Soldier’s Beef Stew

Whether prepared in a cauldron under the open sky as would have been the case at Fort Wellington or on the stove in your own kitchen, this stew is deliciously simple.

Soldier's Beef Stew

Origin: Fort Wellington National Historic Site
Region: Ontario
Period: 19th Century
Course: Main Course

Fort Wellington soldiers at camp Fort Wellington soldiers at camp
© Parks Canada

Because stews were easy to make, the meat rations of soldiers were nearly always stewed. In Fort Wellington’s early history (1812-14), stews were usually bland, made with salt beef and very spices and other ingredients. By the 1840s, the soldier’s diet had evolved. Rather than relying on traditional salt beef from afar, beef, pork and other meat was purchased from local butchers and spices were also available thanks to trade on the St Lawrence River.

Legend has it that the term “potluck” comes from the traditional serving practices of stew to soldiers. The mess man would dish out a serving (which did not always include a portion of vegetables and meat) and the Corporal assigned the serving to an individual. If you ended up with a good portion of meat and vegetables, this was your potluck.

Soldier’s Beef Stew


  • 1 x 3-4 lb | 1.5 kg beef roast or top butt, cut into 1-inch cubes (or salt beef rations)
  • ½ cup | 125 ml butter
  • 2 cups | 500 ml diced onion
  • 1 cup | 250 ml diced celery
  • 3 quarts | 3 litres water
  • 4 medium potatoes, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 4 cups | 1 litre chopped cabbage
  • 2 tsp | 10 ml salt (omit if using salt beef)
  • 1 tsp | 5 ml pepper


  • In a large iron cauldron, melt the butter; add the beef and brown. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions are slightly browned, about 5-10 minutes, depending upon the heat of the fire. Add the water and bring to a boil. Keep at a rolling boil for about 1½ hours or until the beef is tender. Skim any foam that forms on the surface of the water and discard.
  • Add the potatoes, carrots, cabbage and seasonings; simmer until the potatoes start to break up and thicken the stew, about 15-20 minutes. If the stew is too thin for your taste, mix 1 tbsp of flour with ¼ cup of water and add to the stew while it is simmering. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with fresh bread.
  • Allow 3 hours cooking time, in case the fire doesn’t cooperate.


Recipe tested by Chef Scott Warrick, Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism

This traditional recipe was submitted by Parks Canada staff at Fort Wellington National Historic Site.