Food is a component of our everyday lives and is something that is thought about often, but when it comes to the American Civil War, the conflict of slavery between the north and the south overshadows the importance of food as a determining factor of the war. Southern cookbooks during Civil War era are a portal into that time period. By examining these books, insight is gained into the changes in the daily lives of southern women and slaves, struggles on the homefront, and crucial differences between the Union and Confederate armies.
From my research, I have learned that there was only one cookbook published in the south during the Civil War, 1863 Confederate Receipt Book. In this cookbook, many of the recipes revolve around preserving food or substituting ingredients that were no longer available in the south. Preservation techniques during this era have shaped what we know today as southern dishes and southern flavors. One key finding was that before the Civil War, the south imported much of their food. Even though the south had the land and climate capable of growing food, the south focused much of its resources to the growing of cotton instead of the production of food. Once the blockade is organized around the southern coastline, the south could no longer receive items like pork, beef, sugar, or more importantly salt. Salt from Europe was a major ingredient when it came to southern cooking as a way to preserve food. With the heat and little local food available during the war, it was crucial to preserve food to survive. Some methods to find salt after the blockade were to boil ocean water or substitute salt with another preservative like molasses. Substitutes for different food products was a staple in southern cookbooks. For instance, the 1863 Confederate Receipt Book gives a recipe for how to make an apple pie without apples. When it came to feeding slaves, bacon, primary meat source, was substituted with molasses and cornbread. Another key finding, is how much southerners wrote about food in their diaries. In today’s standards, I might write in my diary once about a great meal or restaurant I ate at, but no where near as detailed or to the extent that southern women or confederate men wrote about their meals. Diary entries detail exactly where they received their food from, the quantity of the food item and its weight, the names of who helped them gather the food, and even the quality of the meats they were eating. Writing about these aspects may have been a normal thing for the time period, but I find it significant in showing how there must not have been large amounts of food, since where to find food and how to make different meal combinations with few options was always on their minds.This also demonstrates the preoccupation with food or the lack of it had on the mental state of the south. A third key finding is that cooking was considered a low class task delegated to slaves and resulted in some southerners having to learn how to cook during the war. When slaves left for the north, wealthy white women had to cook for their families for the first time. Likewise, confederate soldiers had to cook for themselves, making due with limited rations. Food was crucial in the south’s defeat. Confederate soldiers write in their diaries of taking food from civilians to survive, likewise, Union troops, like on Sherman’s march to the sea, also confiscated southern livestock and other means to survival as they passed through, leaving behind starving women who wrote to their husbands begging them to come home. The lack of food resulted in confederate soldiers deserting and returning home to help farm and support their families.
- Yentsch, Anne (2008) “Excavating the South’s African American Food History,” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter: Vol. 12 : Iss. 2 , Article 2.
Secondary source. This source writes on what food was typically eaten by a slave before the Civil War, during the war, and after. It provides information on the struggles African Americans faced during this time period.
- Martyris, Nina. “Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal.” NPR. NPR, 02 June 2015. Web. 14 June 2017.
Secondary source. This source explains how cookbooks are not made to keep recipes, but also record parts of history. Reading cookbooks can reveal much more about a time period.
- Donahue, Molly. “Salting, Squirrels, and Mock Apple Pie: Three Civil War Cooking Trends to Try at Home.” New Hampshire Public Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.
Secondary source. This source reveals how the northern blockade along southern shore lines impacted what southerners ate, for example, apple pies minus the apples. This source also details the importance of salt in southern cooking and the results from not having it.
- Helen Zoe Veit, “Seeing the Civil War South through Its Recipes,” p. 19-32
Secondary source. This source gives a good overview of the struggles women at home faced, why cotton was so important and why the south did not grow other crops, and different food items eaten during the civil war in the south.
- “Selections from Confederate Periodicals,” p. 65-92, from Food in the Civil War Era: The South (1861-1865)
Primary source. This is a useful source to read a wide variety of recipes from south. It shows the different substitutes used in southern cooking at the time and what were considered to be recipes for slaves.
- West and Johnston. “Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times.” Richmond, 1863. G. W. GARY, Printer, 21 Pearl Street., n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.
Primary source. This source is the only cookbook published in the south during the civil war. It provides political messages with the names of recipes and information about what food was available to the south to cook with.
- Morgan, Julia Demoville, fl. 1861-1865, Memoir of Julia Demoville Morgan, in How It Was: Four Years Among the Rebels. Nashville, TN: Privately published, 1892, pp. 204
Primary source. This source explains how finding food was a serious question. The author details the struggles of finding food to feed her family and notes where and from whom she received food from.
- Valazquez, Loreta Janeta, 1842-, Memoir of Loreta Janeta Valazquez, in The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Valazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieut. Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. Worthington, C.J., ed.. Hartford CT: T. Belknap, 1876, pp. 606.
Primary source. This source provides insight into what life was like for a woman in the south after the blockade. This source writes of how imports were no longer available for poor southerners, only the most wealthy.
- Tunnard, W.H., fl. 1863, Memoir of W.H.Tunnard, in A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg: From the Diary of Osborn H. Oldroyd. H.W. Fokker, 1885, pp. 200.
Primary source. This source was written by a Confederate soldier and gives information of what the Confederate army was eating and how hunger impacts what food was eaten during the war.