In Pvt. Erasmus Anderson’s last letter home, he mentioned blackberries. In fact he even made a little joke.
Having a chat with friends over some wine and snacks, I wondered aloud what housewives during the Civil War would do with blackberries–besides just eat them out of hand.
I know that the few times I was fortunate enough to go blackberry picking, it was hard to pick them faster than we ate them as they dropped into the bucket, all warm and juicy and sweet from the sun.
And of course we could make a slump, or a grunt, or a cobbler or one of those other typically American fruit desserts, or a pie–but haven’t we done enough of those desserts?
One of my friends took a sip of her wine and said, “How about blackberry wine?” Perfect! Although I don’t have any handed-down terrific recipes (someone promised me one, but she has not come through yet)…I dove into the Internet to see what I could come up with. Surely all those grandmothers and greats and great-greats made blackberry wine or blackberry cordial at one time or another.
How complicated is it? And what is the difference between wine and cordial? And since I live in Arizona with no blackberry bushes between the prickly pears behind my house, will I ever have enough blackberries to turn into Booze?
CIVIL WAR USE
The book Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, yield a medicinal use for Blackberry Syrup, published in 1860. “A Tablespoon for a child or a wineglass for an adult is a dose.”
According to a note in the Godey’s recipe book, Union hospitals treated sick and wounded soldiers in hospitals with the same recipe, except it used condensed milk instead of water.
Condensed milk had been recently invented by Gail Borden, who marketed it as New York Condensed Milk (Later Borden’s Eagle Brand). Evaporated milk with sugar added was canned and could withstand the heat of the South. The Union army bought all the Borden factory in New York could make to ensure a supply for their soldiers.
A Non-Medicinal Recipe
I really like the looks of this recipe that I have slightly adapted (but not yet tried) from Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide. His introduction says this is an old British recipe. It does become an alcoholic drink with aging, although the alcohol content will vary from batch to gatch. He describes it as thick and dark. (The same recipe can be used for rasberry cordial.)
(To see the original source of each photo, click on the picture).
Blackberries: Identified in the caption.
Blackberry Cordial: Johnathan Brown from Flickr, used with Creative Commons license.
Borden’s Condensed Milk Advertisement: From Wikipedia, who got it from the site it is linked to–an image of the back cover of a guide book for travelers to Alaska and the Klondike during the gold rush of the 1890s.
Billie Joe Tatum’s book is out of print, but may be available from used book sellers on the Internet.
Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book can be purchased on Amazon in hard copy or as an e-book by clicking on the title here.