Regimental Cooking

The Second at Table

The Second was reported to have had at least two distinct versions of “Grace” to say before dinner....and that was before they left Camp Randall and had real army food.

Oh, thou who blessed the loaves and fishes
Look down upon these old tin dishes
By thy great power those dishes smash
Bless each of us and Damn this Hash

O Now I sit me in my seat
And pray for something fit to eat.
If this damn stuff my stomach break,
I pray that God my soul will take

Eating, during the war, could be an on again/off again experience that ranged from the best food to be “borrowed” to days of coffee and hardtack. When on the march, non-spoiling items that could fit in your pack and eaten cold, or prepared with a minimal fuss, were the rule. Everyone knows hardtack, whose official designation was “hard bread” (and unofficial designation by Union troops, who discovered that it could spoil, was often on the order of “worm castles”), but food from home, sutler or commissary that was dried and light also went along. Some items in that category were variations on the pocket soup, instant coffee (coffee mixed with cream and sugar in a paste form to be dissolved in hot water), “desiccated potatoes” (sliced potatoes seasoned with pepper and dried - rather a thick version of the basis for things like Betty Crocker Scalloped potatoes, etc.) which were issued to prevent scurvy (not a successful endeavor based on medical grounds and, due to the fact that the pepper gave them such an unappetizing look when cooked, that most would not eat them in any case); and, following the lead of Napoleon (with enthusiastic support of Chicago meat packers) provided canned beef which was cheerfully referred to as “embalmed beef”.

Another dish often served to the troops was “Panda”, also known as “bully soup”. A recipe from around 1800 calls for:
bread crumbs in a bowl with a glass of wine, rum or vinegar (to taste) stirred in with grated nutmeg, butter, sugar and spiced as one would wish. Then add boiling water. (The military version tended to be crushed hardtack, wine, water and ginger.)

Depending on the source, the most popular food, at least purchased from sutlers, was the molasses cookie, which was sold at 6 for a quarter. As white sugar was still an expensive and slowly produced commodity, molasses and other less processed sweeteners were used most commonly.Here’s an early recipe for Molasses Cookies.
A cup of brown sugar, one of molasses, one of lard, half a cupful of boiling water, one spoonful of ginger, one of saleratus (baking soda with impurities), one of salt and flour enough to roll. Beat the sugar, lard, molasses, saleratus and ginger together; then pour on the boiling water and mix in the flour. Roll about three-fourths of an inch thick and cut with a round cutter. Bake in a quick oven (375 - 400 degrees)