Tag Archives: Civil War food

Ode to Sweet Potatoes

In Union soldier Pvt. Erasmus Anderson’s December 1962 letter home from Memphis, he reveals his secret love.

In the most poignant passage, he tells us that his love of the sweet potatoes is so great that he is already planning to eat them on his return home. Sweet potatoes give him hope.

sweet potatoes

…sweet potatoes which we think cheap at $1.00 a bushel. They are so big and good. I want you to save some seed if you can and if I don’t get home in time you can put them to sprout for I want to have some if I am at home next fall.

I was faced with a bit of dilemma in wanting to share sweet potatoes with you, because I’m pretty sure that Erasmus and his friends in the Union army would just poke the sweet potatoes into the ashes and let them roast. Not much need for a recipe there. I have been known to wrap sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and cook them on the grill, or slice them and toss them with olive oil and grill them along with a few other vegetables, but that is not unusual either.

If we were talking about the Southern army (the sesesh, as Erasmus would call them) I might wax enthusiastic about sweet potato pie. One thing I would never do is inflict upon you a sweet potato casserole recipe that involves marshmallows. Ewwww!

So I decided to go with mashed sweet potatoes.  It is possible that the soldiers might tire of just eating them plain from the fire, and mash them with a bit of butter and even milk, if a cow happened to be somewhere in the neighborhood.  I did allow myself a bit of meander from the ingredients that Erasmus would have on hand. But if you haven’t tried it, trust me, it is a delicious route to take.

Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Milk

Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
Dietary Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Side Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Sweet potatoes mashed and mixed with Coconut milk for a different vibe.


  • sweet potatoes (One small per person or one large per two people. I used two for two people and had leftovers.)
  • coconut milk (I used about 1/2 cup)
  • butter (I used about 1/4 cup.)
  • salt
  • pepper


1. Peel and cut sweet potatoes in chunks.
2. Cook in microwave on on stove top with a tablespoon or two of water until very soft.
3. Slice butter over hot potatoes. Mash with fork, leaving some small lumps.
4. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste
5. Pour in enough coconut milk to make potatoes a creamy consistency, but not runny.


I used the pale sweet potatoes, but this work work for orange yams as well.

I used coconut milk from the dairy case, because I happened to have some, but canned would work. Whatever is handy.

And of course if someone you are cooking for hates coconut, you can use regular milk--but then it is a different dish entirely.


Stewed Apples with Molasses

Erasmus Anderson’s second letter home, which we looked at last Friday, ended by saying that he and his friends had been in the countryside where they picked up some apples for a quarter. For that small amount of money, he filled his knapsack.

Apples for Stewed Apples

Organic Red Delicious Apples from above

I picked up these organic Red Delicious apples at the Farmer’s Market for considerably more than 25 ¢. They are quite small, particularly compared to a giant Honey Crisp I showed you with the recipe for Harriette’s Apple Dumplings.

But besides just eating them out of hand, what do you suppose the soldiers could do with their apples?  Of course they could just impale them on a stick and roast them over the fire–a perfectly good treat, particularly if the apples are sweet. But older varieties might not have been all that sweet, and if one had a sweet tooth, one might want to add some of the sugar from their rations and cook them in a pot–stewed apples.

Apples for stewed apples

Organic Red Delicious Apples

The soldiers sometimes “liberated” cooking utensils like skillets and pots from people they passed. If Erasmus and his gang happened to have a cooking pot in Company E, and if they were lucky enough to have some kind housewife give them some molasses, they could have made these molasses stewed apples.

The Civil War articles in the “Homes County Republican” included a story about a soldier who had taken a pot from a farmer’s wife as they marched through the countryside. Later, when they were told to strip down to 1/4 gear for fast marching, they went past the same house and he offered to sell the pot back.

If the men of Company E did not have molasses, of course, they could just make them the way my Grandmother Vera Anderson made them (minus the cinnamon). One of my very favorite dishes from her table was the stewed, sugared apples, sprinkled with cinnamon and served cold as a side dish.

But for Erasmus, I made these stewed apples with molasses. In our better-equipped kitchens, the warm molasses stewed apples would be very good indeed dribbled over ice cream or topped with whipped cream.

See more about molasses in this article at  American Food Roots. I doubt Erasmus would have mace on hand, but I highly recommend this sometimes overlooked spice to you.  It is the milder part of the nutmeg plant.

Molasses Stewed Apples

Molasses Apples

Apples stewed with molasses
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword apple
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 8
Author Vera Marie Badertscher


  • 6 cups peeled and sliced apples
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup molasses 1 teaspoon mace I used original strength
  • 1 tsp mace or nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbsp butter optional


  • Put sliced apples in pan and pour water and molasses over. Add Mace and stir well.
  • Simmer until you can stick a fork through the larges slice easily, but not so long that the apples are mushy.
  • Stir in butter if you wish.
  • Let cool in pan slightly, then transfer to glass dish and refrigerate. You may serve warm, but I prefer cold. Good over ice cream or with whipped cream.


Cooking time and amount of sweetener will depend on the apples you use, so times here are approximate. I used the very small organic red delicious apples I got at the Farmer's Market to approximate the apples the Civil War soldiers might find on trees along their route. However, a tarter, more solid apple might be a better choice generally.
Similarly, you have a wide choice on molasses. If you like the flavor of molasses, you can go straight for the Blackstrap (but I would increase the water and lessen the amount of molasses) or if you are not all that sure about the taste, go with a lighter molasses and water it down.

Green Tomato Pie for a Civil War Soldier

In the first letter we have from Civil War soldier Erasmus Anderson, he effuses about the food served by the women of Cincinnati when he is stationed there. I have tried to imagine what those ladies in Cincinnati were serving the Union Soldiers, and decided Green Tomato Pie might be on the menu.

Green tomato pie

It is easy to understand why they were so friendly and cooperative in Cincinnati. The city sits on the northern side of the Ohio River, which was looked upon as the last big barrier for escaping slaves. The Underground Railroad was active there, and although there were dissenters,  most citizens were united behind the Union.

Unlike the residents of the South, where the first year of the war had already decimated food supplies, Cincinnati was well connected by railroad and river to trade to the East and North.  And the state of Ohio continued to produce ample food during the Civil War. Here is what I can surmise about the food that might have been available when Erasmus was stationed there.

German Influence: Cincinnati itself was heavily populated with Germans , so the food would have been German-influenced. Camp Dennison, where the recruits were trained, (Letter two) was actually a bit north of Cincinnati in a town called New Germany.

Ham and Cheese: Two commodities always available, and always on the plate at any gathering in the German areas of Ohio. The soldiers could have been served up thick slices of ham on home made bread. Sausage and kraut would have been on the menu, too.

Beer: The city had numerous breweries, so the soldiers were not going without beer.

September Harvest Time: Farmers would be getting in the last of their crops, and housewives would be pulling off the plants and out of the ground the last of their summer garden. It is sweet corn and sweet red tomato time in Ohio in early September.This is where the green tomatoes come in. The growers must get them off the vines before the first frost comes.

Canning Time: Because of the surfeit of vegetables and fruit, canning would be in full swing, and the soldiers could have been treated to some newly canned peaches or piccalilli or strawberry jam.

Had the soldiers been able to foresee the limited diet they had ahead of them, they might have taken more advantage of fresh produce.  At any rate, we know that Erasmus enjoyed the food and hospitality of the ladies of Cincinnati. And we speculate that green tomato pie might have been among the treats they served.

Some people say that green tomato pie tastes like a tart apple pie. Perhaps, but to me it more closely resembles the sweet and sour combination of rhubarb pie, so I made it the way I make rhubarb pie, with tapioca.  Even people who start out skeptical, wind up loving this pie. (See the Perfect Pie Crust recipe here.)

Green Tomato Pie

Serves 8
Cook time 1 hour
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Misc Freezable, Pre-preparable


  • 4 cups green tomatoes (thinly sliced)
  • 3/8 cups Minute tapioca
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Pastry for double-crust pie (See recipe for Perfect Pie Crust)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (cut in bits)


1. Combine tapioca and sugar and seasonings. After cutting out hard core of tomato, slice thinly. Cut slices in quarters. Add tomato slices and vinegar to sugar mixture. Toss.
2. Line bottom of 9" pie plate with pastry. Add filling and dot with butter. Top with crust with vent slits or lattice top. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over top.
3. Put the pie in the oven on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour
4. Partially cool, then put in refrigerator to chill before cutting.


The filling will be runny, which is why you put it in the refrigerator. You could pour off some of the liquid after mixing the tomatoes and sugar, but lose some flavor.