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  • Mess kit cooking

    After this weekend of kayak camping, the thought struck me that there are very few scouts anymore that can cook individually out of their mess kits. As a matter of fact, very few boys even realize that a mess kit can be used for cooking. Those that have them only use the fry pan for a plate and the cup for their beverage. I cooked a nice meal for 2 people this weekend using 2 mess kits on a wood fire.

    On my very first Boy Scout activity (I was still wearing my Cub Scout uniform), we hiked 5 miles out of town to a place in the woods. There we individually cooked a meal, cleaned up and hiked back into town. I'll always remember the hike because I got my mom to buy me a small steak.

    As I think back on the whole process, why was it that I even before I was in Boy Scouts I already knew how to cook in a mess kit? I had to hike, build a fire, cook a meal, clean up and head back. Can some of today's Eagle Scouts do that? Or would their Frisbee melt in the fire?

    We do a lot with Dutch oven, patrol cooking, maybe a backpack stove here and there on occasion, but how many boys can have a mess kit in their canoe and actually do a traditional shore lunch for themselves?

    Over the years I have awakened in the morning, gotten a fire started and done blueberry muffins in my mess kit. Yes, even a small cobbler can be done up nicely. Coffee? Yep, that can be made in a mess kit too.

    One of the requirements for T-2-1 expects the boy to make a meal for himself on a wood fire. How do troops do this? Or is it done utensil-less? Sure we did our stuff on a stick, but with one of the neatest pieces of Scout equipment out there, it begs the question: why not just use your mess kit?

    Anyone else out there still mess kit cook?


  • #2
    Stosh, this is something about which I have given considerable thought to lately, mainly because of 2 recent triggers.

    First, two weekends ago, we had a campout where scouts were told they had to cook over an open fire. No scout knew what "open fire" meant, and either assumed that meant the flame of a stove (?) or charcoal. The idea of making a wood fire and cooking over it was so foreign to these scouts that it virtually sent them into panic mode.

    Second, as I was reviewing the Second Class requirements (2010 rev), I noticed this: "3.g. On one campout, plan and cook one hot breakfast or lunch, selecting foods...." It used to read this: "On one campout, plan and cook over an open fire one hot breakfast or lunch for yourself, selecting...." That is a big change.

    When I was a scout (OK, everyone brace yourselves...), there was no patrol gear. Every scout had his own mess kit. The patrol agreed on a menu and bought the food, but most of the time each member cooked his own food over an open fire. Sometimes we would scrape up a bigger pot for spagetti or beef stew (I think those were the only 2 things we knew how to make) but just as often, each member would cook for themselves. I consider myself a reasonable cook (better than my wife and she will agree), but I can tell you that though I learned much from my mother, I really refined my cooking skills while camping with the troop, over an open fire, with my mess kit.

    I have a vague recollection that sometimes, the adults used a Coleman white gas stove, but that was not very often.

    On a side note, my mess kit was an official Boy Scout mess kit. It had been my older sister's which she had used in Girl Scouts and had down to me. It had her initials, LP, on the bottom in pink paint. I scraped, sanded and did everything I could but that pink paint (nail polish?) never would come off. I finally gave in and with my Testors model paint enamels (black) turned it into a DP. When my son joined Boy Scouts, I dug up the old kit and gave it to him. And there on the bottom of the frying pan was a pink LP with just a hint of black paint around the edges of the letters. He has taken it upon himself to convert the L into an I. I wish him luck.


    • #3
      In my day in my troop ("the 90s"), almost everyone used tin foil meals for that requirement.

      All three of my current patrols have passed what we ever did, mastering the art of using a grilling grate to cook steak and chicken.

      Patrols in the past have also neglected to bring any propane (whoops) and had to make pasta over an open fire, which is a real pain in the butt, but they did it.

      I also think the emphasis on individual fire cooking has died down with the rise of "Leave No Trace".


      • #4
        Most of the "mess kits" I have encountered were not particularly well designed for cooking in the outdoors, at least in my mind. They are usually too thin and flimsy, with a very bad tendency to produce hot spots, too small to cook for more than one person, and generally a pain to work with.

        I recall that the first campout I took one one resulted in my losing the wingnut that held the handle on the fry-pan, making it mostly useless in that configuration, and somehow melting a hole in the plastic cup.

        In my troop we cooked in pairs mostly on a propane or butane "grasshopper" style stove. I had a butane model, a 2 or 2.5 quart aluminum pot with lid, a set of pot holder type pliers, and a spoon. That setup got me through a lot of backpacking and canoe trips, as well as the odd static camping weekend.

        These days I've downsized to a "White Box" alcohol stove, a 750 ml titanium pot a 500 ml ti cup, a silicon bowl and a ti spork. I've yet to give this collection a real test like multiday trek, but so far it seems to meet my needs pretty well. Of course, your milage may vary.



        • #5
          A small part of the reason may be that we aren't offering usable mess kits. The two mess kits you can buy at are a uber-cheap $10 aluminum piece of junk or a teflon-coated $36 one with a plastic cup and plate. Neither are appropriate for cooking over fire.

          It could be a fun campout if you could convince your PLC to have a "Personal Super Chef" competition where every scout has to plan, make, eat, and cleanup his own meal. Then, you could see how each scout tackles the challenge - maybe have a prize of a useful, strong mess kit for the champion. :-)

          According to the advancement requirements, a scout can now reach Eagle with having never lit a fire.

          Scout On


          • #6
            Love you guys that still have their original mess kits. I have gone through at least a half dozen of them over the years.

            I stick with the el-cheapo aluminum pans, use low heat, and it keeps them in pretty good shape for some time. The wing nut is always a problem. The stainless el-primo pans tend to stick terribly and burn more than they cook. One of my ASM's came up with an old steel BSA mess kit, but wouldn't part with it even when I offered him $25 for it! Gotta find me one of those!

            I did purchase an old WWI steel mess kit just for cooking, comes with a divided plate and fry pan. Noting else. It's steel which is a real plus! It holds my silverware nicely and the handle is on a hinge which is nice. With my nalgene bottle, I can still measure out water, but nothing else. I just eyeball portions when I cook. Some meals turn out better than others.

            It's really sad that GrubMaster isn't a POR. This position could go a long way in educating the rest of the boys on the basics of simple cooking.

            My boys went on a backpack expedition last weekend, bought the flavor packet for spaghetti but no tomato paste. The sauce was rather thin to say the least. They also bought the wrong pancake mix and didn't have any eggs and/or oil. To top it off they dumped a whole package of powdered milk into the mac and cheese. These are FC scouts??!??! Nobody starved, but one has to wonder at times.

            I'm beginning to think that if it wasn't for foil dinners and hot dogs on a stick, most the the modern scouts would not eat on a high adventure trip where they had to leave the stoves and dutch ovens at home.

            If one really wants to find out how good some can get at individual cooking, go to a Civil War reenactment. Everyone there cooks for themselves which was normal for the CW soldier. Here guys turn out coffee, meats, eggs, onions, potatoes, carrots, fried apples, etc. all in a canteen half, tin cup, and a stick. Some of the more serious cooks do bring a small stamped steel fry pan.

            One of the big things about LNT is that one can still have a wood fire. Most boys like to build these big massive fires and scar half the neighborhood. Like the Indians used to say: "Indians build small fires to keep warm, white man builds big fire and keeps warm collecting wood."



            • #7
              The Troop I serve has had only 1-2 outings where it was "pack-in & pack out", with all food being carried & cooked in Scouts personal mess kits (several different types).

              Some did ok, some (my son included) figured out how to heat the can of beans "in the can" and then use that can for the rest of the cooking. i.e. did not need to scour his kit much for clean up.

              Most Scouts forgot to rub bar soap on the outside of the mess kit to make cleaning the soot from the small fire they built.

              But I think they all enjoyed it. I know I did watching them use most of the "how to cook in your mess kit" presentation.

              The biggest problems, a couple of the other leaders did not really get into it. a few Scouts did not bring enough stuff (and did not want the Raman noodles I squirreled away extra).


              • #8
                As a Scout of the 60's this brings back memories. I think I have my mess kit in the attic. Part of the problem may stem from the fact that building open fires is against the rules in so many places where we commonly camp or if you can to find enough downed wood to get a decent fire and/or bed of coals. It has indeed become a lost art.


                • #9
                  And the thirteenth point of the Scout Law is "A Scout is Hungry"...

                  *(( The true author of this article is unknown. It is here copied from the COME HOSTELING newsletter, Sept. 1980, of the Potomac Area Council of the American Youth Hostels, who received it from Dick Schwanke, Senior PAC Staff Trainer, who read it in the APPALACHIAN HIKER by Ed Garvey, who got it from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Conference Bulletin, which quoted it from THE RAMBLER of the Wasatch Montain Club of Salt Lake City, which reportedly cribbed it from the I.A.C. News of Idaho Falls, which reported it from the 1966 PEAKS & TRAILS. I offer it here for your enjoyment and inspiration. Note that some of the ingredients are a bit dated. Adjust as necessary. Enjoy!))

                  "Courageous Cookery" by John Echo*

                  Once the convert backpacker or cycle camper has accepted the subtle gustatory nuances associated with sustained operations beyond the chrome, he should try the advantages of ultra fringe living so that he will realize what he is paying for his nested pots and pretty pans carried so diligently and brought home so dirty after every "wilderness experience". The following system works. It is dependable and functional. It works on the big rock. It even works when the weather has gone to hell, you are wet and cold and the wind is blowing down the back of your hairy neck. It is not for the timid. It consists of a stove, a six inch sauce pan, a plastic cup and a soup spoon. If you insist on a metal cup, you must never fail to mutter "I'm having fun, I'm having fun", every time you spill the soup on your sleeping bag.

                  Breakfast: Instant wheat cereal-- sugar and powdered milk added-- ready two minutes after water boils. Eat from pot. Do not wash pot. Add water, boil, and add powdered eggs and ham. You'll never taste the cereal anyway. In three minutes, eat eggs. Do not wash pot. Add water or snow and boil for tea. Do not wash pot. Most of the residue eggs will come off in the tea water. Make it strong and add sugar. Tastes like tea. Do not wash pot. With reasonable technique, it should be clean. Pack pot in rucksack and enjoy last cup of tea while others are dirtying entire series of nested cookware.

                  Lunch: Boil pot of tea. Have snack of rye bread, cheese and dried beef Continue journey in 10 minutes if necessary.

                  Dinner: Boil pot of water, add Wylers dried vegetable soup and beef bar. Eat from pot. Do not wash pot. Add water and potatoes from dry potatoe powder. Add gravy mix to taste. Eat potatoes from pot. Do not wash pot. Add water and boil for tea. Fortuitous fish or meat can be cooked easily. You do not need oil or fat. Put half inch of water in pot. Add cleaned and salted fish. Do not let water boil away. Eat from pot when done. Process can be done rapidly. Fish can even be browned somewhat by a masterful hand.

                  Do not change menu. Variation only recedes from the optimum. Beginners may be allowed to wash pot once a day for three consecutive days only. It is obvious that burning or sticking food destroys the beauty of the technique. If you insist on carrying a heavier pack, make up the weight you save with extra food. Stay three days longer.



                  • #10
                    Last year an Explorer Post gave the troop few boxes of military surplus kits including flatware. Some looked like they had never been used. Enough for everyone in the troop that wanted one. The boys are just learning how to use them, most just use them as a plate/bowl for now.

                    I'm temped to wander by a patrol site to borrow a bit of fire and make a quick meal just to see if they start adapting.


                    • #11
                      the troop my son started with was discussing doing this sort of thing, but as all things with that troop it got cancelled along with 1/2 dozen other campouts (big reason he found a new troop)

                      anyway... as soon as he heard about this he got out his mess kit and practiced cooking all sorts of different meals out at our grill just to see what would work and not work. For example while he could make spaghetti on the grill he realized he did spill a bit too much water in the process and that with a cook fire that would NOT be a good idea. He ended up with a whole bunch of meals he'd be able to pull off. I keep hoping he'd bring this idea up to the PLC with his new troop, but he hasn't. But then his cooking ability is heads and tails above most in his troop and prefers working with full sized pots and pans and of course his patrol likes this as well, especially now that he's not SPL and therefore can be patrol cook again.


                      • #12
                        I admit the old, hand me down BSA mess kit I had as a scout was only cooked in one time as my troop did patrol cooking. So we used the patrol cook kit for 99.99999% of the time, the other.000001% was either foil cooking, or "survival" cooking, i.e. eggs in an orange, hamburger in an onion, paperbag bacon, etc. that was done indivivually. But we had the old BSA patrol cook kits.


                        • #13
                          Two things are brought up by this post ... open fires and equipment. I think they're two separate issues.

                          As others have noted, open fires are under the gun in some areas. You need to either carry your backpacking stove or something similar.

                          On the equipment side, I think the "modern" equivalent of mess-kit cooking would have to be freezer-bag cooking. Meals can be individualized, and they're super-simple. All you really need is a spoon, a small metal pot and your bags of ingredients - that's your mess kit!

                          Fact is, metal mess kits simply aren't really in vogue any more. From a backpacking standpoint, they're heavier and bulkier than other options. If you can get by with just one small metal pot for heating water and mix/eat everything in your plastic squishy bowl, heck, why not?

                          While we're at it, whatever happened to the tradition of the tin-can stove?(This message has been edited by shortridge)


                          • #14
                            LOL shortridge!

                            "While we're at it, whatever happened to the tradition of the tin-can stove?"

                            Funny you should bring that up. There have been times when I have used the boy's charcoal chimney to cook on while they are getting the coals ready for their DO's. I'm usually done with my cooking by the time their charcoal is ready! Those old lessons are never forgotten!



                            • #15
                              Through a link someone else posted in another thread yesterday, I came across this and thought it would make a good camp stove for individuals. We may have to try this on our next backwoods adventure instead of backpack stoves.