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During the Civil War, food shortages were common and soldiers needed to be able to carry food for days. Consequently, the food they ate was meant to keep people alive, with a rare delight mixed in here and there.
It was a time when food was scarce and the recipes were simply about feeding people enough to keep them going. Your typical soldier was given a daily ration of meat, bread, and coffee. There was no possibility of refrigeration, so food needed to be transportable and couldn’t spoil easily. If supply lines were cut, soldiers would scavenge or steal what they needed to survive. The recipes they used were simple and solely based on what they would have on hand. Here are a few examples of recipes used during the Civil War, along with instructions to recreate these pieces of culinary history on your own.
(Note: some of the recipes have been altered to include modern ingredients.)
Hartack was made of the most basic ingredients available: water, salt, flour, and sometimes bacon grease or fatback. Because it was made from such simple ingredients, it was particularly easy to store for a very long time and didn’t run the risk of going bad. It was, however, often infested by bugs and worms to the point that one of their nicknames was “worm castles.” This simple bread was often very tough which led to other nicknames such as “molar breakers” and “tooth dullers.” Because it was so tough, many soldiers would break up the hardtack and mix it with water into a mush with molasses as a treat. Other times, they would fry the mush into a very plain pancake-type creation. Some soldiers even kept their pieces of hardtack as souvenirs, lasting for years after they had left the battlefield. If you’d like to make your own hardtack, here's how:
- 2 cups of flour
- ½ to ¾ cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat or lard
- 6 pinches of salt
Mix into a stiff batter and on a lightly floured surface, roll flat with a rolling pin to 1/3 of an inch thickness. Trim the edges and cut the dough into squares. Use a fork to poke holes into the squares. Bake on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty five minutes or until golden brown.
Confederate Johnny Cake
Johnny cakes worked on the same principle as hardtack: simple, easy to make food that could be easily stored and transported. They were also called “journey cakes” as they could be taken on a long journey. The recipe for johnny cakes consisted mainly of cornmeal, hot water, milk, salt, and, if you were lucky, a little bit of sugar. These were also easy to cook over a campfire as they were fried in a pan over an open fire with the bacon drippings from an earlier meal. Here's how to try some for yourself:
- 1 cup cornmeal
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup milk
- Bacon drippings
Combine the cornmeal, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Boil the water and then add slowly as you stir the dry ingredients. Add the milk a little at a time to make sure the batter is not too runny. Heat the bacon grease in a cast iron skillet and drop in the batter by the spoonful. Brown on both sides and serve while hot.
Mrs. Cornelius’s Molasses Apple Pie
As one can imagine, there were few treats to be found in Civil War recipes. Sugar was scarce, but molasses was a very common staple that existed in many kitchens - and it was easy to store and even transport. Even with the war going on, the seasons still changed and crops were still harvested, and one consistent crop was apples. A recipe like this would have been easy for anyone short on ingredients, but wanting to satisfy a sweet tooth.
- 5 green apples, peeled and sliced
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup molasses
Line a pie pan with an uncooked pie crust. Fill with sliced apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, and molasses. Cover with a lattice crust and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake
In the midst of all the bloodshed, life went on at the White House. Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, was a woman who was raised in a affluent family and was accustomed to a rich way of life. In the White House, they had better access to ingredients with which to cook their meals. One of the things Todd loved doing most was entertaining, and she excelled at making sweet things for the White House parties and dinners. One recipe of hers that has been handed down through the years was her famous white cake:
- 1 cup finely chopped almonds
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup milk
- 6 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Confectionary sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a round bundt cake pan. Cream the butter and sugar together. Sift the flour and baking powder before adding it to the butter and sugar. Add in the milk and the almonds and mix well. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and then fold into the batter. Then finally stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool. Once cooled, sift confectioner’s sugar over it.
Beef or Mutton Soup
For the fighting men, meat was a coveted commodity. While they were soldiers, many were also hunters, and one can be sure that along the way they either bought or stole beef or mutton. Combined with whatever vegetables they had on hand, they would cook a stew over an open fire using various pots and pans. Once again, the point of these Civil War recipes was not to be fancy, but to feed the men and keep them going from one battle to the next. This recipe was very flexible, so depending on what was on hand, more or less ingredients could go into the soup.
What the hell??? Ingredients:
- Boil four quarts of water gently over a low fire with three pounds of beef or mutton
- cut into small pieces, potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, season with salt and pepper and
- let simmer for four hours.
Captain Sanderson’s Boiled Pork and Bean Soup
During the Civil War, one of the rations that a soldier was often given was a portion of fresh or salted pork. If it was salted, they'd be more inclined to put into a soup like this to make it easier to eat. The main ingredient in this recipe - dried beans - was very easy to store and transport and would have easily been on hand. Throw in a few fresh vegetables and put it on the fire, and soon there would be a solid meal for all who had gathered.
- 1 pound dried navy beans
- 1 pound pork shoulder or butt
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 leek, diced
- 1 garlic clove, diced
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat
Soak beans overnight in cold water. Dice the pork into small chunks and boil in water 1 hour or until tender. Save the stock. In a soup pot, combine the bacon fat and vegetables. Once the liquid is clear, add thyme and vinegar. Add the soaked navy beans and the pork stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, and then add the pork. Cook for 20 minutes until the beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Green Tomato Pie
Due to strict rationing, cooks often had to get creative. That’s probably what led to this Civil War recipe that has been handed down through the generations. As any cook knows, if you want a sweet thing but don’t always have the ingredients, sometimes you have to simply work with what is on hand. This dish is both sweet and savory. While satisfying a sweet tooth, it also provided necessary nutrition for those trying to get through the lean days of the war.
- 1 quart sliced green tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup seedless raisins
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- Grated rind of lemon
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 wineglass brandy or whiskey
- 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
Pour water over the tomatoes in a pan and let simmer for five minutes or until tender. Add raisins and cook a few minutes more. Drain and save the juice. Dump tomatoes and raisins into a 9 inch pie pan lined with an unbaked pie crust. Mix the flour, sugar, and spices and sprinkle over the tomatoes and raisins. Cut up the butter and spread out in chunks over the pie. Add the rind and lemon juice. Add the brandy or whiskey. If there is still room, add some of the juice from the tomatoes and raisins to moisten the pie. Top with a slashed pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce heat to 375 degrees for half an hour.
Traditional Sallie Lunn
Originally a recipe from England (also named after the woman who first made it), this sweet bread was popular during the Civil War thanks in large part to its simplicity. Using only seven ingredients and needing just a minimal amount of sugar, this was a simple yet nutritious treat to make for anyone trying to ration their provisions. This bread goes wonderfully with butter and could have been a complete meal for those working in the fields.
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons shortening
- ½ oz dry active yeast
- 3 cups flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Heat the milk and shortening to the scalding point and then allow to cool. Pour into a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 to 2 hours. Punch down the down and then put into a greased pan and allow to rise for another hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
The cornbread that we eat today is often far more complex than the original recipe. Many add sugar; some add cheese and vegetables to transform it into a whole new dish. The original recipe, however, was much easier for any soldier to make. As part of their daily ration was cornmeal, they had a good amount of it on hand and could easily whip up a skillet of cornbread to go along with their soup. Slight variations on this recipe are still used in many homes today.
- ½ cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- Pinch of salt
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3 tablespoons of butter, softened
Combine the cornmeal, flour, and salt in a bowl. Then add the milk, eggs, and butter and mix well. Pour into greased cast-iron skillet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Serve with soup.
It isn't difficult to imagine soldiers sitting down to fish on a river bank when meat was running low, and fish was an easy item to cook in the pots and pans they carried around. With the provisions they had on hand, they could easily make themselves a very nice meal. Sometimes they'd crush some hardtack to make a crust for the cod they were about to cook. While a simple meal, this was a welcome break from the constant pork, hardtack, and cornbread that comprised most of the soldiers diet.
what the falafel??? ingredients:
- Clean a piece of cod. Make a stuffing from bread crumbs, spices, onions, butter and some egg to moisten it and stuff the cod.
- Also rub the cod with egg and roll in bread crumbs and spices to make a nice crust.
- Set in a Dutch oven before a fire to bake and cook until golden brown.
While we thankfully do not have the restrictions or rationing that soldiers had during the Civil War, these recipes are still a part of our nation's culinary history. When making our daily meals, recreating the food so many men ate years ago on the battlefield is a creative way of honoring the fortitude and ingenuity of the cooks of the past.