Rations, The Reenactor’s Dilemma
Time and again I have seen reenactors with otherwise great impressions ruin it by pulling Slim Jims and Pop Tarts out of their haversacks during a break. The problem seems to be two fold, one, many reenactors know what was issued to the troops, but have no clue as to how to turn that knowledge into a palatable meal, second, it’s far easier to pop these modern anachronisms in your haversack than to do it right. This brief article will deal with the first - how to turn a mess of raw materials into something that won’t kill you far faster than the enemy’s guns. Since we are primarily a Confederate unit I will deal with Confederate messes first.
First, lets begin with your meat, the infamous salt pork or salt beef. [See article on this site: 4. Salting meat]
So now you have your salted meat which should be wrapped in a waxed brown paper. Now what? Other issue and non-issue items that could be found in the Confederate’s haversack would be: cornmeal or cornbread already made, flour if it could be had, rice, peanuts, pecans if in season, potatoes (small red ones - Irish potatoes), sweet potatoes, i.e. yams, corn on the cob, beans ( black-eyed or green string beans if in spring), onions (scallops, white or yellow), peas (fresh if in spring or summer, dried if in winter), molasses or brown unrefined sugar, oats or barley, cabbage if in season for you Irish reenactors, coffee if he was very lucky, and carrots in season. Fruits were rare and limited to what could be foraged from the area. Therefore if you have to have fruit research and find out what was in that area for that time period you are portraying, i.e. peaches for the Atlanta campaign, cherries when we did Gettysburg etc. Canned fruit would have been of Yankee manufacture and rare. Canned evaporated milk was also a prized commodity from the Yankees. The same for canned vegetables. Besides, from painful experience, I have found that canned goods weigh far more than the fresh variety because they are mostly water.
Before I give you meal ideas, there is one more thing; what to cook your meals in? Overwhelming evidence points to three items: a tin pail with no lid made from a preserve can with a wire bail hanger attached, canteen halves, and your tin plate. Skillets were usually shared by 4or 5 members of a mess. Meat was often broiled directly over the fire on sharpened sticks. If no sticks are available your ramrod will do fine. That said, let’s get on to some cooking !
Coffee (of course!)
Oats, barley, or even rice boiled to make a porridge, flavor with molasses when done
Cornbread with molasses is quick and easy
Eggs will keep around 12hrs with no refrigeration (remember where they come from? A hen is not refrigerated!) Wrap in hay or straw and be careful with your haversack- please, no plastic cartons.
Slab bacon that you have salted
Quick and Easy: when there’s little or no time, or no fire, or your just plain lazy!
Coffee (see a trend here? Coffee was a mainstay for the Civil War soldier)
Cornbread or corn dodgers
Salted meat broiled (remember to rinse out the salt!) or cold
Hard boiled eggs- will keep one day or make up at breakfast that day
Supplement with peanuts, pecans, apples, a can of peaches? These are the true haversack "stuffers".
More Time Consuming: you’ll definitely need a fire for these
Cornbread or dodgers
supplement with : roasted ears of corn, peanuts, pecans and other treats. Potatoes can also be roasted by putting in a bed of coals, sweet potatoes are particularly good for this!
Fancy ideas; For those of us that are really creative
Stewed apples- core an apple, fill the core with brown sugar, and place in your tin cup or wire bailed cup. Fill cup about 1/4 full with water and put over the fire. When all the water is boiled out its done.
A final word. You will probably have noted that some of the items listed above, like the eggs, will only last a short time. But these ideas will work for the Friday night, Saturday, and half of Sunday events we are all familiar with. For longer events such as National events where we are in the field Thurs.- Sunday the above menus will still work minus the eggs. Naturally these are just my menu ideas that I’ve found work well in the field and I welcome any more recipes. Try eating this way and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of another aspect of the common soldier’s lives, which is why we do this hobby. You will probably note that the main component in all these meals is salted meat, as it should be. If the idea of eating salted meat for a 48 hr. event ( Friday night, all day Saturday and half of Sunday) is too much for you just think for a moment what the men we say we are portraying ate day after day for four long years. I think you’ll agree we can do it for one weekend. And remember, items such as coffee, sugar, and even vegetables were often scarce, the meat issue was often not fit for consumption, so we are still living "high on the hog". See you in the field.
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