Tag Archives: sweet potatoes

Sweet Taters Pudding

Erasmus closed his last letter saying, “The taters are ready.” He has requested that Suzi plant some sweet potatoes because he loves these sweet taters.

While the soldiers were simply peeling and boiling their sweet taters, when they got home, their wives would be more creative with sweet potatoes. For clues, I looked up some 19th century cook books.

From Gutenberg Project, you can obtain this historic cookbook: Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers, by Elizabeth E. Lea (1850’s) and learn how to be a proper mid-19th century housewife.

“To boil sweet potatoes, put them in a pot with plenty of water; let them boil fast till you can run a fork through the largest; then pour off the water, and leave them in the pot a quarter of an hour; you can then peel the skin off or leave it on. Some prefer them baked in a dutch-oven; they should have a quick heat; large potatoes will take an hour to bake. It has been found a good way to boil them, till nearly done; then peel and bake them; they are drier and nicer. ” This excerpt comes from Vintage Recipes.com

Recipes from another early cookbook, The Virginia Housewife:

Stewed Sweet Potatoes

Wash and wipe them, and if they be large, cut them in two lengths; put them at the bottom of a stew pan, lay over some slices of boiled ham; and on that, one or two chickens cut up with pepper, salt, and a bundle of herbs; pour in some water, and stew them till done, then take out the herbs, serve the stew in a deep dish. Thicken the gravy, and pour over it. This excerpt from Vintage Recipes.com

A Novel Use for Sweet Taters

In the South, the Union’s blockades kept them from getting a supply of coffee, so they conjured a drink out of many different foods.

“To prepare sweet potato coffee we pared the potatoes, cut into small bits, dried and parched, adding a little butter before taking from the oven and grinding. Tubers, like carrots or yams were cut into small pieces, dried, toasted and ground up.”
From the Cape Fear Civil War RoundUp.

The website Click Americana, transcribes an article from The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), August 21, 1898, entitled “12 Ways to Prepare Sweet Potatoes.” Here you can find some intriguing recipes.

Sweet Potato Pone

Add to the mashed potatoes instead of flour sifted corn meal. Melt the lard and wet up with boiling water. Leave the dough very stiff then break into it one at a time two fresh eggs. Work them well through the mass. Take it up by small handfuls, toss them from one hand to the other and flatten them lightly around the sides of a hot baking pan very well greased. Bake quickly until a crisp brown crust forms on top and bottom.

I tried one below, Sweet Potato Pudding.  My comments follow the recipe.

Potato Pudding

Shredded sweet taters

Shredded sweet potatoes ready to mix in to the batter.

Peel and grate your sweet potatoes upon a very coarse grater. To a quart grated, take six eggs, a large cup of butter three heaping cups of sugar, a cup of cream, a cup of milk and the juice and rind of a lemon. Beat the eggs very light with the sugar and butter, then add the potatoes then the milk and cream a little at a time. Put in the lemon rind — grated — and the juice last of all. Pour the mixture in a deep dish and set in a hot oven. When it has crusted over the top, stir the crust down so another may form. Do this twice. Serve very hot with plenty of wine sauce.

My Experiment

I tried the recipe, substituting half and half for the milk and cream, reducing the milk, and using orange rind and juice rather than lemon. I didn’t happen to have a lemon, but besides, I like the combination of orange and sweet potato flavor.  The ladies of Salt Lake at this period would probably not have had oranges, though.

I said a little ‘thank you’ frequently as I prepared this recipe. For my vegetable peeler instead of a paring knife to peel the potatoes; for my food processor to grate them; for my electric mixer to mix the eggs, butter and sugar instead of having to use a wooden spoon; and for my electric oven which I can (almost) count on for a steady temperature and never have to add a stick of wood to.

Tater Pudding for the Oven

Sweet Potato Pudding ready for the oven in Corning Ware baking dish.

This recipe makes a very big bowl of tater pudding, as you can see.  However, you don’t need to allow for headroom.  It does not rise like a souffle.

sweet tater pudding crust

Stirring down the crust of the sweet potato pudding

Since the original recipe does not give a baking time, I had to guess when to stir the crust down. I translated “hot oven” as 425 F. The crust did not brown, just began to get thick while the pudding below was still liquid.  I stirred it down at twenty minutes, forty minutes. And took it out at 60 minutes.

baked sweet tater pudding

Baked sweet potato pudding

The tater pudding tasted good except that it was waaaay too sweet.  And when the pudding stood for 20 minutes or so (at room temperature), the liquid separated out.

After making the recipe, I compared this 1898 version to the 1960s edition of Joy of Cooking’s sweet potato pudding and found the proportions to be very similar. The biggest difference in ingredients was that “Joy” would use 12 egg yolks and 4 egg whites for this amount of pudding. AND instead of baking in a  “hot” oven, they use a low-moderate oven–325 degrees.  That difference in heat could explain the separation. By the way, “Joy” used orange juice, just like I did.

Although my experiment with the 1898 sweet taters puddin’ did not work out, I think it is worth trying again. Next time I’ll definitely reduce the sugar and lower the temperature. Let me know what adjustments you make if you decide to try this sweet tater pudding.

In the Dark Woods of Mississippi:Erasmus Anderson Letter #9

Undated * letter written aboard a boat on the Mississippi River.

rainy woods

Photo from Flickr, by William Cooper

Suzy, last night I was out on picket and it rained a good steady cool shower of rain all night and put me in a good condition for a cool reflection.

My brother, P. W. Kaser, who experienced picket duty in another war, comments.

“He rises to a kind of eloquence and revelation at the beginning of [this] letter. For soldiers in all wars, picket duty alone in the rain is typically a chance for what Erasmus calls ‘cold reflection.’ It’s almost as if someone else, calmer, less angry and depressed, is writing this passage, but clearly he’s experiencing a significant moment of recognition. Did he foresee his death and eternal rest or just dream of coming home to “Suzy” in Ohio?

Erasmus has come a long way since he earlier wrote:

  • September, 1862: “I like it first rate.”
  • October, 1862: “I never felt as hearty in my life.”
  • December, 1862: “I enjoy myself a good deal better than I thought I would.”
I thought of everything from my childhood up and through a great deal of my present condition.  A poor half fed, dirty, lousy soldier in the dark woods of Mississippi.  I compared it to my comfortable little home in Ohio where I might have been with my little family in a warm bed and something fit to eat when I wanted it.  I lost my rubber blanket at Vicksburg and the rain had a good chance to bring me to my senses.  If this doesn’t kill me it will teach me when I get back to that little family I will know better than to leave it the next time.

Erasmus sets the stage for us to envision his present life as a boat transports the soldiers down the Mississippi in two telling sentences.

Jake Lint and me is sitting together in a wagon bed down in the hold where we sleep.  I am writing to you and he is peeling some sweet potatoes by the light of the same candle.

sweet potatoesErasmus, by the way, is ecstatic about these sweet potatoes.

You ought to see them, they are about half as long as your leg and as thick as your thigh.  We had a good mess for breakfast and are going to have one for dinner.  If we did not get out and get something now and then we could not live.

In an earlier letter from the camp in Memphis he mentioned this same companion, Jake Lint, who “has had his trial but has not his sentence yet.”  Apparently the infraction was not too serious, because Pvt. Jacob Lint,  Company E, served out his enlistment time and was mustered out with the company Oct. 31, 1864.

But the cool contemplation gives way, when his thoughts turn to the problems Suzy is having with Albert Dial’s wife Alice and his growing disdain for Albert, who seems to be a malingerer. As my brother says,

“To make things worse, the home folks keep pestering him with their domestic squabbles, and he feels powerless to protect his wife against liars and complainers.”

Erasmus’ temper builds. You can tell he’s angry when he forgets to punctuate the ends of sentences. The couple wants to go ‘out west’ to Iowa, and for some reason are lying and smearing Suzy and lying about Erasmus to further their plan. You can tell he’s angry when he forgets to punctuate the ends of sentences.

Al in his big talk to fellows about it said she had a good home out there and he wanted her to go out there last fall to live.  Someone coaxed him to let her go and stay with you. I know I gave my consent for her to go but it was a darned hard pull but she has no place to go and was darned glad to get there and then to complain about her victuals when I know they were better than she was raised on. It made me so mad when I found it out but she had to live as all does awhile.  The darned deceitful bitch, I want her to leave in a hurry and I want you to keep most of this a secret.

Suzy has requested that Erasmus not let anyone see her letters.  This intrigues me. Is she writing more openly emotional letters than Erasmus (not a difficult leap) ?  One clue is Erasmus statement that “I like them good heartsome letters.”  (Whew! hot stuff!)

Again, the homesick Private Anderson is weighing the advantage of desertion as he thinks about Tom Phillips. In the report, Camp and Field, published twenty years later, Cpl. Wolbach reported that Tom Phillips was last seen in mid January when they were on the White River, was captured by the Confederates and paroled, but did not return. Instead he went west to become a hunter and trapper.

These soldiers are neighbors back home. Tom Phillips’ family lives just three farms away from the Anderson’s, according to the 1860 census. On the other side of the Phillips’ farm the Cellars, with their family of daughters, now mourning their lost son, Ephraim.

Erasmus’ admires and perhaps envies Tom’s gumption, when he writes to Suzanne.

Phillip’s folks need not be uneasy about Tom for I know the whole story but keep dark for if its found out it may cut him out of his pay and bounty money.  It was his intention to go to some rebel farm and give himself up and be paroled and just stay around in Arkansas and work for his board and hunt, for game is plenty. That was his idea anyhow. But you keep dark and if you hear from him tell me.

Although Erasmus thinks this is an honorable thing to do, and is tempted himself, he constantly weights the pros and cons.

I consider it an honor for any man to leave this business.  If I only had my pay and was up the river I think I would be like all the rest, come up missing.  Do what I will, I will not forget to provide for my dear family.

He speculates that he could work on a river boat and make

…four times as much as I am getting now and not run such a chance of getting my brains shot out every now and then…

But ever practical, and not wanting to be thought a coward, he concludes..

But I will serve my time and I will keep in good heart for I can take it as well as any other man.  Jake has got the taters ready.

*Dating this letter has proven difficult. It may belong to an earlier date–perhaps mid-January when they were still coming down the Mississippi after the battle of Arkansas Post.

  • Wolbach mentions the discovery of a cache of sweet potatoes the Confederates left behind.
  • Tom Phillips was captured at Arkansas Post in mid January, and this letter seems to predate E’s mention of the deserter on February 17.
  • He also talks about Suzi’s problems with Alice Dial in at letter on January 20 as a continuing problem.
  • The troops only traveled one day by boat in March, while in January they were on a boat Jan. 2- 9 and the 16-21st, with soldiers sometimes standing guard duty at night on shore, 
  • On the other hand, I have no letters from March, and otherwise he has written each month.

To see the previous letter, #8, Politics and Peaches, go here.

To see the next letter, #10, Vicksburg Campaign Starts, go here.

Notes: Besides the transcriptions of his Civil War letters  which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband, sources include:

  • A site devoted to the 16th OVI that is a real treasure trove of information about Ohio’s soldiers in the Civil War. That site is the source for Cpl. Wolbach’s “Camp and Field” report which was published in the 1880s.
  • Ancestry.com where I find birth, census death, military and other records of my ancestors and the people that Erasmus mentions. 

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

Note

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.