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 

20 Attempts to Describe the Taste of Durian, the World’s Smelliest Fruit

iStock.com/Worradirek
iStock.com/Worradirek

The durian is a beloved delicacy in Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Its taste and smell, however, take some getting used to. The creamy fruit is notoriously potent—in fact, it’s so smelly that Singapore’s public transit systems tell passengers not to bring them onto subways or buses. And yet, despite its stinky reputation, it can be found practically everywhere: In curries, cakes, and even ice cream. For visitors, biting into the fruit can be an utterly confusing and contradictory experience. Here are some outsider opinions from the past 400 years.

1. “The flesh is as white as snow, exceeds in delicacy of taste of all our best European fruits, and none of ours can approach it.” —Jacques de Bourges, 17th Century Missionary

2. “Comparisons have been made with the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese; while one disaffected visitor to Indonesia declared that the eating of the flesh was not much different from having to consume used surgical swabs.” —The Oxford Companion to Food

3. “Tastes lightly sweet and deeply musky.” —Frommer’s Guide to Malaysia

4. “[I]ts odor is best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.” —Richard Sterling, food writer

5. "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” —Bayard Taylor, 19th-century Journalist

6. “To anyone who doesn’t like durian it smells like a bunch of dead cats. But as you get to appreciate durian, the smell is not offensive at all. It’s attractive. It makes you drool like a mastiff.” —Bob Halliday, Bangkok-based food writer

7. “Vomit-flavoured custard.” —The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

8. “The smell of rotten eggs is so overwhelming. I suppress a gag reaction as I take a bite.” —Robb Walsh, food writer

9. “Like all the good things in Nature … durian is indescribable. It is meat and drink and an unrivalled delicacy besides, and you may gorge to repletion and never have cause for penitence. It is the one case where Nature has tried her hand at the culinary art and beaten all the CORDON BLEUE out of heaven and earth.” —a "good friend" of Edmund J. Banfield, Australian Naturalist, as quoted in Banfield's 1911 book My Tropic Isle

10. “[Has a] sewer-gas overtone.” —Maxine E. McBrinn, Anthropologist

11. “Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain, Chef and Host of Parts Unknown

12. “On first tasting it, I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction, but after four or five trials I found the aroma exquisite.” —Henri Mouhot, French Naturalist, in Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China: Siam, Cambodia, and Laos, During the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860

13. “[Like] eating ice cream in an outhouse.” —As reported in Jerry Hopkins's Strange Foods

14. “I must say that I have never tasted anything more delicious. But not everyone can enjoy or appreciate this strange fruit for the disgusting smell that distinguishes it and that is apt to cause nausea to a weak stomach. Imagine to have under your nose a heap of rotten onion and you will still have but a faint idea of the insupportable odour which emanates from these trees and when its fruit is opened the offensive smell becomes even stronger.” —Giovanni Battista Cerruti, Italian Explorer, in 1908's My Friends the Savages

15. “It tastes like completely rotten mushy onions.” —Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods

16. “Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” —Anthony Burgess, Novelist

17. “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes." —Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th-century British Naturalist

18. “You will either be overcome, seduced by its powerful, declarative presence, or reject it outright. And run screaming." —Monica Tan, The Guardian Journalist

19. “Carrion in custard.” —A “Governor of the Straits” quoted in 1903's Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive

20. “Yes, I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. Yes, the fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you’ll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. That’s my attempt at describing durian. But words fail; there is no other fruit like it.” —Thomas Fuller, New York Times Journalist

What Is Nougat?

iStock.com/InaTs
iStock.com/InaTs

If you've ever had a Snickers, Three Musketeers, or Milky Way bar, you know what nougat tastes like. The sweet, creamy concoction can range in texture from chewy to fluffy, and it is the star ingredient in many popular candy bars. But aside from being delicious, what is nougat exactly?

In its simplest form, nougat is made of two basic ingredients: egg whites and a sweetener, traditionally sugar or honey. The signature texture comes from how it's prepared. Like a meringue, eggs and sugar are whipped together quickly until the mixture is aerated and stiff.

Nougat predates mass-produced candy bars, with the confection originating in the Middle East around the 8th century. It spread to southern Europe and gained widespread popularity in 17th-century France. Nougat is still a common component in many Middle Eastern desserts today, and torrone, a type of nougat containing nuts like almonds and pistachios, is enjoyed in Italy around Christmastime.

As more large candy companies have embraced nougat, its quality has suffered over the years, with corn syrup often standing in for the sweetener. But you don't need to head to the candy aisle of your local supermarket to get your nougat fix. If you have eggs and honey in your kitchen, you can make nougat at home today.

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