Camp Cooking

Cambridge District Scout Archives

‘Cooking methods’ records the changing technology and the rediscovery of old methods of cooking on camp.  The archives do not record every new stoves or technique.

The following reports are clearly not all the occasions where the Archives record cooking.  The first selection, the least frequent category because it is the everyday, reflects aspects common to many camps but new to each generation.

The last category ‘Cooks’, tells of the introduction of cooking by patrols, but more interestingly the use of a cook.  Very occasionally cooks were ‘borrowed’ with the suggestion that it was a paid post. 

Cambridge Archives


1916                5th Cambridge (Perse) Field Day        ‘At places lunch was cooked and where possible eaten.’

c. 1928 23rd Cambridge with a potential recruit

1930                5th Cambridge (Perse) Field Day         ‘On such occasions as this , every member of the troop is expected to cook at least some of his lunch, so it is quite a common spectacle to see two small boys struggling with a refractory damper while a scoutmaster looks on with infinite pity as he chews his ham sandwich.’

12th Cambridge 1930’s

1932 23rd Cambridge Abington

1942 7th Cambridge A ‘slush patrol’ cooked the midday meal (dinner) for the whole camp. The designated patrol missed out on the morning activities. Other cooking was by patrol.

1947                5th Cambridge             In house Cooking Cup competition

1950 12th Cambridge Raised fire back right

1953                5th Cambridge             ‘each patrol site was complete in itself, tents with kitchens’

1960’s 28th Cambridge

1970’s 4th/17th Cambridge A Scout/ Guide camp used upturned metal milk crates as the base of an elaborate raised fire system. The stores revealed primus stoves, gas boilers, thermos insulated urns and many discarded pieces of superseded kit of an active camping group.

1977                28th Cambridge           Cooked bread on open fire

1994                28th Cambridge           ‘Washed ourselves and cooked our own breakfast’

Cooking methods

1917                Cambridge Rally B-P’s report ‘cooked their dinner in a Maori oven.  There was a small pile of cut grass lying on the ground: when you put your hand into it you discovered it was boiling hot.  If you groped down lower you came on potatoes and meat baking among a lot of hot stones and hot earth.  This is where a fire had been made and then raked out, the food put in, covered over and left to cook itself.’       

1917                Cambridge Rally B-P’s report ‘A fireless cooker, cooking porridge for the mornings breakfast, was shown’            

1918                Fortheringay Flax camp          ‘True we were promised an Aldershot oven; it was said to be ‘on the railway; it probably still is.’    C T Woods’ album newspaper cutting

(A military ‘field’ oven probably for baking, of 66lbs and gradually bent when heated – at which point you took the oven to pieces and beat it back into shape with a maul.)

1920-30’s 5th Cambridge at West Runcton The site owned by the Troop and was used for very large and long camps. It had no wood supply on site and a photograph exists showing a pile of coal by the pit ovens. Another, also in the Perse Archives, is labelled ‘finding the oven and appears to show the unearthing of the fire pits from the previous camp.

1920’s 9th Cambridge Boiled duff take a long time to cook but they appear to have been important both in that they promise a large, unambiguously filling meal and that an element of suspense surrounds the unwrapping. The preparation is also often a feature of photographs.

5th Cambridge 1920/30’s

The pudding has been prepared and wrapped in cloth before being placed in the boiler.

‘Ready for boiling’ C T Wood’s album 1920’s

1941                5th Cambridge             ‘For cooking we had the luxury of a gas stove in the houseboat on the island, but it must be confessed that we were more successful in our trench fire. ‘                       Camping on the island at Hemingford Abbots

C T Wood album          1920’s

1943                5th Cambridge             ‘and the introduction of a haybox produced some good results.’

13th Cambridge Camp log

1948                12th Cambridge           Aboard the Adventurer (converted landing craft) cooking was on gas stoves with a full sized oven.

1954                5th Cambridge             ‘Eggs were scotched and pastry baked in an oven over a primus.’   (See separate page Activities/ Camping/ Camp Cooking/ Primus)

2nd Cambridge 1950’s

2008                28th Cambridge           Baked bread in cardboard box oven on open fire

2018                28th Cambridge           Baked bread in dutch oven with coals and pot roasted beef          

2019 28th Cambridge Negotiated the now rare opportunity to dig a fire pit and successfully fed a Family camp of 120 with slow roasted lamb.

No example of Scouts spit roasting a whole beast has been recorded locally. Not, perhaps, a technique best suited to most camps. A spit roast, with an able cook, was a feature at another 28th Family camp. The cook enjoyed the experience so much he volunteered and is now GSL in another local group.

2nd Cambridge  Abington 1930’s

The photograph above shows a trench with an oven in the side and a flue. The photo below is a fire pit with a metal sheet to act both as a hot plate and, as here, a rain shield.

9th Cambridge 1927 hot plates (metal over pit fires) C T Wood’s album


Most successful Troops aspired to reach ‘Cooking by patrols’. It is a marker in the building of a successful collective skills base and attitude of a Troop and, when achieved, recorded as such with pride. Many later Patrol competitions were either based on a cooking challenge or, more generally, it was assumed that they Patrol had these skills. The reports from the 5th Cambridge (below) were for the school Annual report and as such informing parents of what the Scouts did. Despite the early use of a dedicated camp cook 5th were a skilled Troop.

5th Cambridge with (army) cook

Not every camp then or now cooked in this fashion every day, even in troops with these skills.

The use of a daily nominated Scout camp cook who stayed and cooked for the whole troop is not specifically recorded in the archives.

1918                Fortheringhay Flax camp        Mrs Stoakley, mother of a Scout, was in charge of cooking  Vere Stoakley attended aged 9 as he was too young to be left at home.  ‘Queens’ College Record 2008’

Camp Cook as employed by the 5th Cambridge c 1914. Joints of meat in the pit.

1930                5th Cambridge                          ‘The new cook worked splendidly, although we missed the jolly face of Sgt Tarbard we rejoiced in the fact that the porridge was not burnt once.’

1936                Cambridgeshire Rally Ely       ‘each patrol camped entirely on its own and did its own cooking.’            (From the 5th Cambridge but all Groups did the same)

1940                5th Cambridge                         ‘Some years ago he organised the scheme of cooking by patrols’

1968                54th Cambridge           Records report cooking by patrols and apparently some central cooking.   On one ‘topsy-turvy’ day the meals were eaten in reverse order.

13th Cambridge Serving the ‘Duff’

JWR Archivist Feb 2019