The Civil War and Food

A Taste for War by William C. Davis

When one thinks about the U.S. Civil War, or the War Between the States, one does not come up with images of food and recipes.  Rather, it is the exact opposite: we think about hunger and even starvation.  But the truth is, some of the most creative recipes are invented at times when the basic food elements are scarce.

In my quest for food and recipes from this era, I came up with a delightful collection that the library owns:

1. A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray, by William C. Davis

2. The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book, by Anne Carter Zimmer

3. Two Centuries of Virginia Cooking, by Gibson J. McConnaughey

4. Food and Recipes of the Civil War, by George Erdosh

A couple of cookbooks that I feel are worth mentioning, though they are not directly related to the Civil War:

1. The Virginia Housewife or, Methodical Cook, by Mrs. Mary Randolph

2. Specialties of the House: A Culinary Collection from the Friends and Regents of the Kenmore Museum

Some good sources on the Internet:

1. Civil War Interactive Cookbook

2. The Civil War Zone Dessert Recipes

3. A Taste of Civil War Food

If these titles do not seem fascinating enough, then here are a few recipes from A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and Gray:


The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping BookInto 3 quarts of water, add 1 cup of rice or barley and bring to a boil for a few minutes; then simply add whatever chopped vegetables are at hand--onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, parsley--in quantities sufficient to make a very thick soup. Salt and pepper, and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Simmer until thickened and all the vegetables are well cooked, about 1 hour.


Mix a batter of 1/2 cup of white cornmeal, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and a 1/2 cup water.  The batter should be rather thin, and more water can be added if necessary. Grease a skillet with pork fat or bacon fat and heat over a high flame; then pour in the batter. Immediately reduce to a low flame and cook for about 10 minutes; then turn and cook the other side for an additional 10 minutes.

So, pick up these titles and start experimenting the old-fashioned way.  Use what you have on hand and see what you can create.  Dinner will never be boring again.