Alexis Soyer, A Postscript


Fred Peskett

            A few issues ago I wrote an article about the exploits of Alexis Soyer who established an alternative eating house at Kensington Gore to cater for visitors to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Soyer’s main gripe was that only cold food was available at the dinning areas in the Crystal Palace, and that the food they did serve was far too expensive.

            One of Mr Soyer’s other enterprises was mentioned in the article, but at the time very little was known about it. This was Soyer’s Mobile Kitchen for the Army. I can now complete the information and provide an illustration of Mr Soyer’s Invention, thanks to a little book found for 50p in a Charity Shop, “Soyer’s Shilling Cookery for the People”, published in 1852 for 1/- or 25 cents. In the book Alexis Soyer describes his Mobile Kitchen for the Army, so here it is in his own words:-

            During the period of the famine in Ireland, I took with me a portable kitchen, and erected it opposite the Royal Barracks in Dublin, and with which I cooked and delivered rations for 26,600 persons daily.

            Having last year taken a peep at the camp at Chobham, as well as the camp at Satory in France, and seeing, by the ordinary manner in which the provisions for the different messes were cooked, even in France, that a large amount of nutriment of the food was lost, it occurred to me that, if a moveable kitchen could be made to travel with the army, it would be exceedingly useful, whilst on the march, or when encamped. (see illustration)

            The following is an explanation of the kitchen below: The carriage is made of sheet-iron, weighing with water, fuel &c., a little more than one ton. The lower part consists of a circular steam boiler, and the upper part, of an oven. Over the oven are placed the various pans containing the rations required to be cooked by steam, and on each side is a hanging shelf, which will hold steam saucepans in front and, round the driver’s seat is a reservoir for water, and a place to hold the condiments, &c.

            The plan of working it would be to draw it near to a stream or reservoir for water-if brackish or muddy it does not matter, (Any tainted water is made good by first converting it into steam.) there fill the boiler and reservoir and remove it to any convenient spot. The fuel may consist of wood, coal, turf, &c. Within one hour after the fire is lighted the steam would be up, and the oven hot, and with six feet long and three feet wide, rations for 1,000 men could be cooked by baking and steaming in about two hours, and the apparatus moved on again, or it would cook whilst on the march, if on an even road.

            Its advantages are, saving of time, labour, men and food, and the certainty that the men could get their food properly cooked.

            The cost of each apparatus would not exceed £100


© Exhibition Study Group 2012