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The Biggest Thing Of The War

By T. F. Parker, 1893. Edited and posted by Patricia B. Mitchell.

In the early days of the war, in 1861, it was the custom to put the cooking for each company in charge of two men who acted as company cooks. Each man served for two weeks. A man served as junior cook for two weeks and then a new man was appointed, and the man who had served a week became chief cook for the next week, and so each one served one week as junior and one as senior. I had served my time as junior cook, and had been promoted to chief cook. We had a log fire, much like the old-fashioned maple sugar fire, and one day I concluded to give the boys some rice for dinner. I had seen my mother cook rice, but I had paid little attention to the matter, and so was really ignorant of the characteristics of that cereal. I had a hundred men to feed, and so wanted a good supply. So I took two twelve quart camp kettles and put six quarts in each one and put them over the fire.

I was never so astonished in my life. In ten minutes both the kettles were full. I took in the situation at once. I had mistaken the capacity of rice as a food. It was rising rapidly, so I got another kettle and dipped some into that, and took the kettles off the fire and set them on the ground where the heat would strike the side of the kettle and keep the rice cooking without burning it. I had a ten gallon kettle which we used to make coffee. I put this kettle over the fire and soon had it full of boiling water. I then dipped water into the kettles of rice, and, as it swelled, dipped the rice into other kettles, and at the end of three hours, I had five of these twelve quart kettles full of rice. And in the whole sixty quarts there was not a scorched kernel. It was white, thoroughly cooked and very delicious.

I gave the call, "fall in for rations", and as some of the men were in hospitals or on duty away from camp, I dealt out nearly a quart of rice to each man, and as they saw the abundant supply, as nicely cooked as any rice their mothers had ever prepared for them, they shouted "Bully for Parker" and declared that I was the best cook in the Army of The Potomac. Among all the operations of the army there was nothing more successful as that rice dinner. It was big on the swell at first and made me dust lively, but it made a “swell” dinner for the boys.