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Friday, July 24, 2009

Like The Sound Of This?

An army finds it difficult to fight if the soldiers don’t have anything to eat. Therefore, feeding the army has to be one of the most important tasks that falls to any government, both those of a long time ago and in the present too.

One of the major problems that the Confederacy had to face was lack of a commissary department. Prior to the war most commissaries were located in the North, so when the war broke out, the South was already behind when it came to food distribution. It took them awhile to set up a viable system of food delivery.

The Union army gave out rations every three days while the Confederates relied more on what they brought from home, pilfered, or plundered. No matter which army you served in it was expected that you forage off the land.

If you were a Union soldier your rations would typically consist of the following: salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and vegetables. And if it was in season, they might have fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes.

If you were in the Confederate army you’d get bacon, corn meal, tea, sugar, molasses and the very occasional fresh vegetable. One thing that the Confederates couldn’t get was coffee. Confederate Recipe Book which was published in 1863 gave the following recipe for making coffee using substitutes.

Take sound ripe acorns, wash them while in the shell, dry them, and parch until they open, take the shell off, roast with a little bacon fat, and you will have a splendid cup of coffee.

The Daily Chronicle and Sentinel of Augusta, Georgia published the following in August of 1863. To the Editor of the Chronicle & Sentinel:
Having heard you were great coffee drinkers, and always relished a good cup, and knowing that you desired to run Lincoln's blockade into nonentity, to obtain a good cup, (such as you have no doubt often tasted at the French Market, New Orleans,) I enclose to you the receipt--the very latest--for making the very best domestic coffee. This coffee, when made by the receipt, is of excellent flavor, and very nutritious. It is of sufficient strength, and not excitable in its action. It is mild, healthy, persuasive, and sufficiently exhilarating for any epicure. When you smell it, you will say "I believe it's Java;" when you taste it, you will say, "I think it is Java;" when you drink it, you exclaim (foreignly,), "I'll pe tamn [sic??] if it isn't Java coffee!" It is true, it has not that foreign accent; but by adding a little rich milk or cream, it speaks almost the foreign tongue. Try it, as an antidote for the blockade.


Take the common garden beet, wash it clean, cut it up into small pieces, twice the size of a grain of coffee; put into the coffee toaster or oven, and roast as you do your coffee--perfectly brown. Take care not to burn while toasting it. When sufficiently dry and hard, grind it in a clean mill, and take half a common sized coffee cup of the grounds, and boil with one gallon water. Then settle with an egg, and send to the table, hot. Sweeten with very little sugar, and add good cream or milk. This coffee can be drank by children, with impunity, and will not (in my judgment,) either impair sight or nerves. Col. Wm. W. D. Weaver and myself have tried it, and find it almost equal, when properly made, to either the Java, Brazilian or Mocha coffee. I am indebted to the Colonel for this excellent substitute; and as every man has his beet orchard, so has he his coffee. R. J. Dawson. P.S. There is a percentage of water in the beet which is extracted as you toast the coffee particles to a nice brown.

Another big difference between the North and South was the bread they provided to their troops. In the North, hard crackers were baked in factories and shipped to the troops. They were supposed to be good when they were fresh, but by the time they reached the troops they were often infested with insects. One soldier said, "All the fresh meat we had came in the hard bread!" The soldiers called them tooth dullers or sheet iron crackers because they were so hard they had to be hit with a rifle butt or fist to break them up. Often they were soaked in coffee, crumbled into soup, or fried in bacon grease. Recipes varied, but here is one basic recipe.

The basic ingredients are: flour, salt and water (although quantity differs). General directions are also similar: Disolve salt in water and work into flour with your hands. Dough should be firm and pliable, but not sticky or too dry. Flatten onto a cookie sheet to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches by 3 inches. Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Bake in oven until edges are brown or dough is hard.

• Preheat oven to 400° F
• For each cup of flour add 1 tsp. of salt
• Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind.
• Bake 20-25 minutes.
• The longer you bake the hardtack, the more authentic it will appear.

The troops in the South sometimes ate hardtack too, but they also had journeycake which most people said tasted a lot better. Here’s a recipe for it.

• 2 cups of cornmeal
• 2/3 cup of milk
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (lard)
• 2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form eight biscuit-sized "dodgers".
• Bake on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty five minutes or until brown.
• Or spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame.

Troops carried their food in a special sack called a haversack. It was made of canvas with an inner cloth bag that could be washed to get debris cleaned out once in awhile, but it didn’t happen very often. Cleanliness wasn’t real important in the Civil War. They didn’t have kitchens where the troops were fed either. Soldiers cooked their own food. That’s how the "messes" word came about. Soldiers would band together and make meals together. These were called "messes."

Do you recognize any of the foods in the following list? You should. You can find them on any grocer’s shelf. Would it surprise you to learn that these canned products were often sent to Civil War soldiers? Since they were canned they were easier to keep fresh and to store.

• Underwood Deviled Ham
• Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
• Borden's Condensed Milk
• Van Camp's Pork and Beans
• McIlhenny Company's Tabasco Sauce

The picture on the left is hardtack. The one on the right is journeycake. I’ve listed the web sites I used to collect information so you can go and read in more detail if you’d like.