Monday, October 15, 2012

"With God as My Witness..."

I’ve been anticipating this week’s theme for a while now- Civil War foods! Whether you find it surprising or not, the majority of Civil War-themed cookbooks in the Watkinson are from the Confederacy. My theory on this is that, because the southern lifestyle was more deeply affected and altered by the events of the Civil War, more literature had to be released on the ways to deal with this fact. And let me tell you, there will be no fancy biscuits this week. In fact, there will be nothing tasty as far as I can tell. It was a time of want for many, and the cookbooks reflect that.

The first of the two books, Directions for Cooking by Troops, in Camp and Hospital: With Essays on “Taking Food” and “What Food,is from 1861 and is allegedly by Florence Nightingale. The second book for this week is the Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the times. The book has no author but was compiled by the publishers in 1863. Both books were published in Richmond, VA. When I picked up the books, I expected lengthy introductions, telling readers to keep up the faith and to use the advice in these books to do their part to further the Confederate cause. To my surprise, neither had such an introduction. They were exceptionally practical, diving right into advice.

Cooking by Troops is contained within a larger collection of five separate pieces of Confederate literature, bound together. The other pieces bound with the cookbook included Regulations for the Subsistence Department of the Confederate States of America and “General Order No. 5 of Col. E Van Don.” As the title of the cookbook implies, it is intended for use in the field. The recipes given for field cooking are mostly soups and meats intended “for one hundred men.” This is not the scale of cooking I was planning on doing. The second section of the book is on cooking in hospitals. There are directions here for things like “plain boiled rice,” “rice water,” and the classic “toast and water” (it’s not what you think it is- see recipe on side). In this section, I was intrigued by a food I had never heard of, “sago jelly.” A quick search informed me sago is a type of starch found in palm leaves, and that it is what makes the bubbles in bubble tea. I think that, if I can find sago, this is what I will try to make from this cookbook.
 One Hundred Receipts is intended for families on the home front, and includes not just recipes for food, but also for soap, candles, beer, and medical remedies. All have been adjusted to accommodate for a time of want. A personal favorite was for coffee made from acorns. I could try it, but I think that’s a little beyond how far into historical authenticity I’m willing to delve. Instead, I’m planning on trying a mock apple pie made in a potato crust, which cuts down on the amount of flour and butter a family would have to use. I found this book fascinating. I guess I didn’t realize quite how meager things got in the Civil War until I saw the recipes that the literate, book-buying population was resorting to. As I looked through the makeshift recipes, an image of Scarlet O’Hara formed in my mind, rising from the dirt, proclaiming, “With God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

No comments:

Post a Comment