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.
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.
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