November 27, 2001

Mason-Dixon Line’s Civil War Recipes
For Any Occasion

My personal recommendations for reenactors, clarifications and adjustments for the 20th century cook are noted in bold italics or [brackets].

Observations on Soups

When you make any kind of soup, particularly portable, vermicelli or brown gravy soup or any other that has herbs or roots in it, always observe to lay the meat in the bottom of your pan with a good lump of butter. Cut the herbs and roots into small pieces and lay them over the meat; cover it close and set it over a very slow fire: it will draw all the virtue out of the roots and herbs, turn it to a good gravy and give the soup a very different flavor than if you first put it in water. When your gravy is almost dried up, fill the pan with water; when it begins to boil, take off the fat and follow the directions of your recipe for whatever sort of soup you are making.

Peterson’s - January, 1859

General Directions Respecting Fish Can be found at the Bottom of This Page

Soup's On!


The basis of all well-made soups is composed of what English cooks call “stock” or broth made from all sorts of meat, bones and the remains of poultry or game; all of which may be put together and stewed down in the “stock-pot,” the contents of which are by the French termed Consommé. Then add a tablespoonful and a half of curry powder, and mix it up well. Now cut up the beef into pieces about an inch square; pour in from a quarter to a third of a pint of milk, and let it simmer for thirty minutes; then take it off and pace it in a dish with a little lemon-juice. While cooking, stir it constantly to prevent burning. Send it to the table with a wall of mashed potatoes or rice around it.

[There are several varieties of stock, such as “brown,” “gravy” and “ white”. If you would like additional information about how to prepare the various types of stock, please let me know.]

[ Godey’s - February, 1861]

Gumbo Soup

Cut up a chicken or any fowl as if to fry and break the bones; lay it in a pot with just enough butter to brown it a little; when browned, pour as much water to it as will make soup for four or five persons; add a thin slice of lean bacon, an onion cut fine and some parsley. Stew it gently five or six hours; about twenty minutes before it is to be served, make a thickening by mixing a heaping tablespoonful of sassfra leaves, pounded fine, in some of the soup and adding it to the rest of the soup; a little rice is an improvement. If the fowl is small, two will be required, but one large pullet [a hen of the domestic chicken less than a year old] is sufficient.
[This is a great recipe for Living History events.]
[ Godey’s - April, 1861]

Curry Soup
Season two quarts of strong veal broth with two onions, a bunch of parsley, salt and pepper; strain it and have ready a chicken (or game bird) cut in joints and skinned; put it in the broth with a tablespoonful of curry powder; boil the chicken(s) till quite tender. A little before serving, add the juice of a lemon and a teacupful of boiling cream. Serve boiled rice to eat with this soup. Always boil cream before putting it in soup or gravy.

[Godey’s - March, 1861]

Venison Soup

Take four pounds of freshly-killed venison, cut off from the bones, and one pound of ham in small slices. Add an onion, minched, and black pepper to your taste. Put only as much water as will cover it and stew it gently for an hour, keeping the pot closely covered. Skim it well and pour in a quart of boiling water. Add a head of celery cut small (can substitute with celery seed) and three blades of mace [an East Indian spice: an aromatic spice consisting of the dried external fibrous covering of a nutmeg]. Boil it gently two hours and a half; then put in a quarter of a pound of butter, cut small and rolled in flour, and half a pint of port or Madeira. Let it boil a quarter of an hour longer and send it to the table with the meat in it.
[This recipe also works well with a beef substitute.]
[Godey’s - March, 1861]

Rabbit Soup

Begin this soup six hours before dinner. Cut up three large, but young and tender rabbits, or four small ones (scoring the backs), and dredge them with flour. Slice six mild onions and season them with half a grated nutmeg, or more, if you like it. Put some fresh butter into a hot frying pan you may substitute for the butter some cold roast veal gravy that has been carefully cleared from the fat, place it over the fire, and when it boils, put in the rabbits and onions and fry them of a light brown. Then transfer the whole to a soup pot; season it with a very small teaspoonful of sweet marjoram leaves stripped from the stalks, and four or five blades of mace, adding three large carrots in slices. Pour on, slowly, four quarts of hot water from a kettle already boiling hard. Cover the soup pot, and let it simmer slowly, skimming it well, till the meat of the rabbits is reduced to shreds and drops from the bones, which will not be in less than five hours, if boiled as gently as it ought. When quite done, strain the soup into a tureen. Have ready the grated yolks of six hard boiled eggs, and stir them into the soup immediately after it is strained, and while it is very hot. Add, also, some bread cut into dice or small squares, and fried brown in fresh butter. Or substitute for the fried bread buttered toast, with all the crust removed, and cut into very small bits or mouthfuls.
[Godey’s - November, 1861]

Seafood Recipes for Your Campsite or Kitchen


Fry three slices of salt pork, crisp, in a deep kettle; take them out and lay in slices of potatoes; flour and pepper them; then lay in slices of fish, which must also be floured and peppered. Put in alternate layers of potatoes and fish, with flour, salt and pepper, till it is all laid in. If you have a fresh lemon, slice it into the kettle. Pour over it boiling water enough almost to cover it. When it boils up, dredge in more flour. Dip a few crackers in cold water and lay over the top, and cover the kettle close. Boil it three quarters of an hour. Use ship bread [also called hardtack or ship biscuit], if it is preferred. Some people add a cup of milk just before it is served.

[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

To Boil and Broil Halibut

If you wish to boil it, use a thick slice cut through the body, or the tail piece, which is considered the richest. Wrap it in a floured cloth and lay it in cold water with salt in it. A piece weighing six pounds, should be cooked half an hour after the water begins to boil. It is eaten with melted butter and parsley. If any of it is left, lay it in a deep dish and sprinkle on it a little salt, throw over it a dozen or two of cloves, pour in some vinegar, and add, if you have it, butternut vinegar. It will, when cold, have much the flavor of lobster.

The nape of the halibut is considered best to broil; but a slice through the body a little more than an inch thick, if sprinkled with salt an hour or two before being cooked, will broil without breaking and is excellent. When taken up, put on a little butter, pepper and salt.

[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

To Fry Oysters

Make a batter of two eggs, three gills of milk [4 gills = 1 pint], two spoonfuls of flour, and some fine bread crumbs. Beat it well. Dip each oyster into the batter, and fry in lard.
[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

Another Way to Fry Oysters

For a pint of oysters, beat three eggs, three spoonfuls of flour, and two small, pounded crackers; add a glass of wine, pepper and nutmeg. Dip one oyster at a time into the batter and fry them.
[If any brave soul tries this recipe, please let me know!]
[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

Scalloped Oysters

Butter a deep dish, and cover the bottom and sides with fine crumbs of bread. Put in half the oysters, with mace and pepper, and cover them with bread crumbs and small bits of butter; add the rest of the oysters with pepper and mace, and cover as before. Put in but little of the liquor, as oysters part with a good deal of moisture in cooking, and if the mixture is too wet, it is not as good. If they are very salt, put in water instead of the liquor. [I give this one five stars]
[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

To Fry Fish

After it has been cleansed, cut it into pieces of the proper size, and lay them in a cloth in order to dry them. Fry four or five slices of salt pork, or if you have not this, lard or nice beef drippings will do; but pork is preferable. When the slices are fried brown, take them out, dip the pieces of fish in a plate of fine Indian meal, and lay them into a spider [a cast-iron frying pan originally with short feet to stand among coals on the hearth]. Fry them brown. When the fish is done, lay it with the pork into a hot dish. Pour a little water into the spider, boil it up, dredge in browned flour, and pour the whole over the fish.
[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

To Bake A Stuffed Cod Or Black Fish

Chop fine a half a teacupful of fat ham; add a large spoonful of butter, some parsley, thyme, marjoram, a little salt, nutmeg and pepper. If you have oysters, add a dew. Beat two eggs and put all together with fine bread crumbs enough to compound them. With this, stuff the fish, which should be floured thick, and wind a string around it to keep it together, or else sew it up. Fasten the head and tail together with a skewer. Bake it in a stove an hour and a quarter. Baste it with butter.
[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

Boiled Cod

There should be a little salt rubbed down the bone, and over the thick part, even if it is to be eaten the same day. Wrap it in a cloth and put it over the fire in cold water; as putting it into hot water at first will cause the outside to break before the center is done. See that it is covered with water, and throw in a table spoonful of salt. Take off the froth carefully, and boil it half an hour. Fresh cod is eaten with oyster sauce and melted butter, or with the latter alone, with the addition of parsley and three or four eggs boiled very hard, cut up and put into it.

The head and shoulders of cod are so much thicker than the other part, that it is impossible to boil the fish whole and have all parts equally cooked. It is therefore a good way to divide it, boil the head and shoulders, and fry the other part, or sprinkle it with salt, and after a day or two, broil it.

[Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]

General Directions Respecting Fish - From Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846

Fresh fish can be judged by their being hard under the pressure of the finger. Even if not injured, fish lose their best flavor soon, and a few hours make a wide difference in the taste of some sorts.

Most kinds of fish are best in cold weather. Mackerel are best in August, September and October. Halibut in May and June. Oysters are good from September to April; but are not very good or healthy from the first of May to the last of August [hence the advice still used today in Maryland - only eat oysters during the months that contain “R’s.”] Lobsters are best at the season when oysters are not good...

Epicures [one with sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food] consider it important to boil salt water fish in sea water... Pond fish should be soaked in strong salt and water to take out the earthy taste. Fish may be kept good several days, if frozen...A boiled fish is done when the eyes turn white.

When you broil fish, rub the gridiron with lard or drippings, to prevent its sticking. Do not attempt to turn it like steaks, with a knife or fork, but lay an old dish upon it, and hold it on with one hand, while you turn over the gridiron with the other.

Fish that is to be fried, should be laid in a cloth for an hour, that the moisture may be absorbed. It should then be rolled in fine bread crumbs, or Indian meal. Fish that is apt to break in frying may be kept whole by being dipped in a beaten egg, before it is rolled in the bread crumbs. Oysters should be skimmed out of the liquor before being cooked, in order that it may be strained, as there are often bits of shell in it.

Soup Meat
To make the soup very good, the meat (of which there should be a large proportion, rather more than a pound to a quart of water) must remain in till it drops entirely from the bones and is boiled to rags. But none of these fragments and shreds should be found in the tureen when the soup is sent to table; they should all be kept at the bottom of the pot, pressing down the ladle hard upon them when you are dipping out the soup. If any are seen in the soup after it is taken up, let them be carefully removed with a spoon. To send the soup to table with bits of bone and shreds of meat in it is a slovenly, disgusting, and vulgar practice, and should be strictly forbidden, as some indifferent cooks will do so to save themselves the trouble of removing it. A mass of shreds left at the bottom of the tureen absorbs so much of the liquid as to diminish the quantity of the soup; and if eaten, is very unwholesome, all the nourishment being boiled out of it.
[Godey's - November, 1861]

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