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Steam Locomotive Cookery

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Driving a steam engine is hungry work so it’s hardly surprising that ingenious locomotive crews soon found ways to create mouth watering hot meals on the go.

Although officially frowned upon by the railway management, It’s quite possible that Drivers and firemen have been sneakily cooking meals using their locomotive’s fire as a heat source since the dawn of steam travel!

History of Cooking on the footplate

Cooking with a shovel reportedly goes back to rancher’s in the Australian outback being stuck in the bush with no other equipment.

They would sterilise the shovel and cook lamb chops with the spade thrust directly into the fire.

It was generally the only way that the busy loco crew could get hot food whilst on the job - Matthew Ellis, rail operations co-ordinator at the National Railway Museum, even pointed out “Some locomotive footplates were even designed for sizzling sessions on the sidings.”

Cooking on locomotives today

Matthew Ellis at the NRM proudly points out that the tradition continues as today’s crews “try to outdo each other with the complexity of food cooked in this steamy fashion”.

He then describes his own locomotive crew’s attempt to cook a Christmas Dinner using a steam train - possibly the most ambitious of footplate cooking projects!

There are also some great videos on YouTube of drivers today preparing meals on their shovels - like this of one of a Scottish enthusiast’s first experience of a fry-up prepared by the loco crew at The Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway.

It’s especially dramatic when some of the cooking fat gets tipped into the flames at about 45 seconds into the video!

The Bure Valley Railway used a slightly different method of cooking on the locomotive’s smokebox, using it very much like an oven hob.

They served up a very refined sounding menu of White fish on a bed of spinach served with boiled baby potatoes and Duck on a bed of rice served with spinach.!

Another major player in the UK loco cooking arena is Andy Christie from Kidderminster who drives trains as a volunteer at Severn Valley Railway.

Inspired by a fellow steam enthusiast who demonstrated cooking an onion in the hot pipe of the driver’s cab, Andy went on to try more and more ambitious cookery projects.

In an interview with local paper The Shropshire Star Andy said:

"I cooked roast lamb. In the past, I've done a chicken in a white wine sauce and duck in hoisin sauce. I usually put it in during the morning as it can take hours to cook.”

You can see Andy at work in this nicely produced video at the Severn Valley Railway where he describes how he cooks chicken in white wine sauce and vegetables in his loco’s smokebox!

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By Alastair Baker at 30 Oct 2017, 00:00 AM