Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Food for thought

I'm a foodie plain and simple.  I love food in any way shape or form.  I've tried everything from chicken butts to sweetbreads and I'm a sucker for a good slab of bbq brisket and a nice hunk of corn bread ( my Texas roots are showing).  Recently I began reading A Taste For War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray by William C Davis.  It's a culinary history of the civil war.

 I also have to admit I'm closet food historian.  I LOVE looking at old recipes from the 1800's and even early - mid 20th century.  I have copies of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Houskeeping - first published in 1867 and the Webfoot Cookbook originally published in 1887 in Portland, Oregon!  I have medieval cookbooks used by members of the Society for Creative Anachronisim and I've actually made a recipe or two from those.  One for a brie cake and one that used chicken and almond milk and had you use bread as a thickener.  Works well.

But as I was reading A Taste For War I realized that the civil war was a real milestone in culinary history as well as the history of our nation.

Think of this.  The soliders that went off to fight - on both sides - came from a society where it was demeaning for a man to cook (unless he was a chef at a high end restaruant).  And since everyone thought the war would before before it really began no one thought about well feeding the millions that went to war.  And by feeding I mean the soliders having to cook their own rations.  Poor men on boths sides of the Mason Dixon line learned to cook - the hard way.  And with rations that were.. shall we say...less then desirable.   Even the act of grinding and making coffee was foriegn to them.  A consultant for the Union Arm went so far as to suggest that there be dedicated cooks for the regiments with the rank of Sgt. Major and a pay of $50 a month!  That didn't happen, but it goes to show that the feeding of the troops was a big concern.    Cookbooks were rushed out to the Union soldiers so that they could stop poisoning with their soups and stews.  The South didn't have that luxury but they bungled through as best they could.  I haven't finished reading it but that first part struck me as interesting

What also happened at the end of the war was a melding of the two regions foods.  Union soldiers that had had fried chicken for the first time down south took the hankering for it back home.  This isn't surprising since our food palate has changed due to wars time and time again.  Doughboys coming back from WW I liked those fried potatos they'd eaten in France and called them French Fries.  Going farther back during the cursades the west learned about such exotic spices as pepper and cinnamon from the crusaders that returned from the Middle east.

But still as I ponder dinner tonight I can't help but think of those poor young men sitting around a cook fire, looking at a pot of some disgusting mess that was suppose to be a stew and knowing they were probably going to have to eat it or go hungry.


  1. Here's a site for the web foot cookbook if you want to take a gander

  2. What a fabulous item to know for your book. Your poor protagonist. What will happen? What will happen?

  3. Could be a short book. Ate stew made by a mess mate and died