Civil War Cooking: From History Books to A Modern Kitchen

It’s been a crazy year. I think we can all agree there. By early autumn, I started wondering how to revive the Civil War Cooking series for the week of Thanksgiving. (I missed last year due to moving.) In need of a creative project and needing to spice up my typical pandemic season, eat-at-home-all-the-time options, I felt inspired to compile lists of historical menus and recreate them.

But it had to be more than hardtack, saltpork/bacon, or coffee! Fortunately, time was on my side, and by the end of October, I had stockpiled five historical meal lists and one special dessert to recreate. Camping and open fire cooking or creating in a historic kitchen just wasn’t going to work this year, so I headed into the modern kitchen armed with some historic menus from letters and diaries, a few helpful hints, and some years of cooking experience to see if the taste of the past could be recreated under these circumstances…

I’ve been both amazed by what some of these guys recorded for their meals and frustrated by the lack of details as I dug deeper. Lobster salad? How was that made? Was there something special about chocolate from Baton Rogue? What on earth is chow-chow? I’m not a food historian and I’m certainly not going to say these meals are 100% accurate, but it’s been fun to poke around in old recipe books to get ideas and figure out something that might be similar.

It’s also worth noting that several of these meals are from officers’ tables which would be a different menu and dining experience than the common soldier. To try to balance my cooking experiments, there will be a common soldier’s campaign diet, the plunder of war “picnic,” a hospital holiday meal, and a civilian dessert that was sent to a military camp. Let’s get cooking…

Oh, and spoiler alert, I am definitely NOT recreating the rat dinner that Sam Watkins cooked and could not eat. I’m still drawing non-negotiable lines on my historical experiences. And if you’re not familiar with that account, it’s in Chapter 8 in Company Aytch,

5 Responses to Civil War Cooking: From History Books to A Modern Kitchen

  1. Although I have never made it, I have a recipe for chow-chow in a wonderful Amish cookbook, “Cooking and Memories,” by Phyllis Pelham Good. The recipe is for vast quantities() meant to be canned), of raw cauliflower, carrots, red and green peppers, onions, celery, baby lima beans, and sour pickles. They are combined with a syrup concocted with juice from cooked celery among other things. Fun post!

  2. Any Son of the South knows you have to have chow-chow with your blackeyed peas! Hard to get real homemade anymore but still available retail.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!