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News / Clark County News

Off Beat: An 1840s menu for campout in 2018

Free-range beaver, gluten-free gopher not old fort staples

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: April 30, 2018, 6:00am

If you enjoyed fine dining 170 years ago, Fort Vancouver was not a bad place to be. It all depended on who invited you to dinner, of course, with the classiest cuisine gracing the table of Hudson’s Bay Company officials.

Some of those dishes made an encore appearance during this weekend’s Boy Scout Camporee at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Scouts were scheduled to take part in a Dutch oven cooking contest, following popular recipes of that era and using ingredients that were available at Fort Vancouver in the 1840s.

We definitely are not talking about gluten-free gopher or free-range beaver.

The Eatery at the Grant House was a partner in the project, and chef Capers Ogletree helped wrangle the ingredients.

“They brought us recipes, and we organized kits” for the contestants, Ogletree said.

Ingredients included spices such as coriander and fennel, Ogletree said. One recipe was for lemon curd cake

We must remember that the Hudson’s Bay Company was sort of the Amazon of yester-century. As its Northwest headquarters, Fort Vancouver was part of a global distribution system that dealt in a lot more than furs. The fort’s pantry was stocked with the best a global economy had to offer.

According to one local historian, an inventory compiled in 1844 listed 19 pounds of chocolate; 9 pounds of cinnamon; and 50 pounds of cloves.

There were olives from Italy and sugar, molasses and rum from Jamaica. There was coffee from Cuba and Java, spices from Asia and South America, tropical limes and 142 gallons of French cognac.

And the namesake ingredient of that lemon curd cake might very well have been grown at the fort. There are some reports that they grew citrus here in the 1840s, National Park Service archaeologist Elaine Dorset told The Columbian in 2015. (Other reports said that they didn’t, she added.)

But gardening volunteers at Fort Vancouver have tried their hand at growing citrus, and it can be done.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter