Civil War Cookin’: No Coffee…No Problem?

Who’s getting up early this Friday morning? Hitting the sales for Black Friday or heading to work? Many of us will grab a cup of coffee at some point this morning or during the day for an extra boost of caffeine. Civil War soldiers and civilians loved their coffee too, but in the South, the prized coffee beans ran short long before the conflict’s end. However, the Confederates in the camps and at home got resourceful and creative with their coffee substitutes.

So, if you can’t find the nearest coffee shop or the lines are just too long, here are a few unique solutions… (That we don’t actually recommend trying for health reasons.)

For example, the Confederate Receipt Book published in 1863 offered this idea:

SUBSTITUTE FOR COFFEE. 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.

Other coffee substitutes included charring sweet potatoes or corn and brew the remains into some sort of dark liquid. In his journal, LeRoy W. Gresham wrote about chicory coffee that a friend sent to him and also recorded a special time when a blockade runner bought a load of coffee into Georgia.

The substitute recipes are numerous from the Civil War South. If you’ve heard of other unique ones we’d love to hear about them in the comments to add to the conversation!

Two other plausible solutions for hot drinks in the South were teas or captured Union coffee. The first option could be prepared from herbs and maybe even flavored with berries or other dried fruits since the real black or green teas were also in short supply. The second idea was especially popular among the cavalry and officers who might even share with civilians they wanted to impress.

As you savor that cup of coffee this morning, be glad it’s not roasted acorns or blackened sweet potatoes. While the resourcefulness of the beleaguered South during the Civil War may be admirable and unique, I think soldiers and civilians alike rejoiced when the good old coffee beans were available from raids or after the war.

This morning we invite you to raise a mug to the memory of substitute coffees from the 1860’s, though we wouldn’t recommend adding those flavors in a sampler basket to a holiday giving list!

Sources:

Confederate Receipt Book. A Compliation of Over One Hundred Receipts Adapted To The Times. (1863) Richmond, VA: West & Johnson. Reprinted by Applewood Books, Bedford, MA. Page 19

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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4 Responses to Civil War Cookin’: No Coffee…No Problem?

  1. Meg Groeling says:

    My grandparents used to drink something called Postum, and apparently it is part of that health kick near the end of the 1900s. It doesn’t give you “coffee nerves.” Personally, I will take coffee but these faux attempts are pretty interesting. https://postum.com/our-roots/

  2. Gypsy Bev says:

    Very interesting coffee substitutes. My dad could never start the day without his cup of Maxwell House coffee. Now I’m wondering if Mom ever made some substitutes.

  3. Andrew says:

    Dandelion roots were gathered and roasted for morning brew in East Tennessee and surely elsewhere. I’ve tried it, and it’s pretty tasty.

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