8 Curious Civil War-Era Recipes We Still Eat Today

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Food in the Civil War era was some of the original farm-to-table cuisine, made from seasonal, small batch ingredients found in the immediate vicinity. When the country was catapulted into depression following the war, cooks had to get creative with what few ingredients they had on hand. Some of the recipes they developed out of necessity still exist today.

1. Cold Ham Cake

One of the more novel recipes from the Civil War era, this delightful meal sees a giant chunk of ham minced and mixed with pepper, cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Then the whole mess is mashed into a casserole dish and baked until congealed. Sound familiar? Welcome to the world, Spam.

2. Minced Salt Fish

Trust the Gorton’s fisherman—he brought his fish sticks recipe all the way from the 1800s. The Young Housekeeper’s Friend cookbook by Mary Hooker Cornelius has a recipe for minced salt fish, a browned mixture of fish, potato, and milk, served as a cake and tasting exactly the same as the modern thing. Don’t forget the mayo.

3. Pickled Eggs

 

It’s there, sitting on the corner of the bar, eyeing you in all its red, pickled glory from inside a mason jar. If you thought the notorious pickled egg was a modern drunk invention designed specifically for bar flies playing truth or dare, think again. These little beauties were a Southern favorite during the Civil War, when lean times meant turning to unique methods of food preservation. Originally, German immigrants brought the recipe to the Americas.

4. Hasty Pudding

If you’ve ever been curious what a mushy mixture of cornmeal and water tastes like, give hasty pudding a try. It originated before the Civil War, but became especially popular during the era due to the restrictions the war placed on everyday cooks. Most modern recipes call for a little salt but trust me—it won’t help.

5. Chicken Pie

Anne Howe’s 1863 classic The American Kitchen Directory and Housewife includes quite a few culinary gems, like plaw (a Civil War era veal curry), pressed pig’s head, oyster pancakes, and a dish of snow (grated coconut with cream). But perhaps the most persistent is her recipe for chicken pie. It’s the historical equivalent of the modern chicken pot pie, but with less vegetables—none—and more bacon, the only other ingredient. 

6. Scotch Hash

Many meals of the era were introduced to the American palate by recent immigrants, including this breakfast recipe. First published in the mid-1800s in Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, this is the predecessor of modern corned beef hash and eggs.

7. Cheese Biscuit

Who knew Cheez-Its would explode in popularity like they did? Home cooks during the Civil War, apparently. The cheese biscuit recipe from that era is short on ingredients (cheese, flour, butter, and salt) but packs that typical cheesy punch anyone would expect from our favorite salty cheddar squares.

8. Pickle-Lily

Similar to pickled eggs, pickle-lily found prominence in the mid-1800s as a way to preserve basically anything that needed saving over the winter. A pickling solution was prepared in a cask or jar, then vegetables were dropped in throughout the season. A number of modern equivalents of these Civil War staples can be found on grocery store shelves today, including cocktail onions, dill pickles, and pickled beets.

All images courtesy of iStock 

8 Surprising Uses for Potatoes

istock
istock

Potatoes are one of the world’s most common, and most beloved, vegetables—and they can be used for much more than just sustenance. In honor of National Potato Day, here are a few other ways to use a potato.

1. WEAR THEM

Potatoes come from a nightshade plant called Solanum tuberosum, which blooms with white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers. In the late 1700s, in an effort to inspire their starving subjects to plant the newly introduced vegetable—which the Spanish had brought to Europe from the New World—Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair, and her husband King Louis XVI wore them in his buttonholes. This inspired potato flowers to be a favorite of the French nobility for a time, but the ploy didn't work: The lower classes spurned the upper class's efforts to get them to farm the crop. 

2. MAKE ELECTRICITY

If you’re in a lurch, or perhaps a doomsday prepper, start stocking up on potatoes now. With just a few household items—wires, some copper, and a zinc-coated nail—and one of the tubers, you can power a clock, a light bulb, and many other small electronics.

3. GARDEN IN SPACE

In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown on the space shuttle. Raymond Bula of the University of Wisconsin spearheaded a project in which five Norland variety potato leaves were propagated in space. Bula’s research group monitored this project from Wisconsin, staying in constant contact with NASA, who stayed in contact with the crew on the space shuttle. When the shuttle arrived home, everyone was pleased to find that the potato plants not only survived the ordeal, but actually grew potatoes.

4. GROW ROSES

Gardeners can insert rose cuttings into a potato, and then plant the entire potato as if it were a seed or bulb. The nutrient-rich potato helps provide moisture and sustenance to the growing plant, giving the cutting a better chance to survive.

5. MAKE PLASTIC

Bio-plastics, as they’re called, can be made from corn, wheat, and—you guessed it—potatoes. The concentration of starches and cellulose in a potato can be used to make plastic, and the plastic made out of potatoes can be burned and composted with much less impact on the environment.

6. MEASURE TIME

Peru’s Incas used the potato for all sorts of things at the height of their civilization. Known for creative, forward-thinking agricultural practices, the Incas also studied time—and started using the time it takes to cook a potato to measure time.

7. REMOVE RUST

Have a knife with some rust spots? If you insert the knife into the potato and let it sit for awhile, you'll go a long way in removing the rust. Potatoes naturally contain oxalic acid, which is used in many household cleaning products (in much greater quantities, of course). Oxalic acid also dissolves rust. To attack larger rusted surfaces with a potato, cut it in half, sprinkle baking powder on it or dip it in dish soap, and get to scrubbing.

8. MAIL THEM

Thanks to Mail A Spud, for only $9.99 everyone’s dream of mailing a potato to their closest friends and family can be a reality. The site advertises that it can send potatoes anywhere in the U.S., and that your choice of mailed gift will be sure to delight recipients. And, if not delight, at least confuse ... in a good way.

Additional Sources: Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent

This article originally ran in 2016.

Which Kind of Oatmeal is Best for Your Health?

iStock
iStock

Like a lot of nutritionally robust foods, oatmeal sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring. Even the sight of plain, cooked oats—often resembling a mushy kind of paste—can have people passing it up in favor of a sugary cereal or pancake stack. But oatmeal can wind up being one of the better breakfast choices, not only in taste, but also in its health benefits, Time reports. It all comes down to what type of oatmeal you buy and how you prepare it.

To determine your best oat option, it helps to understand that oatmeal isn’t really oatmeal. When oats are harvested, they’re wrapped in a hard husk that manufacturers remove to facilitate cooking. Inside is the groat, a complete grain full of fiber. When you buy oatmeal that’s labeled “instant,” "quick-cooking," "rolled," or "old-fashioned," the groat has been steamed and rolled flat to make it easier to cook. The mostly unadulterated oatmeal labeled “steel-cut” or “Irish” is actually made up of groats that have been chopped up but are otherwise whole.

Typically, the faster you can cook the oatmeal, the more it’s been processed and the less it resembles the groat from the field. Because they resemble kernels and remain thick, steel-cut oatmeal requires the longest preparation, simmering on a stovetop for 30 minutes or so. Processed oats are flaky and can easily be heated.

Nutritionally, both rolled and steel-cut oats have the same profile. Both are fibrous and high in vitamins E, B1, and B12. Steel-cut oats have a heartier texture, while instant tends to take on a loose, light consistency. But because steel-cut oatmeal keeps more of the whole grain intact, it tends to be higher in fiber and lower on the glycemic index and provides more of a slow-burn energy as opposed to the quick burst of the sugar found in flavored instant oatmeal packets.

If you want to opt for steel-cut oats but are short on time, there are solutions. You can soak oats overnight to reduce cooking time down to 10 minutes or so on the stove, or prepare a week’s worth so you can quickly re-heat portions. Topped with yogurt, peanut butter, or fruit, it’s one of the best breakfast choices you can make. And with a little foresight, you won’t have to sacrifice your busy morning to enjoy it.

[h/t Time]

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