Civil War era food to be served at program 2011.06.15

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Hardtack, the staple of the Civil War battlefield, was both the most common and the most hated source of nutrient for the armies of the north and the south.

Every soldier carried a ration in his rucksack, but the cracker-like food was described as “indestructible, imperishable, practically inedible, too hard to chew, too small for shoeing mules and too big to use as bullets.”

Hardtack was made by mixing flour and water—plus a little baking soda and salt if available—rolling the dough flat and baking it.

You learned about the infamous substance in American history class; now give your taste lesson a try Friday at the Fayette Opera House.

Following a free Civil War remembrance program that starts at 6:30 p.m., the Opera House staff will present a variety of Civil War era foods—all promising to be tastier than hardtack.

Grace Sly is in charge of refreshments, and in addition to hardtack, she’ll bake Lincoln’s Cake—a vanilla almond dessert favored by Mary Todd Lincoln. Grace will grind blanched almonds in her effort to turn out a cake that would please Old Abe.

Ruth Marlatt was assigned to make gingerbread—sometimes known as molasses cake—a dessert that often served as a comfort food for wounded soldiers.

Grace is leaving Idiot’s Cake for Fayette Arts Council director Tom Spiess to make. The dessert is also known as Idiot’s Delight because, as Grace said, it’s said to be so simple that even an idiot could make it.

When finished, the dish features several biscuit-like cakes in a thick cinnamon raisin sauce.

Grace has no plans to bring along another standard staple of the battlefield—generally unsavory salt pork—nor will she try out a few other recipes she’s come across, including sheep’s head soup, lettuce soup, fried eels and coffee syrup.

She is still thinking about a beverage. She considered lemonade, but then decided that lemons were something troops couldn’t get their hands on. It’s too early for staghorn sumac—the cheap alternative that grows throughout the countryside.

She might go with tea and coffee.

“They made tea and coffee out of a lot of horrible things,” she said.

Coffee was a luxury enjoyed by Union soldiers more often than those of the Confederacy. Coffee beans given to the troops were often still green and had to be roasted and crushed with the butts of rifles. Confederate soldiers often lacked even coffee beans and ended up using the roots of chicory or brewing peas, burnt corn, peanuts and acorns.

Food was often tough to come by and troops had to scrounge for whatever they could find—and sometimes what they could steal.

One of the biggest luxuries for soldiers in the field was fresh fruit.

Maybe Grace would do well by bringing in a few apples and some fresh strawberries.

• The Opera House program Friday features Civil War scholar Dr. Don Buerk who will speak about one of the first engagements of the war when troops from Northwest Ohio defeated Confederate troops near Philippi, W. Va.

A collection of Civl War artifacts will be on display and readings of some local Civil War letters is planned. The program begins at 6 p.m.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016