Cooking in a Civil War kitchen

Wood Cook Stove -  Photo courtesy of plattmunk at

Wood Cook Stove – Photo courtesy of plattmunk at

Since we’re all in the kitchen a little more this time of year I thought it’d be fun to see what our g-g-grandmother’s were whipping up in their Civil War kitchen. I found recipes from the Civil War era are surprisingly similar to those we use today yet there are still some big differences, especially in the ingredients used and oven temps.

First off recipes were called receipts in the mid-1860s and very rarely written down. Measurements we use in recipes today were almost unheard of then. Cooks used a “pinch of this” or a “pinch of that”. Our g-g-grandmother’s knew how much flour and shortening to use by the “feel” of the mixture. Another way of measuring was to “add butter the size of a walnut”, or the “size of an egg”.

I found most baking receipts listed oven temperatures at low or moderate oven not the 350˚oven temperature we use today. Of course that goes back to how hot your fire was and I’m not going to go into that at all! Today’s translation of these recipes generally equates a moderate oven to 350˚.

A lot of receipts of the mid-19th century have made the transition to today’s measurements without a loss of taste but may not always be agreeable to our 21st century palate! So try a receipt and see what you think! The recipes I’m sharing here have been modified for use today. I don’t guarantee the outcome of the recipes, but it is kind of cool to see just what our ancestors put on the dinner table!

Butter the size of a small egg
2 tablespoons flour
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Melt butter in saucepan and add flour and brown it in the butter. Gradually add water. Bring to a boil and cook for 1/2 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the beaten eggs and serve hot with croutons.

2 cups diced cold boiled potatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped corned beef
1 small onion, minced
3/8 cup cream
3 tablespoons butter
Salt, pepper and paprika
6 eggs
Combine potatoes, corned beef and onions. Add 1/4 cup cream and 1 tablespoon melted butter. Season and mix well. Place mixture in a buttered oblong baking dish. With the bottom of a custard cup, make 6 indentations in the hash and dot each with bits of butter, using 1 tablespoon in all.
Bake in a very hot oven (450˚) 15 minutes. Remove from oven and into each indentation break one egg. Season and cover with 1 teaspoon of cream to each egg and dot with remaining butter. Bake in moderate oven (350˚) until eggs are set, 15 to 20 minutes.
For baking the oven should be preheated. That was the way it was with the old cook stove. There were several ways to determine the best heat of the oven. One was to see how long you hold your hand in it. A better way was to see how long it took to brown flour.

Cut the cabbage very fine, sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir well and let stand for 5 minutes. Drop 1 tablespoon lard onto a hot iron kettle; then the cabbage, stirring briskly until the cabbage is quite tender. Add 1/2 cup cream and remove kettle from the fire. Then stir in 3 tablespoons cider vinegar.

One pound (2 cups) of sugar
1 pound (4 cups) of flour
1/2 pound (1 cup) of butter
6 eggs (the whites and yolks beaten separately)
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Sift soda and cream of tartar into flour. Rub the butter and sugar to a cream. Add one-quarter of the whites and yolks, next the flour, then the milk. Beat in the remaining yolks and mix in the remaining whites in that order. Have a not too easy oven ready (325˚) and bake 1 1/4 hours. Test for doneness.

Pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water over 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan. Stir until sugar is melted. Pour syrup slowly over 1 well-beaten egg white. Beat mixture thoroughly. Double this recipe for a good cake icing or to frost raisin bread.


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