The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
Mutton beef, camp fare, camp dietSmoko North Arm- John Buckley 1960s


Today the camp has access to all modern foods that the world has to offer with good access to Stanley shops. With electricity readily available to all farms freezers can be used anywhere and greenhouses and poly tunnels allow vegetables an fruit to be grown easier.

  Before the 1980s food was more limited. This does not mean that people did not eat well. Bread and meat made up the basic meal, home- made and good.

Meat and a free house was part of the wage of employees in the days of the original sheep stations before sub-division. The staple diet of the camp was/is mutton but traditionally beef was eaten in winter, the beef being the steer calves raised from the cows milked by the women (sometimes a cowman on larger sheep stations) to provide milk, cream and butter. Few had a 'churn' for butter, mostly it was just beaten with a spoon (or electric beater if there was electricity on) until it turned to butter when it was repeatedly washed in freezing water until the buttermilk was gone and a little salt was added. One side of the cow was milked and the calf was raised on the other side. Heifer calves were kept for cow replacements. Before the days of all day electricity and freezers a 'quarter' of beef would easily hang in a meat safe for a fortnight in winter and roasts and steaks could be cut off as required. Vegetables were always scarce. Potatoes were grown at settlements close to salt water where there was less chance of frosts. Sometimes crops were good but other times they were lost or just didn't grow. Swedes were quite reliable and grew well as did lettuce, radish, cabbage, kale and carrots. Any vegetable had to be grown or gone without. Canned vegetables, typically tomatoes, peas or Baked Beans could be usually be bought at the store along with other basic ingredients. Around the 1970's poly tunnels became popular and people found they could grow an amazing variety of vegetables.

The monotony of diet was sometimes broken by someone catching fresh fish (usually mullet) or shooting Upland geese. Settlement houses got their turn at the ‘giblets’ from the weekly mutton kill. This could give a welcome treat of fried kidneys and brain fritters. There were no Health and Safety food standards, no fridges and few freezers. No one ever died or seemed to get ill on camp food, everything was fresh.

Another part of camp diet was wild bird eggs, upland geese and penguin (penguin under strict licences). These were especially important to people living on small islands in early days. As they did not get a light booster in winter (lack of electricity) to lay through the winter hens only laid during lighter months and eggs had to be pickled or stored in isinglass which left a taste in fried eggs, but they were fine for cooking. A chicken to eat was rare, hens were usually kept until they died naturally of old age in the hope they would still give a few eggs. If a hen set and produced a few precious chickens the pullets were kept for layers and the surplus cockerels were eaten. Only one rooster was usually kept with the hens.

Breakfast was/is porridge and mutton chops and perhaps eggs if the hens were laying. The mid-day meal or ‘dinner' was nearly always roast mutton (often termed 365 as it appeared most days)  or beef and the evening meal ‘supper’ invariably cold meat and bread.

In between there were two ‘smoko’ breaks, one in the morning around 10.30, and the other in the afternoon. This was usually a cup of tea or coffee with slab cake (plain cake with currants or sultanas), buns or biscuits, but might include fancy iced confections as well (all usually stored in a large empty Quality Street, Roses or similar tins). This was also an opportunity for a cigarette if the person was inclined. Bread was made once or twice a week. Sometimes dough-fries (tortas fritas), were made as a treat on bread days. Flour and sugar were bought in huge sacks from the farm store and all camp houses had a 'flour bin' which had two compartments capable of holding a sack of flour in one side and sugar in the other.

Pickle barrels

Before the days of freezers, many houses in the camp used ‘pickle barrels’. Meat pickle barrels were kept outside and beef and mutton were pickled, particularly in winter,  to provide a welcome change of salted meat. Water with salt and sugar (strong enough when an egg or potato floated) and a little saltpetre to to redden the meat was the standard mixture. Other pickles were for butter preserving for the winter and eggs. Most camp houses used to pickle eggs in isinglass or water glass, enough to get you through the winter when the hens didn’t lay. Penguin eggs were also preserved this way although they kept a long time anyway.

In the beginning- a doctor's records of diet on the West...........

Dr Going was scathing about the diet and cooking in the islands and leaves descriptions of the West diet in his 1887 and 1888 reports. 1887. ‘Diet: The most general articles of diet are mutton and bread and excessive quantities of tea and coffee. The most common kinds of vegetables are dried beans and rice. The summer fresh milk and butter can be obtained in but this is not the case in winter. Then tinned milk and tinned butter are used; the former, as is well known contains an excessive amount of sugar and is by no means a substitute for milk. The tinned butter comes from Denmark, as to its quality I can say nothing, but more cows suffer from tubercular disease in Denmark than in any other country in Europe. A large amount of the hot sauces are used out here, which is decidedly bad. The cooking is badly done; the meat and bread are thus served up in their most indigestible forms. Regular, well cooked meals, so essential the ultimate well-being of a people are characterised by their absence. ‘Continuing in 1888: ‘Chronic indigestion among the adults is the bane of these islands; it principally occurs in the form of ‘heartburn’ and ‘waterbrash’ and is due to the enormous quantities of coffee and tea consumed in the very strongest forms, to the indigestible character of the bread they eat, and to the ignorance of most of the women of the most rudimentary laws of cooking.’

On the subject of alcohol consumption Dr Going was more satisfied. ‘ As to the amount of alcohol consumed, it may be said to be at a minimum; this is not due to the spread of temperance, but due to the most excellent rule made by the farmers of only allowing the workpeople to have a non-intoxicating amount. Another unmitigated blessing is the absence of drinking shops.’ (The large sheep stations continued to limit the amount of alcohol that could be bought by from the farm store to a bottle or half-bottle per week well into modern times.




Reports Blue Book 1887/1888
Photographic credits: Header: John Buckley
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