Friday, November 14, 2014

To Feed Hungry Mouths: Civil War Refugees

"It is not unusual for us to have nothing but sweet potatoes and corn bread for days at a time." This sentiment expressed by refugee Frances Fearn of Louisiana could be echoed across the South during the war years.  

Hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens in the South were displaced from their homes when armies tore through the land that they had once called home. As a result, many were left with little to live off of, and even less to eat. The blockade, inflation, and shortages all played their part in the Southern diet during the war. While some areas seemed "untouched" by war the women and children at home felt the effects if they had to purchase goods such as flour, sugar, and coffee. 

Refugees often left their homes not knowing when they would return, or if they would return. Many families packed their belongings and moved on not knowing what was ahead of them.
Refugee family with belongings in a cart
Refugees often depended on the locals for food supplies. Relying on what was in season around them and what was available from the local for purchase. 

 "Yesterday I drove for twenty miles with Jack in the wagon drawn by four horses, carrying with me several hundred dollars with which to buy provisions. Imagine my despair and disappointment when I returned at night with one pint bottle of milk, a dozen eggs, a small sack of corn meal, and one chicken to feed twenty hungry mouths! What really saves us from starvation is a beautiful clear stream that runs through this forest. In it are the most delicious freshwater trout, at least they seem so to us." (Frances H Fearn, "Diary of a Refugee", 1910) 

Later Fearn notes that their food supplies were "limited to smoked beef and corn bread and tea..."
Frances H Fearn

Katherine Polk Gale (daughter of Gen. Leonidas Polk) sought refuge in Asheville, NC during the war and notes the generosity of their new neighbors. After her father had sent "twenty excellent negro men & their families" from the plantation in Mississippi, the family hired them to neighboring farms with their wages to be paid in "Bacon, wheat, flour, potatoes, etc." Gale explains that this is how the family was able acquire their food supplies. 

Sara Rice Pryor published her memoirs after the war noting "With all our starvation we never ate rats, mice or mule meat. We managed to exist on peas, bread, and sorghum. We could buy a little milk, and we mixed it with a drink made from roasted and ground corn." 

Mary Boykin Chesnut

Even famed Mary Boykin Chesnut was driven from her South Carolina estate and felt the pain of shortages and want for food. She notes one night she dined only on cold asparagus and blackberries. While in her refugee state  in February 1865 she notes, "I am bodily comfortable, if somewhat dingily lodged, and I daily part with my raiment for food. We find no one who will exchange eatable for Confederate money; so we devour our clothing."
She also observed in Columbia "Men, women, and children have been left homeless, houseless, and without one particle of food- reduced to picking up corn that was left by Sherman's horses or picket grounds and parching it to stay their hunger."

While many of these instances are based on women that came from "affluent" families at the beginning of the war, it shows that women of all classes were affected by the war. It is always a good idea to research the local area where you will be portraying a refugee. 


Chesnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary from Dixie,1905. New York. 

Fearn, Frances Hewitt. Diary of a Refugee, 1910. New York. 

Gale, Katherine Polk. Recollections of Katherine Polk Gale, undated. Gale and Polk Family Papers, UNC Chapel Hill. 

Massey, Mary Elizabeth. Refugee Life in the Confederacy, 1964. Louisiana. 

Pryor, Sara Rice. My Day Reminiscences of a Long Life, 1909. New York. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A fall day- and a lot of soup!

The 10 gallon soup pot
Is there a better way to spend a crisp fall day than with friends? Yes, with friends in funny clothes! This past Saturday I had the great pleasure of hosting some of the best people I know at my site (Bentonville Battlefield) for our annual Fall Festival & Living History. This year there was an added night tour component as well, which meant I was set to cooking for the 100ish people that were coming for that.
So what goes into a pot that big? A lot of soup! I used a combination of beef stew recipes from Elisa Leslies Cooking in its Various Branches. It has become a go-to for me, and when feeding a big crowd- stay with what people like.  So into the pot went 25 pounds of beef, 20 pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of carrots, 5 pounds of onions, and bit of celery. Whew! That was a lot of cutting!
Veggies ready to be cut up
However, I was lucky to have plenty of help during the day! I am so grateful for their help!
Helping cut the never-ending veggies

The day was not all full of cutting and stewing. We did have a great picnic lunch. What a spread it was too! There was ham, bread, pickles, cake, sausages, cheese, corn fritters, biscuits, slaw, nuts, pickled cauliflower, and lemonade- I am sure that I have forgotten part of what was included- but it made for a great midday meal with friends.
Part of the picnic spread

Morning prep for the big pot of soup!

Some of the guys resting
 It was such a great day to spend with such great friends! These small events are where I really get a chance to see how much the public enjoys period demonstrations.

After hours of cooking a pig pot o' soup it was time to serve everyone! While I am still not sure how many people were served, I do know that there was almost nothing left when were done.
Serving Begins
Out of 10 loaves of bread and 10 loaves of pound cake there was only one left! It was a long day, but worth it!

Of coarse, we also have fun with the hospital props! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pound Cake

Pound cake. Pound Cake. Pound cake. A staple for family reunions, holidays, and church dinners.  I think everyone's family has a recipe handed down from grandma that is a go-to. Our family variety includes raisins and nuts and dumping your flour into your sugar box to measure it - yes that's how my great-grandmother wrote it- and that's how we make it.
This round of pound cake is a little more traditional than my great-grandma made it (shhh... don't tell my family) and it is as easy as it sounds. Let's look at some receipts.

American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 1789

The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph, 1838

Practical Cook Book, Mrs. Bliss, 1850

So while I did not use an exact recipe- I guess you can say I followed Amelia Simmons the closest. One Pound Flour, One Pound Sugar, One Pound Butter, One Pound eggs, and some Vanilla. 
Start by getting your eggs and butter at room temperature- most bakers will tell you this- it allows your ingredients to incorporate better. Also, if you can find good butter, buy good butter! The best butter you can get! I prefer Kerrygold, Irish butter- yes it is a bit pricey- but it makes all the difference. 
My favorite butter to bake with
Now, cream that butter!!! With your sugar- one pound of sugar- yes one pound- weigh it. Really cream the butter and sugar together- they will be almost white and very, very fluffy. I run mine for 6 to 7 to 8 minutes on medium- just watch it. 

Fluffy butter and sugar! 

Now, that that is combined add  one pound of eggs-lightly beaten and one pound of flour- yes one pound of each. If you do not already have one-invest in a kitchen scale for serious baking- and other things. One pound! This is a pound cake after all!
Weight=1 pound!
Now, this make take a little while. Add your eggs and flour alternately in thirds, mixing well. This is where I add my flavor as well- Amelia  Simmons suggests Rose Water, and while it is in my pantry, these cakes are for a big group of people, so I stuck with vanilla- but I sometimes I wish I had put in the Rose Water for that "true" flavor. By now you should have a pretty thick, fluffy batter-isn't it lovely?!? I  used two loaf pans for mine, but a regular pound cake pan will work just fine. 
Start with a cold oven turned to 275*, bake for 15-20 mins, turn cakes and crank oven to 350* for about 30 more minutes! This will make a lovely crust (which is my favorite part!) 

Ta-da! Lovely Cake!

I know this is not the "period way" to do it with a stand mixer, but I was pushed for time ( and had to crank out 10 of these babies!)- but you can follow all of the steps with a period tools and techniques. The recipe has been unchanged for years- but as I said earlier- every family has its various flavors, as is also evident with the historic recipes. 

Now- enjoy your cake! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Material what?

Material culturenoun
the aggregate of physical objects or artifacts used by a society.

In the realm of living history and reenacting there are different levels of enthusiasm, as is the same for most hobbies. However,
the realm of "living history" recreates a specific point in time. I have to say that to some, the material culture of a person/place/time has no impact on their impression. And in my opinion they could not be more wrong ( but I was an American Studies major). For example: Civil War Reenactors (I have the most knowledge of them-but you can sub any "military") will almost everything about the jacket they are wearing or the gun the are carrying- but when you ask them who they voted for or where they went to school- they give a blank look. 

Taking the Census, Francis William Edmonds, 1854

The problem being that every soldier was a citizen- but not every citizen was a soldier. The items they used everyday before joining the military would be very familiar to them. Think about all of the things you use on a daily basis- blankets, cups, plates, napkins, clothing, food, farm equipment, lamps, etc. The list is almost endless, and while no one can expect to know about everything about a particular time period- the resources are available to familiarize oneself with at least some of these items.
Take a look at a few of these things-
Item 1
Item 2
Item 3

Item 4 

How many of those items do you recognize? They are everyday items that most citizens in the 19th century would have at least have some working knowledge of. 
Item 1- A tin reflector oven. Used to roast meat in the kitchen, these had been around for quite a while, and most folks would at least recognize one. 
Item 2- A tea pot c. 1830. Who doesn't know how to use a tea pot?
Item 3- Ladies slippers.  I will admit these are a bit "fancy" for any impression I have done recently, but the concept is the same- how many of us today know name brand shoes and styles though we are not able to wear them ourselves?
Item 4-  A child's undergarment- commonly called a petti-chemise to combine a chemise & petticoat together. How many men know what a chemise even is in the living history world? Probably not as many that know what a slip is today. 

These are just a few examples of why all living historians should at least be familiar with some part of their own local culture. At least some national events that were in the news constantly. 

Here is another little quiz- who is pictured in this political cartoon?
Louis Maurer cartoon, 1860

The caption may have given it away- it is an 1860 political cartoon depicting the presidential race as a baseball game. Most are familiar with the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debates- but what about the other two candidates? John Bell and John Breckenridge? Who were they? And which one would you have voted for in 1860? Remember, if you are a woman, you had no choice in the matter, since women would not get the vote for a another 60 years.  Would you have supported your husbands decision? Do you think it is right for women to be involved with politics? ( I recently participated in an event where politics were an issue, and I had to admit that "my husband will make the best decision"- which made me upset just to say- even as 1864 me!) 

These are a few issues that can be addressed either on a local or national level. Like I said- take a morning and aquatint yourself with the items you use for your morning routine- do you know their period equivalents?  Would have had access to them? During the war years would you have been able to afford them? 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Heritage Festival Demonstration

This past weekend I had the pleasure of cooking for the Cape Fear Botanical Garden's Heritage Festival. It was a fabulous weekend, the first real cool weather we had in NC, which made the fire that more comforting. There were many different demonstrations and activities- butter churning, tobacco tying, candle making, the general store was open & more!
Saturday's menu was simple- Chicken noodle soup. The chicken noodle soup is a easy recipe you can find here- its a go to for an easy meal!
The morning started well, after fighting to get the fire started on a very damp morning. I did have a few volunteers from the site helping as well. We started by getting the chickens in the pot and chopping vegetables. The recipe does not call for carrots- but I like them in my soup, and they add some color! 

Everyone is amazed when I start making noodles on site during demos. It is something that everyone enjoys watching- they are SO easy! Mix, roll, cut, dry. And only 4 ingredients! 
After removing the chicken and taking it off the bone- add chicken and noodles to the pot-and I had a BIG pot! 

The soup turned out great! 

Sunday was even cooler than Saturday- which made me the popular demo for the day.I had hot apple cider ready all day! On the menu with cider- fried sweet potatoes!  

Cider & boiling sweet potatoes
Directions for Cookery and its Various Branches, Eliza Leslie, 1844

These fried sweet potatoes were a hit! It is always a good idea to cook what is in season- and right now sweet potatoes are coming out of the NC fields by the truck-load. For more on sweet potatoes- click here.  I was all by myself on Sunday- so the simple menu really helped, but also reminded me of all of the hard work that is done with cooking. 

I did manage to snap one photo of myself! 

Look for a wrap-up of my Bentonville Fall Festival in a few weeks! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweet Potatoes

The Sweet Potato. . My dear home of NC has been ranked first in sweet potato production since 1971, so it should be no surprise that I have an abundance of these near me. The sweet potato was found across the south during the war years. Many diaries of Civil War soldiers reference eating sweet potatoes and receiving them as rations.  There was even a reference to sweet potatoes in the popular song Marching Through Georgia.  

Period cook books are peppered with sweet potato recipes, giving you an idea of the variety this root vegetable has to offer. Today, we may think of the sweet potato being reserved for a sweet Thanksgiving side dish, but in the 19th century, it was used more often.

Here are a few recipes to get you to use this years crop!

The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph, 1838

Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches, Eliza Leslie, 1844

The Practical Cookbook, Ms. Bliss, 1850

Monday, August 25, 2014

For Cause & Country: Serving the Soldiers

This past weekend I had the great pleasure to participate in For Cause & Country: Serving the Soldiers held at Ft. Washington. The site was gorgeous! While this post has nothing to do with cooking, or food even, I wanted to share my great time with you!

I attended the event as the wife of the fort's Chaplain, along with us was a dear friend & her sister. The best part of the event was that we had the opportunity to occupy the fort for the entire weekend, which meant we were able to eat, sleep, & live in forts restored offices & barracks. Among the rooms being used there was a hospital, chapel, USSC Depot and offices. Outside were a kitchen & laundry. The set-up was very impressive considering the forts mostly empty rooms were turned into impressive displays of daily life in 1864.

Saturday was a bustle coming & going- breakfast, then a busy day of entertaining VIP's from Washington City with the United States Sanitary Commission. Cookies & lemonade were served during a tour of the USSC depot, then a lunch of chicken, cucumber salad, tomatoes, and bread the VIPs took a tour of the fort. The USSC turned to their needlework for the rest of day, making quilt squares and housewife's for soldiers.  Saturday's humidity turned to rain, which made the rooms of the fort even more cozy as we stitched away. There were some great memories made that afternoon!

Sunday morning opened to a beautiful sunny sky. Services were held in the fort yard before breakfast. Then we returned to the USSC to continue our never-ending work. A few VIP's decided to come and view the USSC hard at work, and joined us for some comments about Special Diet Kitchens & their affects on injured and recovering soldiers.

Like most great events, it all seemed to end too soon. It was great to meet so many new friends and spend time with those you only get to see a time or two during the year! I do hope this becomes a recurring event!

I took no photos of the actual event, just of an overly-packed car & the gorgeous view of the Potomac River from the fort walls. Below are photos I have "borrowed" from others!


USSC busy at work making quilt squares
A busy morning at the fort. 

The Col & his wife, along with VIPs & USSC delegates. 

Serving the VIPs

My new dress! I finished it right before the event.