Robert Dickinson’s “Campo 59 Cookery”

During this time of year, as we devote time in our kitchens to preparation of holiday meals and mouthwatering pastries and desserts, consider for a moment how our imprisoned soldiers craved their favorite foods from home—probably more during this season than at any other time of year.

It is any surprise that the prisoners attempted to recreate some of these dishes, using their daily camp rations and items from the precious Red Cross parcels?

Three pages of Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” are devoted to recipes, ranging from a compote and spreads to pies and fig pudding.

The situation called for some invention—fruit pie crust made of a paste of grated bread mixed with margarine for example.

Cooking was done handily on the camp cook stoves built by fellow prisoners from scraps of tin and shoelaces.

Although Robert titled this section of his journal “Campo 59 Cookery,” the last recipe, “Campo 53 Rarebit,” is evidence that the culinary experiments continued after his transfer to Camp 53 Sforzacosta in January 1943.

One of the poems in Robert’s journal, “Thoughts,” by C. G. Hooper-Rogers, contains a list of sorely missed foods from home. Of his yearnings, Hooper-Rogers writes:

“All I’ve got to do is think, / Of all I used to eat and drink, / And the phantom foods I used to like, / Haunt me all the blinking night.”

Red Cross Compòte

½ loaf
¼ spoonful of sugar
1 spoonful of milk powder
2 spoonfuls of cocoa
(Custard or jelly powder can be added)

Break up the bread into coffeé mug and just cover with water. Soak well until soft. Add other items separately; stirring in well. When finished allow to set (if possible!!) Sugar may be added as desired.

Chocolate Spread

1 spoonful cocoa
1 spoonful milk powder
½ spoonful sugar

Mix the milk powder and the cocoa in the coffeé mug and add water, stirring well into a stiff paste add sugar.

Coffeé Spread (Method as for Chocolate Spread.)

1 spoonful coffeé
1 spoonful sugar
3 spoonfuls milk powder

Mixed Fruit Spread

4 spoonfuls milk powder
1 spoonful sugar

With a little water make a stiff paste of the milk powder and add the sugar. Halve the raisins, cut and stone the prunes, and mix into a spread.

Meat Spread

Pound into a tin of dripping 4 OXO cubes, continue to beat in; until well mixed. Place into a dish ready to serve.

Note: OXO is a brand name for a range of food products, manufactured in the UK, that include stock cubes, herbs and spices, dried gravy, and yeast extract.

Vegetable Spread

To a ½ lb. of butter or margarine add 1 spoonful of Marmite or 4 cubes, mix well; then use.

Fig Pudding (For 2 persons)

Grate up 1 loaf (7 oz.). Soak in a little water 6 dried figs, after about 2 hours pour off the syrup. Add the moist figs to the bread, afterwards adding the syrup and mincing well. Then add a good spoonful of golden syrup and a little margarine, after mixing well place in a tin and steam for ½ hr. to 1 hr. Serve with golden syrup or condensed milk.

Fruit Pie

Grate ½ loaf of bread and mix into a paste using a little marg. grease a flat tin and line the bottom and sides with the paste; fill the centre with the fruit desired and put a thin crust on; bake well for ¾ hour.

Meat Pie

Using the same method as with the fruit pie; only filling the centre with meat + vegetables.

Biscuit Porridge

Boil in 1 ½ pints of water, raisins or other dried fruit, add to grated biscuits; allow to boil for a few minutes stirring well, add sugar or sweetening and pour into a flat dixie, allow to set; serve it with jam or cream.

Cheese & Onion Savoury

Grate up half a loaf (3 ½ oz.) and 2 issues of cheese (2 ½ oz.) Mix well, adding an onion, mint and tomatoe juice. Mix into a stiff paste with a little marg and water. Place into a greased tin, and steam for ½ hr. Serve with tomatoe sauce.

Campo 53 Rarebit

Fry a dixie of onions cut up small, when done add 12 oz. of grated cheese, stir (if possible) for a few minutes. Tomatoes can be added.

Note: A dixie is a cooking pot. Soldiers had a set of dixies as standard issue. They were rectangular, came in various sizes, and were made of aluminium with folding handles that fitted inside each other. The soldiers cooked in the dixies and also used them as plates.