Blackberries to Cure What Ails You

In Pvt. Erasmus Anderson’s last letter home, he mentioned blackberries. In fact he even made a little joke.

The blackberries is getting ripe here and in Ohio they are not in blossom yet.  You are behind time up there ain’t you.

blackberries

Photo by Martin LaBar, from Flickr. Used with Creative Commons license.

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

Blackberry Cordial Medicine

Blackberry Cordial as a Patented Medicine that could cure about anything.

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.”

Blackberry Syrup After boiling a pound of sugar to a pint of water, add to “expressed juice” of blackberries (same amount as sugar). Add half a nutmeg grated for each quart of syrup, boil for 15-20 minutes, then add half a gill (1/4 cup) of brandy for each quart of syrup.  Let cool, then bottle.

Borden Condensed Milk

Ad1898. The pitch had not changed in thirty-eight years. From Wikipedia. In the public domain

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.)

Backberry Cordial

  • 2 quarts fresh blackberries
  • 2 Cups boiling water
  • 2 cups Sugar

1. Crush the berries well and put them into a small stoneware crock.  Add water.

2. Cover crock with cheesecloth and set in a warm place for 24 hours. Stir occasionally.

3. Push the berries and their liquid through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Reserve jucie and discard pulp.

4.  Add sugar to the berry liquid.

5. Stir again every 15 minutes for one hour. (Five times.)

6.  Strain mixture through dampened cheesecloth.

7. Bottle cordial and cork bottles.

8. Place bottles on their sides and keep them in a cool, dark place for four months. Decant before using. Makes two quarts.

Photo Credits

(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.

Books

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.

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