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Snip of recipe:
Thanks to @John Hartwell for sharing the Hospital Steward's Manual here
Feb 6, 2019
I was just reading today about how a division required 72 beeves A DAY! Sherman had 60,000 men with him and 3400 cattle. So that's about 144 beeves a day. At that rate there was enough beef with him for about 24 days before rationing. I can't even fathom the logistical nightmare of feeding an army at any point in human history.....

John Hartwell

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Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
The Hand-book for active service: containing practical instructions in campaign duties, for the use of volunteers (1861) by Egbert L. Viele, also contains receipts for hospital meals (24 of them!). The first two (pp. 82-83), for mutton and beef soup, read rather like Soyers' in general, but with some interesting twists, and, of course, the amount is doubled:

No. 1. — Semi-stewed Mutton and Barley Soup for 100 men.
Put in a convenient-sized cauldron 130 pints of cold water, 70 pounds of meat, or about that quantity, 12 pounds of plain mixed vegetables, (the best that can be obtained,) 9 pounds 6 ounces of barley, 1 pound 7 ounces of salt, 1 pound 4 ounces of flour, 1 pound 4 ounces of sugar, 1 ounce of pepper. Put all the ingredients into the pan at once, except the flour; set it on the fire, and when beginning to boil, diminish the heat, and simmer gently for two hours and a half; take the joints of meat out, and keep them warm in the orderly’s pan; add to the soup your flour, which you have mixed with enough water to form a light batter; stir well together with a large spoon; boil another half hour, skim off the fat, and serve the soup and meat separate. The meat may be put back into the soup for a few minutes to warm again prior to serving. The soup should be stirred now and then while making, to prevent burning or sticking to the bottom of the caldron.
Note. — The word “about” is applied to the half and full diet, which varies the weight of the meat; but 1 lb. of mutton will always make a pint of good soup: 3 lbs. of mixed preserved vegetables must be used when fresh are not to be obtained, and put in one hour and a half prior to serving, instead of at first; they will then show better in the soup, and still be well done. The joints are cooked whole, and afterwards cut up in different messes; being cooked this way, in a rather thick stock, the meat becomes more nutritious.
No. 2 . — Beef Soup .
Proceed the same as for mutton, only leave the meat in till serving, as it will take longer than mutton. The pieces are not to be above 4 or 5 pounds weight, and for a change half rice may be introduced; the addition of 2 pounds more will make it thicker and more nutritive; 1 pound of curry powder will make an excellent change also. To vary the same, half a pint of burnt sugar water may be added ; it will give the soup a very rich brown color.
Viele's, Hand-book for active service (which also contains a dozed recipes for ordinary soldiers' meals) is available online from both:
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Oct 22, 2012
My GGG Grandfather Bruce served in the 45th Alabama Infantry. Left in a Georgia field hospital when John Bell Hood marched into Tennessee (where ggg gran's regiment was nearly annihilated), he walked home, according to family legend.

"Papa" lived into the 20th century and told his grandchildren, "I walked home because I would have starved to death in the hospital."

It was a long walk, but worth it to him, I guess.
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Apr 3, 2018
That's one recipe I won't try. 7 lbs of flour? It's like gnocchi, something I'm not particularly fond of. I can see making the flour into noodles, cooking it separately and then adding noodles after the soup is cooked.
The original is a bit confusing, but it's 7 pounds of onions, one and a half pounds of flour. Which breaks down to about two (modern day) tablespoons of flour per pound of beef, right in line with many a regular recipe for beef stew.

This recipe, made with fresh ingredients, was probably reasonably edible, especially in a culture where people regularly drank beef tea and suchlike. Some modifications I would make for better taste -- brown up the beef and onions in fat rather than cooking them in water -- would not be popular in hospital food because they'd up the fat content and things. Others -- use beef stock or something instead of water; throw in some red wine or other flavorings -- may have been choices based on budgetary reasoning. There's also the fact that hospitals, then and now, tend toward blander flavorings. My family would consider the amount of onions in this dish entirely insufficient.
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